WASHINGTON, September 18, 2016 — The year was 1955 and the United States Senate Judiciary Committee was gearing up to investigate a growing threat to America. A Senate resolution launching the hearings reads as follows:
“It is essential to the public interest that a study be made of the problems involved in connection with the cause of juvenile delinquency… and whereas comic books may tend to provoke acts of juvenile delinquency… remedial legislation may be found necessary and desirable.”
Below that Associated Press story, which appeared in the Ellensburg Daily Record, was a one-paragraph brief cheerfully noting that American and Soviet atmospheric atomic tests were “a help to weather men” studying worldwide “air movement.”
In its 50-page report issued later that year, the Senate rejected censorship as “totally out of keeping with our basic American concepts of a free press operating in a free land for a free people.”
Six decades later, the United States Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency would be scandalized by Marvel Comic’s Jessica Jones, a comic book character adapted for the small screen in the Netflix original series by the same name.
There is sex – of the heterosexual, homosexual and incestuous varieties. There is violence – lots of it.
And there is a scary sadomasochistic villain who makes people do the most horrific things using the power of his dirty mind.
Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is a former prisoner of the mind-controlling Zebediah Kilgrave (David Tennant – Dr. Who). Kilgrave, aka the Purple Man is a fictional supervillain character, created by writer Stan Lee and artist Joe Orlando.
Before escaping the villain’s sway, Jones kills a woman at the bequest of Kilgrave – because of course, she has superhuman strength.
The guilt associated with that murder adds layers of misery to the post-traumatic-stress already fueling Jones’ nightmares and heavy alcohol consumption.
Now a jaded private investigator – an apparent compulsory vocation for two-fisted drinkers – Jones is hired to find the missing college-age daughter of a salt-of-the-Earth Nebraska couple. The eventual reunion does not work out well for the family.
When the private eye eventually rescues the missing girl, the victim says Kilgrave is obsessed with Jones and wants her back. “He’ll control you,” says the girl, “He’ll make you do things – terrible things… you should kill yourself.”
Kilgrave doesn’t have much empathy for his fellow human beings, or the burdens that come with free will and individuality. “How do you people live like this,” he tells his entourage of enslaved minions. “Day after day, just hoping people are going to do what you want. It’s terrible.”
As one victim admits to Jones, “There was a kind of freedom to being under Kilgrave’s control. You’re not a slave to guilt or fear or even logic. You just do what you’re told.”
In their book “The Politics of Popular Culture,” Tim Nieguth and Shauna Wilton observe that political scientists have “much to gain from taking popular culture seriously. Popular culture matters politically because it can transport particular notions of politics, society, and the nature of power and identity.”
Not many American kids are reading Thomas Paine’s “The American Crisis,” which argued in favor of America’s war for independence, but they are reading the Marvel saga of flawed heroin Jessica Jones.
And like Paine’s struggle against Britain’s King George III, Jones discovers in the course of her struggle against the English supervillain Kilgrave that “tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
And the bitter war between Jones and Kilgrave is certainly hard and difficult.
The television adaptation of Marvel Comics’ “Jessica Jones” is now streaming on Netflix.