They were totally manipulative and dishonest. These cynical advertisers were actually preying upon totally gullible children. In order to guard youth against over-concern about typical problems such as skin or figure, and to help when they are plagued by fears of abnormality or ugliness, one must try to make them less self-conscious. Dr. J. Roswell Gallagher points out from his experience that one must assure them that there is no cause for shame. And he warns that one should not even use the word problems in this connection because it "has much too gloomy a sound."
Millions of comic books did exactly the opposite in the 1940s and 1950s. They especially play up these very words which should be avoided. Advertising people tell me that in the profession this is called the "emotional appeal." And that is precisely what it is - ruthlessly playing on the emotions of children. They ask children whether they are not "self-conscious" about one minor or fancied ailment or another, thereby, of course, deliberately making them self-conscious or unhappy. They promise to help them if they are "ashamed" about some little, or perhaps even nonexistent, blemish, thereby, of course, causing them to feel unnecessarily ashamed. They frighten the girls by insinuating to them that they have "problem bosoms." This phrase alone thrown at twelve- or thirteen-year-old little girls is enough to precipitate a severe and distressing hypochondriacal reaction. No wonder they are willing to spend money on all kinds of pills, ointments and gadgets!
Even girls without neurotic trends are apt to be sensitive about their breasts during and before adolescence. Some girls mature earlier than their classmates and go through agonies because they fear they are conspicuous. The opposite may of course occur, too. There are all kinds of folklore superstitions that the growth and shape of the breasts has something to do with past or future sexual life. Usually it is difficult for a woman, and much more so for an adolescent girl, to tell even a doctor about such secret preoccupations. A genuine sexual hypochondriasis may center around the breasts in very young girls, with anxiety, fear dreams, preoccupation with sex and guilt feelings.
Where did the idea of The Gay Batman come from?
One young homosexual during psychotherapy brought us a copy of Detective Comics, with a Batman story. He pointed out a picture of "The Home of Bruce and Dick" - a house beautifully landscaped, warmly lighted and showing the devoted pair side by side, looking out a picture window. When he was eight this boy had realized from fantasies about comic book pictures that he was aroused by men.
A boy of thirteen was treated by me in the Clinic while he was on several years' probation. He and a companion had forced a boy of eight, threatening him with a knife, to undress and carry out sexual practices with them. Like many other homo-erotically inclined children, he was a special devotee of Batman:
"Sometimes I read them over and over again. They show off a lot. I don't remember Batman's name, but the boy's name is Robin. They live together. It could be that Batman did something with Robin like I did with the younger boy. . . . Batman could have saved this boy's life. Robin looks something like a girl. He has only trunks on."
What's the big idea behind The Hookey Club?
The name Hookey Club started in this way. I was confronted with several children one day who were truants. While interviewing them as a group, they began questioning one another. This went so well that I asked them to return in a group. Little by little, whenever children with truancy problems came, my assistants would feed them into the group- therapy class. Once, before one of the weekly meetings, I said to a social worker, "I see the Hookey Club is coming in today." She laughed and repeated the remark, and the name stuck.
The Hookey Club developed into a regular institution. The sessions were strictly secret, with only myself and usually a stenographer present. All details remained confidential. At each session the case of one boy or girl or some general topic on someone's mind was discussed. One child functioned as chairman to maintain order. Every boy or girl at the session could question the child whose case was taken up. And everyone could express his opinion about the case. Among the children were always some experts in various forms of delinquency who questioned the child who was up for discussion. Whatever a child might have learned from comic books for the commission of a delinquent act, the group never accepted that as an excuse. Nor did any child ever spontaneously bring it up as an excuse.