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May 8, 2008 4:34 PM   Subscribe


 
I saw that headline, "The pictures that horrified America" on CNN's front page today.

Abu Ghraib, I thought?

Nope. Fucking comic books.

Broken country, man. Broken country.
posted by rokusan at 4:45 PM on May 8, 2008


God knows we don't know what to do with ourselves if we're not in a panic about *something*.
posted by absalom at 4:45 PM on May 8, 2008


The United States had a new menace, they said, one whose name started with "c" and whose first syllable rhymed with "bomb."

That's just awful writing, right there.
posted by Shepherd at 4:47 PM on May 8, 2008 [11 favorites]


The United States had a new menace, they said, one whose name started with "c" and whose first syllable rhymed with "bomb."

Comm-unism?
posted by ofthestrait at 4:48 PM on May 8, 2008


Comb-overs.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:53 PM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


COMCAST. OMG.
posted by katillathehun at 4:55 PM on May 8, 2008 [16 favorites]


Combination locks?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:55 PM on May 8, 2008


The CNN article mentions Mad magazine and Bill Gaines, briefly, at the end of the article. Gaines has said, of course, that the whole 50s comics scare (which basically shut down his company, EC Comics) was really a blessing in disguise, as it inspired him (out of necessity) to create the very lucrative Mad.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:59 PM on May 8, 2008


Abu Ghraib, I thought?

Nope. Fucking comic books.

Broken country, man. Broken country.


One of the most disturbing elements of 1950s America was the population's failure to be horrified by human rights abuses that would occur 50 years in the future.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:00 PM on May 8, 2008 [19 favorites]


I read Seduction of the Innocent in high school. 90% of it was pretty stupid: Batman and Robin as gay archetype, subliminal pornography drawn as Tarzan's shoulder muscle, etc. The one valid point that he did make was that some of what was considered kids magazines was fairly adult (particularly when compared to other media). The interesting side of it to me now is, how he kind of pioneered the Pyschologist as defender of the public good meme, which we've seen played out several time since then (protecting us from hippies, satanists and forgotten childhood sexual abuse). I think this was a role previously occupied exclusively by the clergy.
posted by doctor_negative at 5:02 PM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


One of the most disturbing elements of 1950s America was the population's failure to be horrified by human rights abuses that would occur 50 years in the future.

Heh. I meant what merited a place on CNN's home page. But that too, sure. :)
posted by rokusan at 5:03 PM on May 8, 2008


It just proves there's nothing new under the sun. First it was "Lady Chatterly's Lover", etc. Then comic books. Then violent/sexy movies. Then violent/sexy TV. Now video games and MySpace. Some people with no real problems will always need to invent some, and you can always get some milage out of "(X) IS CORRUPTING THE CHILDREN! THINK OF THE CHILDREN!". 20-30 years from now, some fat midwesterner with nothing else to occupy their time will be up in arms over the salacious content on cranial entertainment implants. There will always be some new form of media for boring middle-aged busybodies to not understand and demonize.
posted by DecemberBoy at 5:05 PM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Com-puters
posted by DU at 5:08 PM on May 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


David Hadju was recently interviewed by (mefi's own) Sound of Young America. I haven't read his book, but it sounds pretty interesting; among other things it dates the moral panic arising over comics back to their early origins in the late 30's, well before Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent.
posted by whir at 5:10 PM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


...some fat midwesterner with nothing else to occupy their time...

In the interest of debunking silly and mean-spirited stereotypes, I'd like to point out here that Seduction of the Innocent author Fredric Wertham was neither fat nor from the midwest.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:20 PM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Commitment. amirite?
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:23 PM on May 8, 2008


The United States had a new menace, they said, one whose name started with "c" and whose first syllable rhymed with "bomb."

Com-ma-com-ma-com-ma-com-ma-com-ma-chameleon?
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:23 PM on May 8, 2008 [5 favorites]


One of the top google image hits for "yhbc" is my favorite Wonder Woman panel.

I'm so proud.
posted by yhbc at 5:32 PM on May 8, 2008 [4 favorites]


yhbc - I've known about the Wonder Woman bondage covers for ages, but I was unaware there was actual WW bondage instruction!
posted by Banky_Edwards at 5:39 PM on May 8, 2008


MetaFilter: Where we play many binding games.
posted by rokusan at 5:45 PM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: Super Heroine strikes repeatedly!
posted by Mblue at 6:38 PM on May 8, 2008


Feh. Either the "moralists" of the 1950's didn't see anything immoral about Jim Crow and the murder by torture of black Americans at the hands of southern thugs, or they were looking to distract themselves from that with a big helping of faux outrage.

Lessee, on the one hand we have really lame comic books and on the other we have an entire society based on terrorism, torture, and murder to keep a minority oppressed. Yup, the comic books were *definately* the biggest moral concern in the 1950's. It is telling that they had frickin' congressional hearings about comic books, let me repeat that *comic*books*, but essentially ignored the real moral concerns of the day.

