Despite considering myself fairly well-read when it comes to comic books, I have never read the infamous Seduction of the Innocent by Fredric Wertham. I have seen originals priced in the hundreds of dollars range but, every once in a while, one publisher or another sets out to reprint it. I had never seen one of those reprints actually come to pass, though, a fact which I lamented recently here on this board. Captain Comics mentioned that he bought a copy that actually was reprinted in 2004, which sent me on a quest. (I remember reading about it, but never saw it solicited or published.) I soon found a copy at a price I was willing to pay. 

I first learned about Seduction of the Innocent (and read excerpts) from Jules Feiffer's The Great Comic Book Heroes. Wertham was never mentioned throughout my academic career, including college. In fact, all I have ever heard about him was through "comic book" sources. I have always been interested in reading Seduction of the Innocent, but only as a curiosity, which is the only way I thought it would ever be published. I just finished reading the 2004 edition's 37-page introduction, but so far that's all I've read of it. I was quite surprised to see Wertham championed as "a distinguished psychiatrist of wide and deeply humane interests, a advocate of social reform, and a defender of civil liberties." 

James Reibman, who wrote the introduction, does a good job of presenting both sides of the story, but the selected quotes of industry professionals are edited to highlight his particular thesis. (If I said one of the female writer/editors quoted is widely known for shooting off her mouth would you be able to guess to whom I was referring?) I know know more about Fredric Wertham now than I did previously, and I believe he thought he was doing the right thing. (Actually, I've always thought that.) Despite his intentions, I remain convinced that his research was faulty by today's standards and that ultimately he did much more harm than good. 

I have always been told (and believed) that Wertham's "research" consisted of him interviewing "juvenile delinquents" and asking them if they read comics. Since almost all kids read comics in those days, Q.E.D. But here's something I gleaned just from skimming his test cases, of which there are 14. They are all boys between the ages of 9 and 12 who read far below their age level, but there's something else that jumps right out at me. I'm not going to defend what "I.Q." means in this context, but these boys had scores ranging from 54 through 74. they did not present themselves well. I wonder what his results would have yielded had he interviewed children with I.Q.s of 100 (which is average) or above who read comic books?

There is also a 16-page section of illustrations culled from contemporary comics which are clearly taken out of context. One of them has a caption which reads: "Comic books are supposed to be like fairy tales." Oh, yeah? Who says? I don't know how much more I'll have to say about this book once I actually start reading it, but I thought I'd start this thread just in case. Frederic Wertham may have been a great guy with the best of intentions, but it's going to be difficult to convince me that he didn't do more harm than good. I will try to read with an open mind. 

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As I did once before, I'm just going to pull some select quotes and present them here without comment.

"Trial by jury and legal counsel are a right of adults. Children are being sent away to reformatories undefended and sometimes without even having their guilt properly established. I know of cases of children sent to reformatories when I was convinced they were not guilty. In some cases familiar to me the police, needing a solution, have obtained confessions from innocent children by tricky and unfair methods. They include serious crimes, even homicide."

"What is censorship? The industry has obscured that by claiming that the publisher exercises a censorship over himself. That is not what censorship means. It means control of one agency by another. When Freud speaks of an internal censor in the human mind, he does not mean that instinctive behavior can control itself. He specifically postulates another agency, the superego, which functions as a censor. The social fact is that radio, books, movies, stage plays, translations, do function under a censorship. So do newspaper comic strips, which all have to pass the censorship of the editor, who sometimes--as in the case of the Newark News--rejects advance proofs. Comic books for children have no censorship. The contrast between censorship for adults and the lack of it for children leads to such fantastic incongruities as the arrest of a girl in a nightclub for obscenity because she wrestles with a stuffed gorilla, when any six-year-old, for ten cents, can pore for hours or days over jungle books where real gorillas do much more exciting things with half-undressed girls than just wrestling."

"The progress of public-health legislation has not been easy either. Theodore Roosevelt and LaGuardia, when they came out for laws controlling drugs and food, faced the same counterarguments made now against comic book laws. A good example of the obstacles in the path of public welfare laws is a court case of 1892. A landlord had failed too provide running water on each floor of a large tenement house. That seems to us now a self-understood requirement of public health. But at that time the Court of Appeals ruled: 'There is no evidence, nor can the court judicially know, that the pressure and distribution of water on the several floors will conduce to the health of the occupants... There is no necessity for legislative compulsion on a landlord to distribute water through the stories of his buildings; since, if the tenants require it, self-interest and the rivalry of competition are sufficient to secure it.'"

