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"In comic books life is worth nothing; there is no dignity of a human"
February 12, 2013 12:22 PM   Subscribe

In 1954 Fredric Wertham wrote Seduction of the Innocent which, in no small way, led to the Comics Code Authority. Carol Tilley, a professor of library and information science, has proven that the book misrepresented and altered the original data. (previously, previously)
posted by nadawi (28 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
This can't possibly be a surprise to anyone.

I mean, good on Dr. Tilley for proving it, but still ... I mean, what? Did we think his research was good?
posted by Myca at 12:30 PM on February 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


This has been known/suspected for a long time; iirc it's alleged in Les Daniels's Comix of 1970, but it's good to see it officially confirmed.

Wertham provided the template for all media panics about how children are being morally corrupted by whichever new form of entertainment (comics, rock, pinball, videogames, books) they're into these days and it's good to know it always was nonsense.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:31 PM on February 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


BAM! WAP! KA-POW! Library prof bops doc who K.O.'d comic book industry

*shakes head* It's been over 25 years since "The Dark Knight Returns," and we've apparently learned nothing about how to write non-cliched headlines for news items about the comics industry.
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:38 PM on February 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


The only thing shocking is that Carol Tilley, Professor of Librarianship and comic book researcher, doesn't already have a MetaFilter account.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:40 PM on February 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


Misrepresented and altered original data?

I'm shocked. SHOCKED!
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:42 PM on February 12, 2013


*shakes head* It's been over 25 years since "The Dark Knight Returns," and we've apparently learned nothing about how to write non-cliched headlines for news items about the comics industry.

This would be a good article. .. But not good enough.
posted by entropicamericana at 12:43 PM on February 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm always happy to see people go back to previous events like this and turn a critical (and better informed) eye to what was really happening.
Good going, Professor Tilley!
posted by rmd1023 at 12:44 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jessamyn posted about this today as well.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:49 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Myca: I mean, good on Dr. Tilley for proving it, but still ... I mean, what? Did we think his research was good?

There's a huge, huge difference between having an unjustified conclusion or a poorly researched study and actually falsifying data. Incompetence is far more forgivable than fraud and malice.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:51 PM on February 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yay! I can read comic books now!

*skips merrily to store*

$3.99?!?! No freakin' way!
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:52 PM on February 12, 2013 [13 favorites]


Honestly I'm just surprised that Seduction of the Innocent had data in it.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:02 PM on February 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wertham provided the template for all media panics about how children are being morally corrupted by whichever new form of entertainment (comics, rock, pinball, videogames, books) they're into these days and it's good to know it always was nonsense.

Thomas Laqueur argues that most of our cultural ambivalence regarding masturbation can be traced back to a single patent-medicine tract of the 18th century. That, in turn, created a series of moral panics about the novel (then a rising art form), red meat, art, alcohol, and dancing. Wertham was following in the footsteps of John Harvey Kellogg, who, in turn, was part of a long tradition of religious groups seeking a utopias free from worldly temptation that shaped the American frontier.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:15 PM on February 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


BAM! WAP! KA-POW! Library prof bops doc who K.O.'d comic book industry

*shakes head* It's been over 25 years since "The Dark Knight Returns," and we've apparently learned nothing about how to write non-cliched headlines for news items about the comics industry.


I guess Leslie Knope headlines do exist!
posted by Think_Long at 1:27 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Further breaking news: Turns out children aren't all that innocent.
posted by lumpenprole at 1:35 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


In comic books, life just might have more dignity than it is represented as having in the rest of the culture.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 1:40 PM on February 12, 2013


In comic books life is worth nothing; there is no dignity of a human

That's a gross misrepresentation; if you're a decent penciller, it's not so bad, at least until your style falls out of favour.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 1:54 PM on February 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


I wonder about his other data. For example, Wertham was an expert witness in Brown V. Board of Education -- he had established the first psychotherapy institute in Harlem (along with Richard Wright!), an all-volunteer institution that charged only twenty five cents for treatment. The NAACP used this clinic, and Wertham, to test young people to determine the effects of segregation, and Wertham testified that he found significant detrimental effects, which was important testimony against the institution of segregation. He compared segregation to tuberculosis, saying "we have to treat segregation like an illness, and what's even worse about segregation is that it's state sanctioned."

