I was introduced to Frederic Wertham‘s book sometime in the late 80s or early 90s, on a late night interview show Bob Costas had. That night I stayed up to watch him talk to William Gaines, the (benevolent) dictator of MAD Magazine, a rag I loved while growing up, and for which I’d like to write someday.
Costas asked Gaines about his testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency in 1954, hearings that were called in direct response to Wertham’s scathing accusations against comics, and particularly horror and true crime comics like Gaines’ EC used to publish. The very reason MAD is a “magazine” and not a comic book was to get it out of the clutches of the Comics Code Authority, a ratings code adopted after the hearings by most comics publishers and still followed by a handful of publishers as late as 2011.
Well. Turns out that Wertham’s data, portions of which have been considered questionable for a while, have significant problems. Carol Tilley, Assistant Professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has gone through a portion of the documentation Wertham used in composing Seduction, initially looking for letters from angry librarians complaining about comics, and found very few. As Tilley took notes back to her hotel from examining Wertham’s files at the Library of Congress, she found instead more and more inconsistencies. And to make sure she wasn’t making errors in her note-taking, she photocopied parts of files to be sure.
I find this turn of events fascinating, especially in light of how, after a long series of recent gun tragedies in the US, video games are again being scrutinized and demonized as instigators of violent and anti-social behavior not just in children, but now adults as well.