February 13, 2013 at 3:00 am #818
Earl’s previous regenerationSpectator
This is kinda huge. [LINK]
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.
“Lots of people have suspected for years that Wertham fudged his so-called clinical evidence in arguing against comics, but there’s been no proof,” Tilley said. “My research is the first definitive indication that he misrepresented and altered children’s own words about comics.”
Wertham died in 1981. His archives, at the Library of Congress, weren’t made widely available to researchers until the spring of 2010. Within a few months, Tilley, who teaches media literacy, youth services librarianship and a readers’ advisory course on comics at the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science, was digging through the dozens of boxes of “Seduction” files.
“From a contemporary standpoint, ‘Seduction’ is horribly written because it’s not documented,” she said. “There are no citations, no bibliography. He quotes a lot of people, refers to lots of things, but there’s no really good way of knowing what his basis is for any of this.”
Oh, but it gets better – we go from exaggeration to outright fabrication.
Wertham links “Batman” comic books to the case of a 13-year-old boy on probation and receiving counseling for sexual abuse of another boy: “Like many other homo-erotically inclined children, he was a special devotee of Batman: ‘Sometimes I read them over and over again. … It could be that Batman did something with Robin like I did with the younger boy.’ ”
What Tilley found in Wertham’s notes, however, was that the boy preferred “Superman,” “Crime Does Not Pay” and “war comics” over “Batman,” and that he had previously been sexually assaulted by the other boy – all information that Wertham left out.
He had an extensive case file on a 15-year-old boy named Carlisle, whom he was counseling for truancy, petty thievery and gang membership. Carlisle brought three comic books to one counseling session, and the transcript in Wertham’s file shows that Carlisle said one of the comic books, called “Crime Must Pay the Penalty,” was instructive on ways to commit burglaries and holdups. However, in “Seduction,” Carlisle’s quotes appear to come from five different boys, ranging in age from 13 to 15, in different settings and contexts.
And Tilley found one quote from Carlisle’s transcripts that Wertham chose not to use, in which the boy described learning about robbery “in the movies. Movies help a lot.”
With video games now under scrutiny for – as some lawmakers would have us believe – inspiring real incidents of mass murder, this is an episode of history that needs to be fully exposed and reassessed. A pretty fascinating article – I strongly recommend reading the whole thing.
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