"I had occasion to try out these ideas of mine in a totally different field--although at one point comic books were involved there, too. I was giving expert testimony in Wilmington in the Delaware test case concerning segregation in elementary and public schools. I presented to the court in detail the thesis that regardless of the quality or inequality of the physical facilities, the fact of segregation itself constitutes a definite hazard for the mental health of children.

"Mental health is just as important as physical health. Its protection should be based on the same kind of scientific clinical thinking as public health. The individualistic thinking in psychology becomes unscientific when applied to a mass problem of social life. Public-health legislation is not directed against the past injury to an individual, but against the potential future injury to all."

"Segregation in high school is only one factor in the social context of other factors, I went on. One cannot postulate a fixed hierarchy of factors operative in every case. The very fact that these children are exposed to race prejudice in other spheres highlights the social segregation. In this connection, I mentioned the race prejudice taught in comic books. The court accepted my public-mental-health point of view and ordered the children admitted to the schools from which they had been excluded."

"One obstacle was the attitude of some writers, editorialists and columnists on child welfare whose minds arwe closed to something new. They regard juvenile delinquents as if they were totally different from other children. Even liberal writers write of 'the mark of Cain which an evil destiny brands on some of our children.' They believe that emotionally strong children are unaffected, while the emotionally insecure children are exposed. This is pure speculation. It means the distinction between an invulnerable elite and a vulnerable common group. Reflect what snobbishness is involved."

"[Author Albert Deutsch] also use the ostrich argument that the child delinquency rate 'was actually declining.' It was not. Moreover, delinquency statistics are most unreliable. When a social or private agency needs more appropriations or contributions to combat juvenile delinquency, the delinquency rate goes up; when they make reports accounting for the money spent, the rates go down. the rosy statistics offered by the New York City Youth Board in 1953 are a case in point. About three facts there can be no doubt: Delinquency rates are at present very high; the nature of the delinquencies has become more violent; the age of the delinquents has become lower." 

XIII. HOMICIDE AT HOME - "Television and the Child"

Not since the concluding chapters of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle have I seen a chapter so obviously "tacked on" as a seeming afterthought. I will continue to pull random quotes that strike me and try to pull them all together after I finish reading the book.

"What is said of one medium may be totally untrue of another. I know many people, children and adults, who have turned to read the original book after seeing an adaptation in the movies... In all these years we have found not a single child who turned from a comic book adaptation to the original. And yet experts for the defense of comic-books. micing together the media whenever possible, makes this one of their chief claims."

"One can often learn about one medium from observation of another... the different media are not mutually exclusive. Some of them blend very well; when they blend with comic books it is always in their worst aspects. There are radio comic books, TV comic books and movie comic books. But the great inroads that television was expected to make--and for a short time seemed to have made--have not materialized. The movies killed the dime novel, but television did not even wound the comic-book industry. The low order of literacy of television fitted in well with the almost total illiteracy of crime comics."

"The mass media have power for good or ill, on society and the individual. No amount of facile theorizing can explain that away. They present a new ethical problem. and if at present they do so much harm, the industries themselves by their own momentum evidently cannot remedy that. This became especially clear to me when I heard a high television-executive say that if all violence and horror were removed from comic books and television everything in the world would remain the same. That unethical type of argument has been made at every step of progress mankind has ever made, be it aseptics, vaccination or meat inspection."

Now that I have finished it, I see now that chapter 13 is a more-or-less real time shift in the zeitgeist of the era from comic books to the next threat against America's children. In addition to television, Wertham turns his attention to gum cards, toys, etc. His rhetoric is really becoming like a broken record to me now ("as bad as [X] is, comic books are worse], but I'll continue pulling some random quotes and hope to wrap this discussion up later today or tomorrow. I'm sure many here are familiar with the 1950 movie serial Atom Man vs. Superman. Here's what Werhtam had to say about that.

