Dr. Fredric Wertham Remains Comics Greatest Villian
…and now there’s proof he likely falsified his data, lied about his findings and apparently even manipulated his interviews.
While the findings of Wertham (who died in 1981) have long been questioned by the comics industry and its advocates, a recent study of the materials he used to write “Seduction of the Innocent” suggests that Wertham misrepresented his research and falsified his results.
Carol L. Tilley, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science, reviewed Wertham’s papers, housed in the Library of Congress, starting at the end of 2010, shortly after they were made available to the public.
In a new article in Information & Culture: A Journal of History, Dr. Tilley offers numerous examples in which she says Wertham “manipulated, overstated, compromised and fabricated evidence,” particularly in the interviews he conducted with his young subjects.
Drawing from his own clinical research and pointed interpretations of comic-book story lines, Wertham argued in the book that comics were harming American children, leading them to juvenile delinquency and to lives of violence, drugs and crime.
“Seduction of the Innocent” was released to a public already teeming with anti-comics sentiment, and Wertham was embraced by millions of citizens who feared for America’s moral sanctity; he even testified in televised hearings.
Yet according to Dr. Tilley, he may have exaggerated the number of youths he worked with at the low-cost mental-health clinic he established in Harlem, who might have totaled in the hundreds instead of the “many thousands” he claimed. Dr. Tilley said he misstated their ages, combined quotations taken from many children to appear as if they came from one speaker and attributed remarks said by a single speaker to larger groups.
Other examples show how Wertham omitted extenuating circumstances in the lives of his patients, who often came from families marred by violence and substance abuse, or invented details outright.
Wertham is pretty much seen as the man who did two things: 1) He gave the world the cultural “joke” that Batman and Robin were gay long before Burt Ward and Adam West did it back in the late 60s with the phrase “old chum” on national television. 2) He pretty much killed the industry for about eight years.
“Seduction” came out in 1954 and by 1957, Marvel Comics forerunner, Timely Comics had a series of mass layoffs which nearly killed the company. For two years, the only employees doing comics were Stan Lee and two or three freelance artists doing Western and romance comics. (Jack Kirby didn’t come on-board until 1958 and only after he had no where else to go. Bad blood already existed between him and Lee from an incident which led to Kirby’s termination from Timely in the 1940s.) Books like Justice League, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and the Avengers were years away and only after DC Comics led the way first with rebooted versions of their classic heroes like “The Flash” and “Green Lantern” led the revival.
In the meantime, all publishers policed themselves through “The Code,” short for the self-censoring “Comics Code Authority.” The Code pretty much banned any horror, crime, and terror comics until the mid-to-late 70s. For years, you couldn’t do a story at any of the publishers which included the classic horror monsters of werewolves, vampires and zombies.
Wertham would have hated “The Walking Dead” one can only guess.
But the real irony to the “Seduction of the Innocent” saga is that for what would sound like a Wertham was a few centuries ahead of Brent Bozell and the Family Television Council, he was actually a practicing liberal. His early studies of segregation were written about in the briefs used for Brown vs. Board of Education.
The Times says as much:
Michael Chabon, who researched the early history of comics for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” said that while Wertham had been viewed as “this almost McCarthyite witch hunter,” he was actually “an extremely well-intentioned liberal, progressive man in many ways,” providing mental health services to minorities and the poor.
But of “Seduction of the Innocent,” Mr. Chabon said: “You read the book, it just smells wrong. It’s clear he got completely carried away with his obsession, in an almost Ahab-like way.”
Word was that Wertham then wanted to spend most of the 1960s going after television, but apparently couldn’t get a publisher.
Guess it was one of those “good intentions” things the Left keeps lecturing us about.
Anyway, fast-forward nearly 70 years and what do we have? A comic book industry that is now more-or-less a loss-leader for major media conglomerates so they can make movies out of the properties. It’s watchdog is no more — the Code officially went under in 2011 — and its iconic logo is now owned by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a group dedicated to end censorship of the comic book industry.
Wertham will probably go down in history as a crank on the same level as Tipper Gore when she went after the music industry in the 1980s. Frankly, people are going to snap the same ways they always have — lousy childhoods filled with violence, uncaring parents who ever never there and of course — they just might be wired that way. No media (or weapon) has been known to change that.
Of course, it is a lot easier to blame a medium or a weapon than it is to blame the parents.