Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Big 5-4

There's no traditional gift listed for a 54th anniversary. No paper or gold or amethyst. It's not a nice round number like 50 or 75, so I guess no traditions have accrued to the time when we celebrate the big 5-4.

This year, however, there's a certain mathematical distinctiveness to a 54th anniversary, because it honors those people and things that were born in 1954. They're as old now as the 20th century was when they entered the world. Neat.

Elvis Costello turns 54 this year. So does Condoleezza Rice. Brady Bunch-er Barry Williams is 54 this year (remind me to tell you the Barry Williams story some time). Civil servant and eMailer Mark Foley celebrates 54 happy years this year. So do both Oprah Winfrey and Howard Stern, so we can enjoy the full spectrum of media bigwigs.

And something else turns 54 this year. And I think it's high time somebody celebrated it.

2008 marks the 54th anniversary of the Comics Code Authority and its helpful seal of approval. For 54 glorious years, the Code has protected our nation's children from such pervasive threats as (and I quote the Code itself): "lurid, unsavory, gruesome illustrations;" "scenes of horror, excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, sadism, (and) masochism;" "nudity with meretricious purpose and salacious postures;" "scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism;" and, of course, "sexual abnormalities." Sorry Mark Foley.

As a result, all children born, reared or spending significant time in the good old freedom-loving U. S. of A. from 1954 on, including all those listed above, have been kept safe and happy in a land devoid of any of those evils. After all, as long as they're not depicted in a comic book, we're all safe from them.

In 1971, the Code was revised to allow stories portraying drug use as long as it was presented as a "vicious habit." Also, some of the classic monsters like vampires and werewolves were allowed, though not before comics writer Marv Wolfman had to remove his name from a credit line due to the Code's diligent enforcers. Yes, really!

Today, the Code continues to protect our children, though only Archie Comics and DC's youth-oriented Johnny DC lines still subscribe to it. In 2001, Marvel Comics abandoned the Code for its own TV-inspired ratings system, with categories for "All Ages" and "T+ (teens)." So sadly, at the relatively young age of 54, the Code appears to be headed for retirement.

But I'm sure it won't leave us without fanfare. I'm sure there will be tributes aplenty for something that stood so long to guard something as precious as our children from something as vile as words combined with pictures. The testimonials should be rolling in any time now.

Any old time now.

Hm. Strange. Maybe the traditional gift for a 54th anniversary is a deafening silence.

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