"What all media need at present is a rollback of sadism. What they do to children is that they make them confuse violence with strength, sadism with sex, low necklines with femininity, racial prejudice with patriotism and crime with heroism... In a competitive way the media influence each other in the direction of the ritual of violence. Crime comic books influence television and radio, both of them influence the movies... Some movie writers look in crime comic books for new tricks. For instance the producer of the movie serial 'Atom Man vs. Superman,' which was shown in about half the movie theaters of the country, is said to be 'an avid reader of the comics, from which he gets many of his ideas.'"

On Television: "Television is on the way to become the greatest medium of our time. It is a marvel of the technological advance of mankind. The hopes it raises are high, even though its most undoubted achievement to date is that it has brought homicide into the home. Its rise has been phenomenal. For every set in 1946 there are now (1953) more than two thousand. Television has a spotty past, a dubious present and a glorious future. That alone distinguishes it from crime comic books, which have a shameful past, a shameful present and no future at all."

[Cap: Joan works in TV, doesn't she? She might get a kick out of this chapter.]

He goes on to describe the gruesome scenes of Macbeth's decapitation and the putting out of Gloucester's eyes in King Lear in TV productions of Shakespeare's plays. I wonder what he'd make of The Walking Dead? And speaking about "bring homicide into the home," what about all those police procedural shows? 

"Murders, gunshots and violent acts are as plentiful on TV as raisins in a raisin cake--in fact some producers seem to think they are the raisins. An average child who is no particular television addict and takes what is offered absorbs from five to eleven murders a day from television. If he would confine himself exclusively to adult programs, the number would be less."

Television and Comic Books: "It is the faults of television that are like crime comics. Inherently the two are nearly opposites. Television is a miracle of science, on the constructive side of the ledger one of the greatest practical developments of scientific principles of physics. Comic books, on the contrary, are a debasement of the old institution of the old institution of printing, the corruption of the art of drawing and almost an abolition of literary writing. Television is a signpost to the future. Crime comics are an antisocial medium that belongs in the past."

Superman on TV: "Television has taken the worst out of comic books, from sadism to Superman. The comic-book Superman has long been recognized as a symbol of violent race superiority. The television Superman, looking like a mixture of an operatic tenor without his armor and an amateur athlete out of a health-magazine advertisement, does not only have 'superhuman powers,' but explicitly belongs to a 'super-race.'"

On the Future of Television: "The greatest obstacle to the future of good television for children is comic books and the comic-book culture in which we force children to live. If you want televsion to give uncorrupted programs to children you must first be able to offer it audiences of uncorrupted children."

All right, I'm going to wrap this up today. I realize this wasn't a very even-handed look at Wertham and Seduction of the Innocent, nor did I intent it to be. Neither did I set out to ridicule him. So what was my goal? I've read little snippets of SOTI all my life and have always wanted to read them in context. Knowing how difficult this book is to find, though I'd share some of that context here and maybe inspire some discussion. I learned a few things about Fredric Wertham along the way, for example: he was anti-censorship and was not happy with the CCA; before his anti-comics crusade he was best known for reforming prison conditions and his work helped abolish some of the more inhumane practices of incarceration; he also fought against racial discrimination. His article "Psychological Effects of School Segregation" (published in the American Journal of Psychology) was deemed an influential bit of evidence in the 1954 Supreme Court ruling "Brown vs. Board of Education" that declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional.

And yet, his crusade against comic books emasculated an emerging art form still in its infancy.

XIV. THE TRUIMPH OF DR. PAYN - "Comic Books Today and the Future"

This last chapter is little more than a rehash of the same old tune he's been singing throughout the whole book. Instead, I'd like to focus on Fredric Wertham "in the future." There is evidence that his stance on the effects of reading comic books may have softened over the years. In his 1973 book The World of Fanzines, he refers to them as "refreshingly outspoken," "uncontrived" and "positive." He goes on to say about them: "Their claim to attention, certainly not a small one, lies in the fact that they belong to the American cultural environment, that they exist and continue to exist as genuine human voices outside of all mass manipulation. These unheralded voices, not loud and strident, not ponderous, but cheerful, deserve to be heard... Many of [the articles] are relatively brief, but often they are well-researched serious attempts to present facts and conclusions. Their carefulness is actually in contrast to some of the 'quickie' reports found adequate in history, sociology and psychology university classes."

Fredric Wertham wrote that!

