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December 1970

25 November 1970 / A defense of campus media

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For some reason, a lot of people on the M.I.T. campus seem to be disappointed with the quality of campus journalism at this institute. "The good people are all getting out, they say, pointing to a rash of recent resignations from the grandaddy paper on campus, the TECH (But since I am still involved in M.I.T. journalism, I must admit some skepticism about that statement.). There are other people, and sometimes they are the same people, who complain about the WTBS coverage of the M.I.T. campus, claiming that the station spends more time in "local" coverage of the Cambridge and Boston areas, than it does covering the "local area which surrounds its studios. As of now, radio and the newspapers are all the M.I.T. media and some feel that they are just not doing the job.

I'm not going to make a total defense of the media. None of them are really doing the job they should be, including this paper. They should be covering the news of this campus, day in and day out, on an objective basis, providing the students and faculty with the facts, presented as honestly as possible, to facilitate each one making his own decisions, which is the function of a "real' news medium. In addition, the editorial staffs should express the conclusions they have reached as a form of guidance (except WTBS which is restricted by law).

This is not what happens now. What happens now is that most of us get our current information from super slanted hand-outs or reports, with very little independent investigation of either side. There are excuses for this deplorable situation (aren't there always?) but they simply point up another failure of the media: there aren't enough people on this campus interested in being working journalists. Or if there are enough interested people, they don't seem to feel that they can work within the presently existing structure here. Until they pitch in too, it will remain true that, from your four sources of M.I.T. news, you will get what you pay for (assuming you get the TECH free like the rest of us.)

Speaking of movies (whaaa...?) WUSA is now playing at the Sack Cheri complex, and it is very nearly worth the 3 dollar admission to see it(I say very nearly because there is almost no movie ever made that is worth that kind of scandalous admission. Let them eat cake until next year, when it comes to LSC for 50 cents.) The movie features (among others) Joanne Woodward and hubbie Paul Newman, who do a good job of acting in a plot filled with stereotypes. The plot is thin: Paul Newman is working for a super-right wing radio station in New Orleans, WUSA. The owners have political designs, and are using patriotism, racism, and welfare fraud to suck in the rubes. As you might expect, we see the familiar faces: the hardened cynical announcer-with-no-conscience Paul Newman, the suddenly disillusioned young social worker who only wanted to help people, and the hard-bitten southern nit-wit who is using faith in America as a front. It's a little hard to believe that this is the only kind of person left who believes in this country, but if you judged our culture by our films and literature, that's what you would think. In spite of its faults, the movie makes some valid points about shallow "live-in" relationships, and the ludicrous aspects of patriotism run rampant.

If  all things go as expected, Captain Zommar and the Galaxy pirates will appear once more on the Mike Davis radio Programme sometime ( 9:30 P.M. to 12 M.) during the show of December 5. Here's your chance to catch their act. More later...

18 Nov 1970 / Comics Code

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It's been two weeks since we last met. At the very least, we're both older, and I'm wiser.

 Speaking of comic books, as you may remember, as we left you last time, we prepared to introduce our villain: The Code of the Comic Magazine Assoc. of America Inc., which consists of 90% of all publishers, distributors, printers and engravers.

And let me give you a hint: You can write and have printed the world’s most fascinating piece of illustrated fiction, and if no one will distribute it, no one else will ever see it.

The distributors, in the comics field, hold the key to power, and since they are directly subject to local pressure, they embrace the concept which makes taste, judgement, and censorship someone else's decision. How about a code that says "no comic shall use the word Horror or Terror in its title." (Part B-l); or one that includes a prohibition against " Scenes of horror...gory or gruesome crimes, depravity..."

Not that I am in favor of comics which would feature such things, but the language used is so broad and vague that it can and has been used against comics that have tried to express a worthy point in graphic form.

In this day and age, the code still enforces a candy-coated reality for the comics world: "Illicit sex relations are neither to be hinted at, or portrayed.” (My emphasis added) The ultimate in self-censorship is yet to be found, in section C of the code: "All elements or techniques not specifically mentioned herein, but which are contrary to the spirit and intent of the code, and are considered violations of good taste or decency, shall be prohibited." It's certainly comforting to know that someone was protecting my good taste and decency during the years I read comics myself. Why quote the code? What is it? What does it mean? It means that the comics industry self-polices itself into a nearly universal level of blandness.

There are no real surprises in comics.

Which is what gives rise to the underground comics. The blandness is a result of the generalities which we have just quoted from the code.

It is so broad as to be able to condemn almost anything, any story, and illustration, depending on who is interpreting it.

And to second guess this kind of censorship is to eliminate controversy before the material is even submitted.

In talks with production people at the Marvel comics group, I discovered that late submission of material to the printer results in large financial loss. Since all material must be pre-submitted to the code authority, censorship is equal to money lost.

This kind of censorship is now being hailed by many because it is so successful. Le-'s hope that its success does not lead to its adoption in other fields. Yet there are people in establishment comics that are trying to make a point in the magazines they write. In particular, I am speaking of Stan Lee and the Marvel Comics Group, of which he is head man (Art director and Editor-in Chief).