This is why the "moralists" who shriek about sex, music, or popular entertainment, then or now, should be not merely be ignored, but shot down in the most embarrassing and public way possible. I'm looking at you Jack Thompson.

All told, an interesting and instructive post, thanks Artw.
posted by sotonohito at 6:46 PM on May 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Yeah, in a way it's quite sad that Seduction of the Innocent has come to obscure the rest of Wertham's career. He did far more with his life than write that one book, and as much as the Comics Code was a giant, industry-swallowing mess, it's important to remember that he was a key witness, not a decision-maker. To a certain extent we've turned Wertham into a scapegoat for the entire process, when he was a bit more of a figurehead.

In his later life, Wertham came around on the comics thing and was very interested in exploring the positive social effects of fanzines - he had a lengthy correspondence in one of the ones of the 70's, I think.

Wertham was basically concerned overall with the effects of the social environment (including popular culture) on psychological welfare, especially that of children, so it's no surprise that the horror comics being sold rather lackadaisically to anyone of any age would freak him out. (I'm not saying I agree with his entire thesis, just that I can see where a lot of it comes from.) Seduction was hardly the whole of his career, though - he was one of NYC's court psychiatrists (according to Wiki, the senior psych for the Dept. of Hospitals) and examined all convicted felons to determine their sanity (most famously, he was a key witness for the defense of Albert Fish).

According to Wiki also, because of this same interest in environmental impact he was deeply concerned with racial inequities in the mental health system, and opened a clinic in Harlem aimed at the black community. He wrote about the negative effects of racial segregation on black children; these writings were used as evidence in Brown vs. Board of education, which I think counts as a major plus.

In his later life, Wertham came around on the comics thing and was very interested in exploring the positive social effects of fanzines - he had a lengthy correspondence in one of the ones of the 70's, I think.

I'm not a Wertham expert, so I couldn't tell you why he was so wildly off track with the comics thing and not with racial inequality or the effects of environment in general ... perhaps after all those years in court, he just couldn't give kids enough credit for resilience to what they read? And presumably being anti-racist doesn't make one not a homophobe, so ... Yeah, all rampant speculation; I have no idea. In any case, Seduction was something he was very, very wrong about, and he's not my hero or anything, but he should get a bit of credit for what he was right about, anyway.
posted by bettafish at 7:38 PM on May 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Interestingly, according to The Ten Cent Plague, the clinic in Harlem was where he did his first studies into the effects of comics on children. The socioeconomic background of the children he was studying was never mentioned, and it was acompanied by pictures of very white, very middle class children.

Fish was some kind of nightmare on legs, and defending him must have been very weird and very controversial. TTCP suggetsts that he was kind of an opportunist and a careerist, adn looked out for opportunities to promote himslef like that. I suspect that he wasn't quite the two-dimensional total dick that people might think him to be, but that he was still pretty dickish in some ways.
posted by Artw at 7:58 PM on May 8, 2008




That's just awful writing, right there.

Yet so smugly pleased with itself. Like all cable news.
posted by scatman at 9:39 PM on May 8, 2008


Never mind the 1950s. What about the 1850s!
posted by binturong at 10:13 PM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Might also enjoy Comic Book Confidential - 1989 documentary that covers the comic induced panic of the 50s among other things.
posted by pantsonsteven at 10:17 PM on May 8, 2008


A preview.
posted by pantsonsteven at 10:19 PM on May 8, 2008


Compazine.
posted by owhydididoit at 10:32 PM on May 8, 2008


BTW, the Hadjus book is a good read, but I'd actually recommend Men of Tomorrow (Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book) over it slightly.
posted by Artw at 11:04 PM on May 8, 2008


In my youth I was obsessed with being an artist for Mad Magazine to the point that I wrote a fan letter to William Gaines telling him of my aspirations - I was especially inspired by the role of free speech advocate that EC Comics played in the 50's. He wrote me a very nice letter of encouragement in return on Mad Magazine letterhead. I carried that letter around with me in my wallet for years and the LIKE AN IDIOT... I decided that it was one of the things I needed to purge in a move. Because, you know, letters are heavy.

Also, I made the mistake of viewing modern art and deciding I wanted to be a painter instead of an illustrator, which is why I'm a web developer today. Totally makes sense.
posted by smartyboots at 11:34 PM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


The United States had a new menace, they said, one whose name started with "c" and whose first syllable rhymed with "bomb."

