Monday, May 14, 2007

Seduction of the Innocent

I mentioned a while ago that, as part of a research project for school, I'd gotten my hands on Fredric R. Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent, the book that prompted the creation of the Comics Code Authority and contributed to the fall of the Golden Age. I haven't read the book from cover to cover, but what I did read of it has made me think quite a bit.

It may surprise some to learn that Wertham was a liberal, a progressive. He spoke at length in his book against racist portrayals of blacks and Asians in comics, and decried the overdeveloped physiques of comic book women as harmful to young girls' self-image. He was in the battle lines of the crusade against racial segregation in the 1950s. He truly cared about other people and wanted to make their lives better.

I feel for Wertham. He was doing what he thought was best. He really, truly, genuinely believed that reading comics made children turn delinquent and felt it vitally important to get that information out to parents -- even if he had to stretch the truth, make up connections, and employ sensationalism to do so.

Seduction of the Innocent is a terrible book with shoddy research and outrageous claims. The only reason it had any impact was because it came during the era of Joe McCarthy and his witch hunts, the single most paranoid and unenlightened point in American history, when people were so obsessed with "decency" that they'd stifle civil rights to ensure it. Yet its author, Doctor Wertham, had the best of intentions.

And you know what they say about good intentions.

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