The group is a loose confederation of commercial artists ( as most comic groups are these days) who are given their story lines from a select group of authors employed bythe publishing house. The editor adds his loving touch on every story, and PRESTO! You have a consistent editorial line which has a point of view of life to get across to the reader.

That helps define the comic art form as literature.

The other adventure magazines are now following suit, but I see Stan Lee as the leader.

Illustrated fiction is heading for bigger and better things, and if you'd like to see a new entertainment form in the embryonic stages, go back again, and look at the comics rack especially for Marvels).

Scenes From American Life by A.R. Gurney Jr.

(The M.I.T. instructor in the field of playwriting) was, to put it simply, one of those rare combinations of the very funny and the deeply tragic, together yet separate. When viewed as whole, it is clear that the play's kaleidoscopic representation of Buffalo, N.Y. from 1930 to 1985 is tragic in nature. This does not really become clear until the end of the play however, so one is allowed to laugh at the very human and very touching scenes from everyone's life that the playwright portrays. (Without telling too much of the lot, I highly recommend close attention to the scene with the choir boys; the minister; and the young person's first exposure to tennis, in which he asks “What is love?" and is told that " Love means nothing.").

In describing the mixture, I am reminded very much of a common reaction to the film Joe. Some say that if the overall tone of a play or movie is tragic, then no individual part of it can be considered funny, but I disagree. Looking back on the whole play, I consider it to have been frightening, prophetic, and well done.

The dialog was sharp (Some minor lapses.

No major ones), and considering the short rehearsal period, their performances were nicely polished. The scenes from 1985 were introduced gradually throughout the play, until, near the end, they became more entwined with the past and the present, so much so that they dominated.

All the harmless little inhumanities that went before suddenly combined into man's ultimate inhumanity. Since many have mentioned it, including a Maijamajers who wishes to remain anonymous, you will note that this column did not start off by saying "This is what I will do this week", following which I proceeded to do it.

Instead, I got right into the real guts, a habit I will continue while relegating my tangents to the end rather than the start.

4 November 1970 /Stan Lee is Shakespeare

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Well, the time has come to speak of many things. In the main, we should start off by telling you what you won't see if you continue to invest your time (wisely) in this column. You will not see a review of the MIT Dramashop performances of the Friday prior to Princeton Week. This is because I was unable to attend them, and I dislike reviewing things I haven't seen.

By the By, if you want to compare my style of reviewing with your own opinions of an event, you can see Scenes from American Life in Kresge Little Theatre sometime between tonight and Sunday night, and then read my review next week (make that the week after, since we don't publish next week). Turning to more important things, we reach the real guts of this week’s column: a stunning analysis of COMIC-Format Magazines

Do you really know what a comic book is; he queried? Probably not. Probably, you think of Donald Duck or Superman, or Millie the Model, if you think anything at all. Well, do not think things like that. That is like judging the LP record format on the basis of the Archie's Sugar Sugar. It's not the format, it's the content that counts (It's the message. not the medium).

Of all the messages expressed in the medium, I of course have my favorite style of delivery and content. That is Stan Lee's Marvel Comics Group, as those of you familiar with the lore of comicdom could no doubt have guessed.

Without a doubt, if there is a Shakespeare of comic-magazines, Stan Lee is the leading contender for the title, on the basis of over 20 years of continuing lofty contributions to the medium. But why read comics? Of what import are they? Why waste time in this column on them? I don't consider it a waste of time, any more than I consider any other form of entertainment a waste of time. I believe that comics are important as an alternative form of written entertainment which is all too often ignored or minimized simply out of Blind Prejudice, rather than an examination of the facts. Their importance as portrayals of a view of life is probably minimal, and this is of course a major function of most “quality” written entertainment (or literature if you will). But when it comes to fantasy and science fiction in which the story's "statement" is a more or less "secondary" part of the content, Illustrated Fiction (as comics are on occasion known) takes a back seat to no art format.

This occurs in spite of an Industry demon known as the "Comics Code Authority", which is a rather thinly veiled attempt to make everything in the Comics field as bland as Daffy Duck. For example, the entire line of gothic horror magazines produced by EC Publications (Mad magazine when it was a comic book was part of this group) was driven from the stands by the code, and Mad was forced into a magazine format. For years after the code's mid-fifties introduction, the entire field of Illustrated Fiction was stagnant, until the arrival in the early 60's of The Fantastic Four, bravely titled "The Worlds Greatest Comic Magazine!". After a few months the title seemed a little less brave, because the magazine nearly was the world's best at the time

If the above does not seem to fit the flow of this column very well, that’s because it cannot and does not fit naturally. Suffice it to say that you can’t understand why comics have been so totally ignored until now until you know about the Comics Code, and Stan Lee, and the new “Golden Age of Comics,” and the Marvel Comics Group which should soon (or perhaps now has) make comics acceptable and respectable.