Comb. Rnr, not comics.
posted by ersatz at 12:11 AM on May 9, 2008


What comics did for America in the 50s is what some video games are doing today. For example, here's a paper on "Moral Panics Over Youth Culture and Video Games "

This paper analyzes video games as a modern moral panic by examining rock 'n roll, comic books, and Dungeons and Dragons as historical moral panics.
posted by msaleem at 1:57 AM on May 9, 2008


Wertham has been defended in recent years because he offered free (or cheap) treatment for blacks in Harlem. But since his "treatments" were absolute BS based on totally discredited Freudian models, we are left with good intentions/bad practice. It makes no difference to point out that, in the 70s, he came to realize that comics didn't automatically warp children. Too late, Fred!
What no one seems to want to discuss is that American crack-downs on violent child literature always occurs at the end of a war. After WWII it was Gershon Legman who opposed crime comics (and, in Legman's defense, he also attacked violence in adult lit, such as Spillane novels). Then came Korea and it was cool to show kids pictures of commies being massacred until the Panmunjom truce. That's when comics were attacked! This "moral panic" (and thanks for using that term) arose from projection of adult revulsion over violence (perpetrated by adults) onto children. After Vietnam, America went after violence on TV (Wertham was active then as well). Soon, maybe tomorrow, 24 and other GWOT fantasies will be banned in the name of children.
In the end, there is confusion about depiction of violence and violent acts. Does one lead to the other? I recall, during the Wertham period, an advocate of non-depiction of violence being asked about Crime and Punishment. The advocate said (I am not making this up) that Doestoevsky would have had a better novel if he had left out the murders.
So, is censorship just another name for totalitarian mind control?

(I vote yes.)
posted by CCBC at 3:08 AM on May 9, 2008


Artw: you're probably already be aware of this, but McCarthyite is the word you were looking for...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:05 AM on May 9, 2008


And nice grammar there in my comment, too, eh? Shoulda proofread!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:07 AM on May 9, 2008


The United States had a new menace, they said, one whose name started with "c" and whose first syllable rhymed with "bomb."

COMB???
posted by dasheekeejones at 6:12 AM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's funny, I remember reading reprints of those EC comics as a kid. They started reissuing them in the late 80's early 90's- I think that's when the comics code stopped being as important.

I think they helped introduce me to Ray Bradbury.
posted by Hactar at 6:33 AM on May 9, 2008


Not all of Dr. Wertham's work was directed toward condemning comics though. He also wrote an article about the psychological influence of racial segregation in schools. This article was used as evidence in the court case which led to the ruling that segregation in schools was unconstitutional.

Ironic, then, that his crusade against comics led to shit like this. You know what they say about good intentions.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:58 AM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Comb" does not rhyme with "bomb." That is all.
posted by designbot at 9:43 AM on May 9, 2008


Al Feldstein is my idol.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:34 AM on May 9, 2008


"Comb" does not rhyme with "bomb." That is all.

Visual Rhyme: A rhyme that only looks similar, but when spoken sound different. Example: slaughter and laughter. This type of rhyme can be used more to make a visual pattern than to make a aural rhyme. ;)

posted by ersatz at 12:11 PM on May 9, 2008




Hactar - There's a bit of a story behind that.
posted by Artw at 2:26 PM on May 9, 2008


Either the "moralists" of the 1950's didn't see anything immoral about Jim Crow and the murder by torture of black Americans at the hands of southern thugs, or they were looking to distract themselves from that with a big helping of faux outrage.

Estes Kevaufer (D,TN) is generally seen as a supporter of civil rights, voted for the Civil Rights acts of 1957 and 1960, and was much vilified when he and his fellow Tennessee Senator Gore failed to denounce Brown v Board of Education.

Robert C. Hendrickson (R, NJ), chairman of the committee, stepped up with Margaret Chase Smith and only four others as early as 1950 to denounce Joseph McCarthy's tactics.

You do what you can.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:46 PM on May 9, 2008


Can someone please confirm the correct answer to the question?

It's cumbrella. Right?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:59 PM on May 9, 2008


So, as a comic enthusiast, I read Seduction of the Innocent, and you know what? It was pretty valid criticism of an industry that increasingly marketed social bigotry, violence, porn, and S and M to children alongside sleazy advertising. Was the baby thrown out with the bathwater for a bit? Probably. Did the comics code mean that the most banal was was retained while some good was destroyed? Definitely, for a while.

Honestly, tho. Some of those old comics were pretty raunchy, and contained ads for "increase your bust line" and "make her your love-slave" type products in what were ostensibly kiddie-fare.

The industry came back and flourishes. If anything, the backlash gave rise to underground comics. horrah!
posted by es_de_bah at 6:29 PM on May 9, 2008


es_de_bah:I read Seduction of the Innocent, and you know what? It was pretty valid criticism of an industry that increasingly marketed social bigotry, violence, porn, and S and M to children alongside sleazy advertising.
Oh, man, that is so wrong! In the 50s, comics were read by young adults who had grown up with them from Superman days. EC comics were read by servicemen in Korea. Part of the problem for US comics is that Wertham and his ilk labelled them as "kids-only". I don't think any other country thought the medium was only for children. And "social bigotry"? What are you talking about?
posted by CCBC at 4:10 AM on May 10, 2008


Chomsky?
posted by flotson at 1:03 PM on May 10, 2008


In the 50s, comics were read by young adults who had grown up with them from Superman days. EC comics were read by servicemen in Korea.

Interesting topic for some grad student- compare and contrast comic books of Korean War with those of WWII.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:06 AM on May 12, 2008


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