David Hines (hradzka) wrote,
David Hines

Wertham, comic books, and... Brown v. Bd of Ed?

Quiet time intermission:

d_benway has an excerpt up from Wertham’s SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT. Fredric Wertham, for those who don’t recall, was the guy who argued that comics had a psychologically corrupting effect on children, and whose book created the environment that led to the Comics Code Authority. Among other things, he argued that Batman and Robin encouraged homosexual children to pursue their leanings, and that Wonder Woman encouraged perversion and lesbianism. Check it out.

Benway’s excerpt marks the first time I’ve actually read Wertham, which struck me as interesting. My bet is that Wertham is far more read *about* than actually read. Which is a little weird, considering the book’s historical importance to the comic community. There might be some money for some enterprising publisher in reprinting it, with good, rounded biographical notes on Wertham, as well as commentaries from psychologists, comics professionals, and historians. I know I’d like to have a copy for my bookshelf.

(If somebody listens to me: Gail Simone should be a contributor. So should Dave Sim – c’mon, don’t you want to see how a guy who actually uses the term "homosexualist" will reinterpret Wertham? And Harlan Ellison – he’ll probably contribute his boilerplate Wertham rant, but Harlan does give good rant when he’s on.)

Minor historical note: although we think of Wertham as a stodgy conservative by today’s standards, in his day he was a liberal of the “save the children” school, and his work was cited by the NAACP in Brown vs. Board of Education. I’ve read bits of the relevant documentation, and was shocked at how bad the science was; I didn’t know who designed the study at the time, and when I learned Wertham was involved with the case I wasn’t surprised.

(As I recall, a group of kids (small numbers, no control) were given the choice to play with white or black dolls; both black and white kids tended to choose white dolls, so the researchers concluded that segregation led both races to unconsciously see blacks as inferior and unworthy of attention. The problem, of course, is that there isn’t a single result that could falsify the hypothesis. If kids of both races play with black dolls, one can argue they’re subjugating and controlling black people in play. If white kids play with white dolls and black kids with black, then they’re showing that they’ve subconsciously assimilated segregation, which dictates they only play with their own kind, even symbolically... and so on. The study results were pure speculation, and did nothing to address the real psychological effects of segregation. Which is consistent with the way Wertham seemed to work, even if in this case he was on the side of the angels. The study was just horrible, horrible social science, and it’s miraculous that its inclusion didn’t do substantial damage to the NAACP’s case.)

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