He always said he was opposed to censorship, and, in fact, later became a proponent of fan culture -- his last book was called "The World of Fanzines," where he argued fan culture was healthy and constructive. He was even invited to discuss it at a comics convention, but, understandably, was heckled.

A decidedly mixed legacy, but it's worth remembering that he did considerable good in his life, and later championed the very popular culture that he once testified against.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:54 PM on February 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


$3.99?!?! No freakin' way!

Actually, there's a theory that Wertham was one of the reasons that demand for comic books took a nosedive in the 1950s, which led to higher prices due to lower sales volume.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:16 PM on February 12, 2013


Comics were still pretty cheap in the 70s and 80s. My armchair theory is that comics exploded in price in the 90s due to demands by collectors for higher print quality and reduced advertising. No more sea monkeys or mail-in coupons for x-ray glasses.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:04 PM on February 12, 2013


Actually, there's a theory that Wertham was one of the reasons that demand for comic books took a nosedive in the 1950s, which led to higher prices due to lower sales volume.

Looking closer at that article, Wertham theory doesn't make much sense because comic book prices were relatively stable, adjusting for inflation, for almost 20 years after Wertham.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:14 PM on February 12, 2013


Comics exploded in price due to the market falling off a cliff. The collector audience that bought five million copies of X-Factor #1 or Death of Superman realized that a book with five million copies floating around was never going to be worth as much as Action Comics #1, and stopped buying - leaving the industry with just the people who actually wanted to read the damn things. This is how Marvel, publisher of Rob Liefeld's multimillion-selling magnum opus, ended up filing for bankruptcy in 1996.

(Of course, without that bankruptcy, arguably we would not be in the comic-book movie boom of today, so hey, blessing in disguise)
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:15 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Armagideon Time has an interesting take on this:

Wertham did not exist independently of history. His rise to momentary prominience came about because of a larger set of circumstances. If he hadn’t risen to the occasion, then his role would have been filled by some other alarmed fingerwagger with a public platform. The comics industry’s time in the spotlight of social approbation was destined to happen in one way or another.

Take a look at this cover of Black Cat #50.

Where else in 1954′s realm of mass media would a graphic image of a rotting face appear in plain view? Not in films. Not on TV. Not even on the peek-a-boob trade dress of pulps or men’s mags. Popular magazines of the day may have indulged in gory, B&W images of real-life necroporn, but they had the advantage of “journalistic respectability” to fall back upon. Comics, on the other hand, had the misfortune of hitting a peak of prominent luridity — while still being seen as kiddie fare — at the very moment a wider moral panic was unfolding.

posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:06 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Carol is awesome. I took her comics class when I was in library school, and was amazed to find a professor takes the genre so seriously. I'm glad she's championing the cause.
posted by littleap71 at 4:40 PM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hey folks - I'm enjoying the discussion summoned by my research into Wertham. No, my findings aren't a big surprise to anyone who has read SoTI or knows much about the history of comics, but as a couple of posters have noted, it's still reassuring to have evidence. That said, I didn't start into his papers with any designs, other than to find some correspondence from librarians. It truly didn't take long for me to realize that there were other, bigger stories there... I'll be publishing more comics-related stuff in the next few months - fingers crossed - so feel free to follow me on Twitter (@CarolGSLIS) or send me a note (ctilley at illinois dot edu) if you want to stay in touch.
posted by carol.tilley at 8:55 PM on February 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


Well thank you for doing the research- it's fascinating to have actual proof that Whertham manipulated the data.
posted by happyroach at 9:42 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


New study reveals that what were thought to be headlights on women are in fact breasts.
posted by Legomancer at 5:07 AM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


On a more serious note, it's a shame that SOTI is out of print. I've long thought that the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund should grab the rights and publish it. Despite being flawed, dishonest, and sensationalist, it's an important piece of comics history and well worth reading.
posted by Legomancer at 5:09 AM on February 13, 2013


thanks for stopping by! i look forward to the other comics (or librarian) related stuff.
posted by nadawi at 12:05 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


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