Welcome, culture-lovers, to another guest post by Bashful BARRY PEARL, where he takes a look at FREDRIC WERTHAM's (in)famous book, SEDUCTION Of The INNOCENT. Let's not waste any more time with introductions from me, let's get straight to the meat and potatoes. Take it away, Barry...
I thought this would be a good time to look back at Fredric Wertham’s attack on comics during the 1950s. Why now? Because his notes and records have only recently become available to scholars.
1955 brought Dr. Fredric Wertham, author of Seduction of the Innocent, to Senator Kefauver and his new committee looking into juvenile delinquency. Wertham and the committee sensationalized the issue drawing attention almost solely to comic books. They did not, at this time, bring much insight into the many societal causes of juvenile delinquency -- poverty, lack of jobs, opportunities, and lack of good parenting -- and seemed to just blame comics for all teenage evils. Given time they would have included acne. I know that a broken clock is correct twice a day and the same thing happens to be true for a broken doctor.
Wertham was correct, some of these stories were gruesome and should not have been available to children, but his book did not scientifically link juvenile delinquency to comics books, it just sensationalized the issue. By scientifically, I mean using methods that were repeatable and verifiable. Wertham found images where no one else did. Judges, journalists and medical professionals challenged his results, but they were ignored amid all the furious cries of outraged parents and teachers. Wertham also continued to treat the entire genre as if it consisted solely of crime comics, when nothing was further from the truth. He also claimed that Superman, created by two Jews, was a Nazi and that Wonder Woman, Batman, and Robin exhibited homosexual behavior.
There are different opinions about Wertham’s work, but many people confuse their view of his intent with what he actually published. While people may have different opinions, we should not have different facts. When I read his book as a teenager in the 1960’s and saw him on TV, I thought that he was trying to promote himself as an absolute authority, someone not to be questioned. For example, in the 1960s, he still advocated the banning of comics because he said the lettering could cause blindness.
I do not have to use the polite words of a professional - Wertham made up many of his findings, distorted the truth, ignored important facts and didn't ever see many of the young people he claimed to. The innocents that were seduced were parents and book buyers, whom he wanted to follow his lead. Apparently Zealots don’t care about the facts as long as they can succeed in getting their views across.
There were catastrophic consequences to his book and the congressional hearings that followed. Hundreds of people lost their jobs when dozens of publishers went out of business. Publishers were made out to be villains.
And so, comics were forced to change and for a decade were written mostly for children. Wertham said he was against censorship, but would also say a higher authority was needed to control comics. If that isn’t censorship what is? Wertham altered his speeches and changed his tune in different sections of the country. In New York, where the major publishers were, he had said that he only wanted to ban "crime comics", which he said made up only 6 percent of the titles. In other parts of the country he would say "crime comic books are comic books that depict crime, whether the setting is urban, Western, science-fiction, jungle, adventure or the realm of supermen, 'horror' or supernatural beings." In other words, just about all serious comics.
Wertham maintained that a huge majority of the thousands of troubled children he saw read comics and that was a major cause of their problems. Even as a teenager, this bothered me. How could one man treat thousands in just a few years? And he was seeing a limited sample, only troubled youths. His patients did not include well-adjusted kids; how did they react to comics?
Even as a pre-teen, I liked girls. Still do. I thought of them all the time! Wertham suggested that reading Batman and Robin could make many boys not like girls, because Batman and Robin had an inviting gay lifestyle. And, of course, Wertham considered gayness a terrible, infectious, affliction. What did reading comics have to do with sexuality?
Carol L. Tilley, in the historical journal of Information & Culture (2012), presents a lot of the missing pieces in her enlightening and important scholarly work, "Seducing the Innocent: Fredric Wertham and the Falsifications That Helped Condemn Comics". Ms. Tilly studied the papers of Wertham that had been donated to the Library of Congress, but were unopened until 2010.
We discover that many of the children used for Seduction’s examples were not seen by Wertham, but by others, in many institutions. Most of the children had long-term disorders, which Tilley lists as including "undesirable habits" (e.g., masturbation and nightmares), "personality traits" (e.g. daydreaming and restlessness), and "undesirable behaviors" (e.g. truancy and disobedience)". Wertham, it turns out, had not seen all those children and relied on the reports of others.
Tilley researches the gay issue: "In Seduction, Wertham proposed that homosexual men identified strongly with the Batman comics... More specifically, Batman and Robin offered readers 'a wish dream of two homosexuals living together.' Wertham shared the insights of a young homosexual man who stated, 'I think I put myself in the position of Robin. I did want to have relations with Batman.' The young man... was actually two men, ages sixteen and seventeen, who had been in a sexual relationship with one another for several years and had realized they were homosexual by the age of ten. Wertham combined their statements, failing to indicate that the seventeen-year-old is the one who noted, 'The only suggestion of homosexuality may be that they seemed to be so close to each other' and omitting the phrase that followed, 'like my friend and I.' Further, Wertham did not make any mention that the two teens had found the Sub-Mariner and Tarzan to be better subjects than Batman and Robin for their early erotic fantasies."
There are several other inaccuracies and falsification of data on this subject, such as Wertham mentioning Batman totally out of context to a subject’s statement. "Wertham’s treatment of evidence in Seduction and his responses to questions about his comics-related research were indicative of a larger pattern of spurious and questionable behaviors."
In one more example, Wertham states that strong female characters could not just ignite lesbian desires in young women but cause them to hate men and behave criminally. He cites a 13-year old girl named Dorothy, as an example. She writes: "Wertham commented that the images of strong women reinforced 'violent revenge fantasies' against men and possibly creates these violent anti-men (therefore homosexual) fantasies... Sheena and the other comic book women such as Wonder Woman are very bad ideals for them."
Tilley writes: "Wertham also declined to mention in Seduction that Dorothy - in addition to being habitually truant - was a runaway and a gang member, was sexually active, and had both a reading disability and below normal intelligence… Most telling of all, however, is a key fact Wertham omitted from Seduction: Dorothy was Dr. Mosse’s patient, not his, and as she was hospitalized at Kings County Hospital, where he did not practice, he would have never spoken with or observed her."
Stan Lee, WBAI radio: "Wertham was the psychiatrist who came along and he blamed comic books for virtually every ill that has ever befallen mankind and I was very disappointed in him."
Interesting stuff, eh? I'll make my own views known in the comments section eventually, but hopefully some Criv-ites will respond before then and thank Barry for his efforts on our behalf. I'll start the ball rolling by saying thank you, Barry, for taking the time and trouble in supplying something more substantial than my usually trivial efforts.