The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Won’t Somebody Please think of the children?
The BBC’s Scottish site looks back to the 1950s and Glasgow’s vast Southern Necropolis, where a policeman has been called to investigate a group of children. PC Deeprose expected to find petty, childish vandalism and given the era no doubt was thinking he’d be doing nothing more than providing a clip round the ear to wayward urchins and sending them on their way. Instead he found a large group of kids with knives and sharpened pieces of wood – not, as it turned out, one of the violent gangs from that era (an image which sadly some still superimpose on Glasgow, the No Mean City image is hard to shake) but a childhood posse of vampire killers. They told the police officer that they were hunting for a seven foot vampire with iron teeth who they believed had killed a couple of local children already – the so-called Gorbals Vampire.
Who was to blame for the mass hysteria which had swept through hundreds of local children? Could it be the bogeyman character their parents threatened them with if they misbehaved – the Iron Man who would creep out from the nearby steelworks? Frightening imagery from the Bible they were made to read in Sunday School (drowning most of humanity, wiping out entire cities, raising a dead man, throwing people to lions)? No, it must, of course, be the fault of the media – in this case those clearly evil horror comics like Tales From the Crypt which those godless Americans were clearly forcing on our children to corrupt them. Two of the childhood participants speaking to the BBC as adults pointed out they had never even seen any of these imported comics in Glasgow in the 50s much less read many of them and academics here (as in other cases in other countries) pointed out that it was all nonsense with no evidence comics provoked any sort of problem whatsoever, but as in those other countries (including the US – remember “The Seduction of the Innocent”?) media, public and political numpties went mad with it and demanded ‘something be done’. Won’t someone please think of the children, as Reverend Loveljoy’s insufferable wife would squeal in the Simpsons. Common sense, proper research, who needs them?
(cover to Gemstone’s lovely deluxe hardback reprinting of Tales From the Crypt Volume 1, part of their EC classics archives – once the scourge of parents, now highly collectable)
It may seem funny and quaint to us in 2010 – how silly and naive children were then, back in a different era, not like the kids of today who if anything know too much before their time from multiple media. And how silly the public reaction. Except it had a serious effect – as the article points out the government responded with the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act 1955. And today we still have hysterical groups of ‘concerned parents’, teachers, or religious groups continually demanding some sort of media be banned, which has huge potential implications for the freedom of expression and freedom of speech in a culture. We only have to think of religious groups who demand Harry Potter be removed from schools and libraries lest it lead innocent children into dark magics and Satanism or even attacking books like Catcher in the Rye (yes, even after all these decades).Naturally none of those crying for this book or comic or game or album or even play to be banned have ever read or listened to them first…
And of course today the hysteria – aided in no small fashion by the dreadful gutter press of red-top tabloid hack journalism which so delights in a public outrage to shout about – has bigger targets than kid’s comics, being more worried about ‘the web’ and video games. At least until time passes and they find something else to have what Dick Hebdige called Folk Devils and Moral Panics over (meantime the Moral Panics of my youth, the ‘video nasties’ which would apparently melt our brains, even though most of us kids had sneakily seen them and found them funny, are almost all now available uncut on DVD years after being banned, half of them not even rating an 18 certificate these days and seen as cheesy fun, not incitement to murderous rampages).
As I said, it would all be amusing – and in fact is is somewhat amusing – except for the fact that the media/public hysteria which feeds into this sort of story leads politicians to jump on the bandwagon and pass legislation which affects freedoms. Newsflash, moral guardians, there are worse things by far in the Classics – god only knows what the body count is in the Iliad as another hero feels his skin pierced by ‘whetted bronze’, his spirit dragged off to Hades bemoaning his lost life. And as for the comics themselves, well, personally I read a ton of reprints of old Creepy and Uncanny Tales and other horror comics as a boy, along with delightfully violent comic strips in British publications penned by the likes of Pat Mills and I grew up to hardly mass murder anyone at all and strangely enough most of my millions of fellow readers did likewise. And if that reading did warp my fragile little mind then I’m eternally grateful for that or, god forbid, I might have grown up to be a tabloid journalist or even worse, a politician ranting about evil media damaging our children…