Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dr. Wertham and the Seduction of the Innocent

Many years ago, American morality was challenged by a great evil. This great immorality threatened to destroy and corrupt the values of an entire generation, and the generations after them. What was this evil so foul that the US government tried to abolish it in order to save our youth from it's immoral influence?

Comic books. They were scared of Comic Books.

In 1954, Dr. Fredric Wertham published a heavily skewed research paper about the corrupting influence of comic books on American youth. It was named "The Seduction of the Innocent", and in the days of pre-Rock-n-Roll America - it was earth shattering.

Dr. Wertham thought all comic books were the root of delinquency and sexual perversion. He also thought that those who produced and sold them were undermining our society. He propagated this all the way to the US Senate, where the proceedings became another McCarthy Era witch hunt, ending with many comic book producers being blacklisted as Communists, and many comic companies going bankrupt.

The industry was required to regulate itself from corrupting influences, or face abolishment entirely. They created an organiztion called the Comic Code Authority, sort of like an early form of rating system used in the movie industry. Every comic sold had to carry a stamp indicating it met the approval of this organization, called the CCA, and did not convey any content deemed morally objectionable.

Many comic enthusiasts believe that this was the death of the golden age of American comic books. Prior to this period, it was possible to find comics about everything from romance, to politics, and even graphic horror. After this code came about, all there was to be found was sanitized comic superheroes, and funny animals, like Daffy Duck. The young adult market share, who had been the primary purchasers (not children) was gone, never to return. Most of the creativity and glamour of the early comics were gone too. The genre of Horror comics, which had been very large before the code was instituted, almost disappeared completely.

The survivors of this onslaught found a new way to get around these rules. If they released their comic as a magazine, then they were not bound by the restrictions placed on comic books. This is the origin of such American classics as Mad Magazine, and other similar publications.

It is ironic that several years after this occurred, American morals were challenged and changed forever by the Rock and Roll revolution. By that time, change was unstoppable.


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