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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Doctor Who Crusaded Against Comic Books Was Manipulating His Data

Posted by on Tue, Feb 12, 2013 at 1:39 PM

Any comic book nerd will tell you that Dr. Frederic Wertham's book The Seduction of the Innocent pushed the American comic book industry into its dark ages in the 1950s. Wertham's research conclusively tied comic books to juvenile delinquency, and his data was used to shut down some of the more daring comic book companies at the time. For the next twenty years or so, comics were exclusively for children. The industry governed itself with a strict organization called the Comics Code Authority. But now we're learning that Wertham manipulated his data to suit his agenda:

Behavioral problems among teenagers and preteens can be blamed on the violence, sex and gore portrayed in the media marketed to them – that was the topic of televised public hearings held by the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency in 1954 to address the scourge of comic books. The hearings, which resulted in the decimation of what was an enormous comic book industry, had been inspired in large part by the book “Seduction of the Innocent,” by psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, based on his own case studies.

Wertham’s personal archives, however, show that the doctor revised children’s ages, distorted their quotes, omitted other causal factors and in general “played fast and loose with the data he gathered on comics,” according to an article by Carol Tilley, published in a recent issue of Information and Culture: A Journal of History.

It's sad to think that a whole generation of comics artists didn't have the chance to really test the fullest potential of their talent because this one shithead set out to prove an incorrect thesis in the name of family values. (Important side note: This News Bureau Illinois story loses all its internet posts by titling this story "BAM! WAP! KA-POW! Library prof bops doc who K.O.'d comic book industry." That's like every shitty journalistic comic book cliche ever, piled into one lousy headline.)


Comments (14) RSS

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Wow, no kidding? Comics don't cause violence? What will they tell us next? Masturbation doesn't cause blindness?
Posted by GermanSausage on February 12, 2013 at 1:45 PM · Report this
I got so excited when I started reading the title of this article that it'd be about Daleks and Sontarans, and then it was about comic books and violence. I'm disappointed?
Posted by AndyInChicago on February 12, 2013 at 1:53 PM · Report this
bleedingheartlibertarian 3
This is why you should always, always be skeptical when someone touts science (and especially their own) in support of a specific policy agenda.

Even--perhaps especially--an agenda with which you are inclined to agree.

Posted by bleedingheartlibertarian on February 12, 2013 at 2:02 PM · Report this
evilvolus 4
Have you ever read Seduction of the Innocent? It's just about the least compelling set of arguments I've ever read, and that was AFTER he manipulated the data.

The UW library system has one beat up ancient copy if you're ever curious.
Posted by evilvolus on February 12, 2013 at 2:08 PM · Report this
skweetis 5
Are you going to post about the latest Orson Scott Card controversy? I'm interested in what you have to say about it.
Posted by skweetis on February 12, 2013 at 2:15 PM · Report this
This incident has forever made me skeptical of scapegoating particular forms of media for problems in societies.

Say...I don't know... like how the many are pointing to violent video games/movies as contributing to gun violence.
Posted by spoons on February 12, 2013 at 2:17 PM · Report this
Of COURSE an evil scientist would want comic books neutered. They're seemingly all dedicated to exposing the ways of evil scientists!
Posted by Daily in LA on February 12, 2013 at 2:20 PM · Report this
Timrrr 8
Nevertheless, Dr. Wertham has left an indelible mark on our culture. For the worse.

From Ed Meece's attacks on pornography in the 80's to the NRA's current "blame the video games" mantra, a long parade of over-zealous do-good-nicks have have followed in his footsteps, plowing deeper and deeper furrows into the fertile memetic ground Wertham --falsely and with unforgivable bias-- first broke.

And so now we live in a world where the idea that "portrayals of violence or sex cause violent & sexual behavior" is taken as common sense knowledge -- despite a total lack of any supporting evidence for that claim over the years.

And there's just no going back.
Posted by Timrrr on February 12, 2013 at 2:33 PM · Report this
TheMisanthrope 9
I blame The Master.
Posted by TheMisanthrope on February 12, 2013 at 2:41 PM · Report this
Could you please change the caption!! I had to read it 3 times because I couldn't believe my beloved Doctor Who would crusade against comic books!
Posted by rockinrobbiesf on February 12, 2013 at 2:42 PM · Report this
spliff! spam! t'pau!
Posted by Adrian Ryan on February 12, 2013 at 2:44 PM · Report this
But he was right that reading Tales From the Crypt will turn you into a Bolshevik, right?
Posted by Proteus on February 12, 2013 at 3:05 PM · Report this
Actually the Senate hearing concluded that it was a BS argument anyway based on other testimony, so it was never really considered valid by anyone with half a brain.
Posted by Spike1382 on February 12, 2013 at 4:29 PM · Report this
So, thanks for highlighting my work on Wertham. It's absolutely true that there was considerable doubt about the quality / veracity of Wertham's work at the time it was published. It's also true that he wasn't single-handly responsible for the decimation of the comics industry. Still, it's satisfying - at least for me - to have some closure, even if it's nearly 60 years in coming.
Posted by carol.tilley on February 14, 2013 at 1:01 PM · Report this

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