film & video
comic, anime and postcard censorship
This page looks at the censorship of comics, anime and
It covers -
Comics have attracted the attention of the censorious
have been assumed to be aimed at children or (much the
same the thing) the 'lower orders', ie those uniquely
susceptible to corruption
have often been lurid, unsurprising in a genre that
extends from the inanities of Daffy Duck to the more
extreme Japanese manga
can be construed as promoting inappropriate behaviour
such as violence, under-age sexual activity and disrespect
for elders - highlighted in the 1954 New Zealand Inquiry
into Moral Delinquency in Children and Adolescents ('Mazengarb
has not involved venues such as bookshops and libraries
could often be easily characterised as foreign, imports
into a culture 'under threat'
have disturbed perceptions of the child as an edenic
creature unsullied by anger or irreverence
perhaps most importantly because they are an easy target
1956 Pennsylvania statute, in wording reminiscent of contemporary
anxieties about the net, thus claimed that -
destructive and adventurous potentialities of children
and adolescents are often stimulated by collections
of pictures and stories of criminal deeds of bloodshed
or lust so massed as to incite to violent and depraved
crimes ... we believe that such juveniles do, in fact,
commit such crimes at least partly because incited to
do so by such publications
codes and moral panics?
A perspective on film (and internet) rating is provided
by the US Comics Code Authority (CCA), established by
the Comics Magazine Association of America (ie publishers
and distributors) in 1954 as a mechanism for self-regulating
the "portrayal of sex, violence, and antisocial activity"
in comic books. Member-publishers agree to abide by the
Comics Code, with each issue of their publications being
submitted for approval prior to publication.
Establishment of that Code preempted a US Senate Committee
report on Comic Books & Juvenile Delinquency.
It followed a moral panic centred on 'The Show of Violence'
(in a 1948 Readers Digest) and Seduction
of the Innocent (New York: Rinehart 1954) by Fredric
(1895-1981), analogous to the 1995 Marty Rimm online pornography
brouhaha. Wertham warned that Batman comics promoted homosexuality
and called for legislation to prevent sale or display
of comics to anyone under 16.
His advocacy served to legitimate a moral
panic evident in municipal bans on retailing, development
of blacklists, creation of anti-comic units with police
forces and ritual burning of comics by scouts and religious
organisations (along with oaths to "neither read
nor purchase objectionable publications and to stay away
from retail establishments where such are sold").
A report for the New Orleans city council noted that comics
"rank with jazz music as being one of the few truly
American art forms" and concluded that
wholesale condemnation of all comics magazines is one
of the worst mistakes of some of the critics. The fact
is both sides are right. The books are not all bad,
as the more extreme critics say; nor all good, as some
of their publishers and defenders contend. Like all
other creative products, they must be judged individually.
And that is what most critics, parents, and public officials
have failed to do.
council however found a third of comics to be "offensive,
objectionable, and undesirable", accordingly establishing
a blacklist of titles and a board to monitor retailer
The panic is associated with a 50% drop in the number
of titles published in the US over the period 1954 to
1956 and the demise of several publishing houses.
In Australia and New Zealand local comics publishers such
as Horwitz adopted a similar Code of Publishing Ethics.
In the UK the 1955 Children & Young Persons (Harmful
Publications) Act reinforced self-censorship by importers,
publishers and newsagents through a ban on comics that
were "likely to fall into the hands of young children"
and that "portray acts of violence or cruelty, the
commission of crimes or incidents of a repulsive or horrible
nature". It has never got to court; lan Travis' Bound
& Gagged (London: Profile 2000) notes that by
1962 only 12 complaints under the Act had been received,
with no action being taken in five of those complaints.
The US Code has been moribund since the 1980s (reflecting
changing community expectations and distribution arrangements)
but embraced directives such as -
every instance good shall triumph over evil and the
criminal punished for his misdeeds. Policemen, judges,
government officials, and respected institutions shall
never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect
for established authority. Scenes of excessive violence
shall be prohibited. Scenes of brutal torture, excessive
and unnecessary knife and gun play, physical agony,
gory and gruesome crime shall be eliminated.
... All scenes of horror, excessive bloodshed, gory
or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, sadism, masochism
shall not be permitted.
... All lurid, unsavory, gruesome illustrations shall
be eliminated. Inclusion of stories dealing with evil
shall be used or or shall be published only where the
intent is to illustrate a moral issue and in no case
shall evil be presented alluringly nor so as to injure
the sensibilities of the reader. Scenes dealing with,
or instruments associated with walking dead, torture
vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism
US Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF)
has a useful bibliography of case law, media coverage,
academic studies and other writings from the 1930s onwards
regarding censorship of political cartoons and popular
Three of the more valuable academic studies are Martin
Barker's Haunt of Fears (London: Pluto 1984) and
Comics: Ideology, Power & the Critics (Manchester:
Manchester Uni Press 1989) and David Hajdu's The Ten-Cent
Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed
America (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux 2008), which
should be read in conjunction with Wertham's Seduction
of the Innocent, Pulp Demons: International Dimensions
of the Postwar Anti-Comics Campaign (Madison: Fairleigh
Dickinson Uni Press 1999) edited by John Lent, Arguing
Comics: Literary Masters on a Popular Medium (Jackson:
Uni of Mississippi Press 2004) edited by Jeet Heer &
Kent Worcester and Seal of Approval: The History of
the Comics Code (Jackson: Uni Press of Mississippi
1998) by Amy Nyberg. Wertham is defended by Bart Beaty
in Fredric Wertham and the Critique of Mass Culture
(Oxford: Uni Press of Missippi 2005).
