Anthony Comstock: Moral Crusader

Anthony Comstock’s Traps for the Young details the horrible effects that can arise from media within the young population. He argues that every form of media has the ability to portray evil and immoral things that taint the minds of the impressionable. As we have studied in class, Comstock made it his life’s goal to rid the world of immoral media and Traps for the Young acts as a case study for his morality crusade.

In the book, Comstock has examples of children whose lives had gone astray as a direct result of the media they had consumed. In his preface, Comstock lays out his view of media. He writes, “We assimilate what we read. The pages of printed matter become our companions… They are constant attendants to quicken thought and influence action.” [1] Comstock believes that media directly influences thoughts and actions. If one reads good media, they will be refined and intelligent and make the right decisions. Those who read evil things become criminals with severely damaged souls. Comstock wrote this book to warn adults, specifically parents and teachers, of all of the ways the young people in their lives could be ruined.

Throughout the reading, Comstock uses first-hand accounts and statistics to prove his arguments. He writes, “If anyone doubts the startling facts stated, let me here place on record my entire readiness to sustain my assertions with proofs.” [2] Comstock is basically saying that the evidence presented, while seemingly far-fetched, is completely truthful and that he has proof to back up every piece of evidence he had portrayed. If he has proof of these facts and figures, why didn’t he present them in the book itself? I’m not sure if bibliographies were around when Comstock wrote this in 1883, but he has no sources listed. Many of the corrupt children he wrote about do not have names, perhaps for privacy purposes. Statistics can be shaped and portrayed in ways that benefit the argument and Comstock certainly took advantage of that. He used interviews as fact, but the transcription of an interview could easily be falsified and there is nothing to back that what he wrote ever actually took place. His use of evidence was not concrete and there is really no way to prove that all of these children committed crimes or were led astray due to what they read.

Comstock places the blame for evil media on a few different groups of people. The ones directly responsible are the individuals of the press. Newspaper owners, editors, writers, distributers, etc. all have a say in what is put out into the public. He describes the press as “that mighty agency for good or evil,” saying that the press can be used, well, for good or for evil. [3] The other parties responsible are the adults in children’s lives. Parents, guardians, and teachers should be inspecting what their children read and should be on the lookout for suspicious media. Comstock blames negligent and thoughtless adults for the corruption of their children and holds them criminally responsible for a child’s demise. [4]

As the Chief Inspector of the New York City Post Office, Comstock was able to intercept some of this evil media from being spread. It was as if he thought that there was no other person who could stop the spread of the media and therefore it was solely on him to do so. He was able to separate what he read from how he acted, but believed that children could absolutely not do the same. I think that the direct correlation between what someone reads or the media they consume and how they act is often much more ambiguous than Comstock seemed to think. He thought it was his duty to rid the United States of the effects of evil media and in doing so made some less than credible claims.

[1] Anthony Comstock, Traps for the Young, 3rd ed. (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1883), ix.

[2] Ibid, x.

[3] Ibid, 14.

[4] Ibid, 28.


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