Propaganda can be a horrible thing. It’s a tie between misinformation and disinformation as to what’s worse. Either coupled with a witch hunt can destroy anything. Comic books are a prime example. Dr. Fredric Wertham almost single-handedly destroyed the entire comics industry with his should-be-taken-fictional book, Seduction of the Innocent (1954). In it, he condemned comics for corrupting the youth with images of drug use, violence, sex, and more. He falsified testimonies while ignoring any sort of scientific method in data collection, manipulating information to meet this agenda. Wertham is the reason why superhero comics are the most prevalent books today.
Noir and horror comics were top selling books in the 1950’s, with nearly every genre represented. Western, comedy, and even superhero books were on the stands, though the latter floundered. Enter Dr. Wertham. A German psychiatrist, he was a man with an agenda. Wertham began interviewing children in correctional facilities, trying to ascertain the reason behind their violent behavior. Supposedly, one boy claimed when asked, that his favorite pastime was reading horror comic books, showing Wertham one such book. In that moment, the crusade began.
Science is hard, that’s why there’s instructions. It’s called the scientific method.
Some Many, like to massage and manipulate information to produce their desired results. This is one such case. The first error was in the sampling size. Rather than taking a generalized demographic, Wertham selected hospitalized children in need of psychiatric help. Obviously this doesn’t apply to the populous at large, but Wertham forced it to.
Eventually there was a Congressional meeting, the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency. Wertham, having gained popularity for his book, was the star witness. Driven to prove his point, he falsified testimonies, accounts, and studies. EC Publisher William Gaines was called to testify, fighting Wertham’s accusations. In the end it didn’t matter, they had won. Rather than being completely defeated, the Comics Code Authority was created. A self regulated board rather than a government controlled one, much like the ESRB for video games today. The CCA lasted until the 21st century.
The CCA had many guidelines, mostly adapted from Hollywood Production Code from the 1930’s. One of the many stipulations prohibited that “policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions … in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority.” Adding to it were mandates like “in every instance good shall triumph over evil,” and strongly suggested avoiding “instances of law enforcement officers dying as a result of a criminal’s activities.” Along with this, horror, crime, and sexual innuendos were prohibited. This left only one genre, superheroes.
Seduction of the Innocent and Fredric Wertham (that man doesn’t deserve to be called a doctor) is the reason why superhero books are so prevalent today. Due to one man’s crazed obsession, he preyed on peoples ignorance and fear to suit his agenda. This is why citizens’ participation in government is vital. Movies, video games, and music have all had their battles as well, all being called to stand tall on Capitol Hill. Superhero books exist not because they were popular, but because they were the only one left standing.
Did you know this sordid history? Comment below!
Read Propaganda by Edward Bernays.