Jeff of Earth-J said:

I learned a few things about Fredric Wertham along the way, for example: he was anti-censorship and was not happy with the CCA

…..because it did abolish comics completely?

before his anti-comics crusade he was best known for reforming prison conditions and his work helped abolish some of the more inhumane practices of incarceration; he also fought against racial discrimination. His article "Psychological Effects of School Segregation" (published in the American Journal of Psychology) was deemed an influential bit of evidence in the 1954 Supreme Court ruling "Brown vs. Board of Education" that declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional.

I’m glad his life wasn’t completely wasted.

In his 1973 book The World of Fanzines, he refers to them as "refreshingly outspoken," "uncontrived" and "positive." He goes on to say about them: "Their claim to attention, certainly not a small one, lies in the fact that they belong to the American cultural environment, that they exist and continue to exist as genuine human voices outside of all mass manipulation. These unheralded voices, not loud and strident, not ponderous, but cheerful, deserve to be heard

What? The fanzines actually celebrating the horrible fascist Superman and his fellow heroes wasn’t a problem for him? 

Jeff of Earth-J said:

On Television: "Television is on the way to become the greatest medium of our time. It is a marvel of the technological advance of mankind. The hopes it raises are high, even though its most undoubted achievement to date is that it has brought homicide into the home. Its rise has been phenomenal. For every set in 1946 there are now (1953) more than two thousand. Television has a spotty past, a dubious present and a glorious future. That alone distinguishes it from crime comic books, which have a shameful past, a shameful present and no future at all."

Did he really have to put down the one thing to praise the other thing?

Jeff of Earth-J said:

He goes on to describe the gruesome scenes of Macbeth's decapitation and the putting out of Gloucester's eyes in King Lear in TV productions of Shakespeare's plays. I wonder what he'd make of The Walking Dead? And speaking about "bring homicide into the home," what about all those police procedural shows? 

Interesting question. The Comics Code Authority required the police to be presented in only the most positive light, and procedural shows of the 1950s did just that. The king of such shows, Dragnet, was practically a video press release for the Los Angeles Police Department. So was Wertham against the likes of Dragnet? Would he have preferred a more honest take like The Wire, or a warts-and-all presentation like We Own This City, or one where the cops are just another street gang like The Shield? Or would he rather the modern-day copaganda from The Dick Wolf Factory (the Law & Order franchise, the One Chicago franchise, the FBI franchise).

Jeff of Earth-J said:

"Murders, gunshots and violent acts are as plentiful on TV as raisins in a raisin cake--in fact some producers seem to think they are the raisins. An average child who is no particular television addict and takes what is offered absorbs from five to eleven murders a day from television. If he would confine himself exclusively to adult programs, the number would be less."

 

Jeff of Earth-J said:

Television and Comic Books: "It is the faults of television that are like crime comics. Inherently the two are nearly opposites. Television is a miracle of science, on the constructive side of the ledger one of the greatest practical developments of scientific principles of physics. Comic books, on the contrary, are a debasement of the old institution of the old institution of printing, the corruption of the art of drawing and almost an abolition of literary writing. Television is a signpost to the future. Crime comics are an antisocial medium that belongs in the past."

Somehow, I wonder what would happen if Frederic Wertham met Peggy Charen, of Action for Children's Television. She supposedly was also against censorship.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

On the Future of Television: "The greatest obstacle to the future of good television for children is comic books and the comic-book culture in which we force children to live."

I suppose Wertham's head would explode if he were around today with not only big-budget movies derived from comic books -- and not just superheroes, but things like Road to Perdition, Ghost World, Men in Black, Sin City, A History of Violence, to name a few -- but actual TV shows, animated and live-action, based on the exploits of superheroes and available for viewing at any moment.

Is it accepted that the Comics Code came about because of Wertham's book. Or was there already a move towards a code that used Wertham as evidence.

I know it's an impossible what if but if Wertham had concluded that the vast majority of children who read comics don't grow up to be violent criminals would the code have come about?

Would the Marvel boom of Lee, Kirby and Ditko etc have happened if crime, horror, war and romance comics hadn't been made almost impossible to produce under code guidelines ?

I suppose what I'm half seriously suggesting is do we have Wertham to thank for the last 50 years of superhero universes?

"Somehow, I wonder what would happen if Frederic Wertham met Peggy Charen, of Action for Children's Television."