FBI concerns that MAD magazine was an agent of
"communistic influence" feature here.
The history of 'Tijuana Bibles', 'Two by Fours' or 'Eight
Pagers' (ie adult content comic books popular from the
turn of last century until the 1950s) is explored in Tijuana
Bibles: Art & Wit in America's Forbidden Funnies,
1930S-1950s (New York: Simon & Schuster 1997)
by Bob Adelman, Sex in Comics: A History of the Eight
Pagers (San Diego: Greenleaf 1971) by Donald Gilmore,
Sadomasochism in Comic Books: A History of Sex &
Violence in Comics (San Diego: Greenleaf 1972) by
Hans Siden and A History of Underground Comics
(Berkeley: Ronin 1993) by Mark Estren.
Cross-cultural perspectives are provided by attitudes
in Japan and other countries to production, consumption
and regulation of manga - the Japanese graphic genre that
often features violence and sexual activity (including
cross-generational nonconsensual relations) while respecting
conventions such as no depiction of pubic hair, discussed
in Anne Allison's 'Cutting the Fringes: Pubic Hair at
the Margins of Japanese Censorship Laws' in Hair:
Its Power and Meaning in Asian Cultures (New York:
State Uni Press of New York 1998) edited by Alf Hiltebeitel,
Barbara Miller & Gananath Obeyesekere.
Manga is of particular interest for its acceptance in
the adult market. Insights are offered by Anne Allison's
Permitted & Prohibited Desires: Mothers, Comics
& Censorship in Japan (Berkeley: Uni of California
Press 2000), Fredrick Schodt's Manga! Manga! The World
of Japanese Comics (New York: Kodansha 1983) and
Adult Manga: Culture & Power In Contemporary Japanese
Society (London: Curzon Press 2000).
hentai and other anime
Manga is a major influence on anime, ie the animation
genre that has moved beyond Japan into North American,
Australian and other markets through broadcast cartoons
(some now of movie length and complexity) and electronic
games with increasing acceptance in Western mass markets.
Adult anime essentially encompasses a range of erotic
animations such as hentai (everything from schoolgirl
sex through to particularly unlovely depictions of women
being ravished by octopus-type aliens, reflecting a Japanese
fascination with tentacles) and yaoi, gay male erotica
associated with bishonen (pretty boy) anime and manga.
Cartoon-style animations and computer morphing of photographic
images - in particular to blur lines between depictions
of minors and adults - pose challenges for those dealing
with the 'virtual porn' provisions of the wide-ranging
US Child Pornography Prevention Act (CPPA) of
1996 and similar legislation that has been claimed to
criminalise all sexually suggestive representations of
children, a notion that in principle might encompass fashionable
advertising by Calvin Klein and much home
For adult anime see The Erotic Anime Movie Guide
(New York: Overlook 1999) by Helen McCarthy and The
Anime Encyclopedia: A Guide to Japanese Animation Since
1917 (New York: Stonebridge Press 2001) by McCarthy
& Jonathan Clements. Insights are offered by James
Alexander's Obscenity, Pornography and the Law in
Japan: Reconsidering Oshima's 'In the Realm of the Senses'
and Jack Hunter's Eros in Hell: Sex, Blood & Madness
in Japanese Cinema (London: Creation 1999).
Humorous 'seaside' or 'saucy' postcards - typically coupling
a simple illustration with a crude pun - sold in the millions
from the 1860s onwards. As discussed in the following
page, they posed concerns about manners and the moral
policing of the lower orders who were assumed to be the
primary market for (and most influenced by) a graphic
equivalent of vaudeville or the music hall. Those concerns
UK cartoonist Donald McGill (1874-1962) was for example
£50 with costs by the Lincoln Quarter Sessions under
the 1857 Obscene Publications Act in 1954 for
cards that seemed no better or worse than items on sale
over the past fifty years and rarely intercepted by the
Post Office. A critic commented in 2005 that
did the English law, not a lifetime ago, deem that six
seaside postcards of undisguised jolliness would deprave
and corrupt the population so much that they warranted
prolific output (over 10,000 cards featuring blousy barmaids,
desperate spinsters and lascivious milkmen) had been praised
by George Orwell as a potent form of folk art.
Background information about postcards features here
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