Some of you may remember my Seduction of the Innocent series. For those of you who do not, Seduction of the Innocent is an allegedly scholarly examination of comic books by Dr. Frederic Wertham in which he blames literally all of society’s ills on comic books. In it, he claims that comic books keep psychologists on staff to prove there’s nothing bad about comic books because they know that isn’t true, and if it were true, they wouldn’t need to. After all, he says, regular children’s literature doesn’t do that, because everyone knows there’s nothing harmful about children’s literature! And that was one of many points that he had wrong.
Because, you see, the very idea of children’s literature was thought to be harmful when it was new, because why did children need their own literature? Especially things that weren’t, you know, thinly disguised (or not-at-all disguised) Christian teachings or whatever but things like Dr. Seuss and so forth. Children didn’t need fun and entertainment; they needed to have Wholesome Values taught to them. Fun books would just create a generation of slackers!
There has literally never been a development in media that wasn’t blamed for an entire generation’s downfall. I read a history of the paperback some years ago that included the information that having these books accessible would make people take literature too lightly. (And of course expressed concern about the kind of literature these people were reading, and worried about how it might make Those People have ideas above their station and so forth.) The invention of the printing press would increase literacy among people who didn’t have the intellectual capability to process words the way they should be processed. The invention of writing would make people not bother remembering things.
It’s a human fear. I’m old enough to remember the Satanic Panic over Dungeons & Dragons, which was about a version of the game that in no way resembled the one I’ve been playing off and on since those days. And that was the point; the people freaking out about it didn’t have any understanding of what they were actually afraid of. When they do, their reaction is, “Oh, yeah, never mind.” It’s always been interesting to me that the exact same comic is referenced by Wertham in SotI and Stephen King in Danse Macabre, and Wertham uses it as an example of immorality and King as an example of morality. King, you see, was a child who grew up reading EC comics.
I myself don’t tend to play violent video games, simply because they don’t appeal to me. Though my fondness for the Civilization series has never caused me to try to take over the world. It has, on the other hand, taught me a bit of history from figuring out who some of the more obscure leaders you can play as are, and I learned a bit about coding from an article I read long ago telling me why Gandhi always goes trigger-happy upon reaching the Nuclear Age. (He was coded as a complete pacifist, and getting nuclear weapons was supposed to increase your pacifism level, but the negative numbers confused the system.) It is true that people are influenced to a certain extent by their media, but it is also true that the things we fear were already part of us.