I am almost (almost) ready to give Fredric Wertham the benefit of the doubt, but I will never budge on Peggy Charen.

"Or was there already a move towards a code that used Wertham as evidence."

Wertham wasn't the only anit-comics crusader, only the best remembered. The committee hearings grew from Senator Estes Kefauver's investigation into organized crime and its infiltration of the distribution channels. Wertham was called as a witness, but he did not instigate the hearings.

"Would the Marvel boom of Lee, Kirby and Ditko etc have happened if crime, horror, war and romance comics hadn't been made almost impossible to produce under code guidelines ?"

The answer involves postulating an entirely different reality than the one we live in now. It's like asking "What if Julius Schwartz hadn't revived the Flash?" or "What if Joe Maneely hadn't been killed in 1958?" The answer is "It would have been different," but there's no way to predict how it would have been different. Alan Moore gave his answer to the question "What if super-heroes existed in real life?" in Watchmen. His answer: pirate comics would have become popular. Matbe there wouldn't have been a resurgence of superhero comics at all it hadn't been for the Code, but there would have been something. I like to postulate what Lee, Kirby, Ditko et al might have produced without the strictures of the Code. I think the medium, the art form, would have progressed faster.

Another way to think of it is the the CCA actually saved comics, because without the publishers agreeing to self-censor, comics might have gone away completely. Either that or the government would have stepped in, which would have certainly been worse. As soon as the CCA "solved" the "problem" of comic books, popular attention turned elsewhere (with rock & roll right around the corner). In a way, the Code saved the industry, but it was kept around far, far longer than it should have been. 

I think you're right that the Code saved comics at the time. There was so much negative information (real or imagined) that newsvendors were under pressure not to sell comics. Somehow Dell /Western convinced everyone that they could self-regulate.

The next savior of comics was the direct market. Unfortunately, it made it so that potential customers had to seek out a comic store (if there was one) and it overbalanced the medium with superhero stories. The newsstands provided a larger percentage of other genres. Seeing a cover that was intriguing would lead to impulse purchases that would often turn a previous non-reader into a comics fan

I agree with both previous comments, the code probably was necessary for comics to remain a viable industry.

And yes it was around way too long, the well known Spider-man anti drug issue that was published without code approval is an example.

I'm supposing that the EC comics that were the main target of the code were selling well enough to rival DC at that time.

I'm old enough to remember pre Fantastic Four comics but not pre code comics!

So I can imagine a situation where DC would still revive super-heroes in a non code market to try and get a bigger sales share.

But Martin Goodman's Timely comics would stick with vampires, zombies and werewolves etc and not start up their own super-hero line until a few years later. By which time Stan Lee may have quit Timely to go write his great American novel and the Marvel comic line would never happen.

Maybe Jack Kirby would join Wally Wood at Tower comics.

OK that's enough pointless speculation from me.

Thanks to Jeff of Earth- J for reading and analyzing The Seduction of the Innocent so I never need to.

You are very welcome! 

Assuming this discussion has run its course, and without the intention of dissuading further comments, I would like to give the last word to Jules Feiffer.

"On the years since Dr. Wertham and his supporters launched their attacks, comic books have toned down considerably, almost antiseptically. Publishers in fear of their lives wrote a code, set up a review board, and volunteered themselves into censorship rather than have it imposed from the outside. Dr. Wertham scorns self-regulation as misleading. Old-time fans scorn it as having brought on the death of comic books as they once knew and loved them: for, surprisingly, there are old comic book fans. A small army of them. Men in their thirties and early forties wearing school ties and tweeds, teaching in universities, writing ad copy, writing for chic magazines, writing novels--who continue to be addicts, who save old comic books, buy them, trade them, and will, many of them, pay up to fifty dollars for the first issues of Superman or Batman; who publish and mail to each other mimeographed 'fanzines'--strange littler publications deifying what is looked back on as 'the golden age of comic books.' Ruined by Wertham. Ruined by growing up.

"So Dr. Wertham is wrong in his contention, quoted earlier, that no one matures remembering the things.

"His other charges against comic books--that they were participating factors in juvenile delinquency and, in some cases, juvenile suicide, that they inspired experiments, a la Superman, in free-fall flight which could only end badly, that they were, in general, a corrupting influence, glorifying crime and depravity--can only, in all fairness, be answered: 'But of course. Why else read them?'"

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