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Saturday, December 27, 2014 

A Vox writer's interesting note about a Wertham sympathiser

In this recent Vox article about the history of comic book censorship, the writer, no matter how liberal he may happen to be, is still willing to tell something interesting about one of Fredric Wertham's supporters in Congress:
Wertham's work caught the eye of Carey Estes Kefauver, a Democratic Senator from Tennessee. Kefauver eventually chaired a Senate subcommittee that gave an even larger platform to Wertham's panicked arguments against comic books.

But Kefauver had a different agenda. He was tough on crime, and comic book distributors had ties with the mob.

"His reputation was a mob hunter," [John Jackson] Miller told me. "It happened that comic book distribution, like most other magazine distribution at the time, was either run by organized crime or had strong elements of organized crime in it."
I don't know if that's 100 percent true all magazine distribution was run by mafia at the time - I've a feeling it's not - but it's pretty amazing they're willing to acknowledge Wertham's supporters at the time included Democrats. However, they may be trying to downplay the notion liberals' beef with comic books tied in with violence and sex. I wouldn't be so sure of that. 4 years ago, George Will wrote about how "progressives" became the most puritanian force hostile to comicdom, and Wertham was more or less a progressive himself. Some comics companies at the time may have to shoulder blame too, because they approved setting up the CCA as a way to knock EC out of the competition. If that's so, shouldn't they be criticized for being weak in the knees?

A little further down the Vox piece, here's an interesting claim made about competition:
Censorship wasn't the only battle that the comic book industry was fighting.

"Something else going on demographically — comics were losing the race against television," Miller explains.

Television began to hits its stride and became comics' natural enemy, competing for readers' time and attention. That was a punch the industry took to the jaw. But Wertham was the boot to the neck.
Seriously, TV was an adversary? If that's what they think, take a look at video games today. Unlike comics, they don't require as much scriptwriting, and they've clearly taken away tons more audience than TV ever did. But that's mainly because the owners of the Big Two particularly sold out - they licensed the rights to develop games based on their superhero properties, and now, look where it's all wound up. In fact, take a look at the adaptations of comics for TV since the mid-50s! Surely an argument couldn't be made the companies were selling out?

Here's another awkward claim by the Vox writer:
During the comics backlash and throughout Wertham's press tour, Batman was targeted for all of those things (his gun use was dealt with before the Comics Code), and Wertham also insisted that Batman and Robin were homosexual. In response, Batman was written to be friendlier, brighter, and more heterosexual. Batman love interest Vicki Vale was introduced in 1949 (a year after Wertham first burst onto the scene):
I think here too they've used misinformation - Vicki was introduced in sans-adjective Batman 49 in Oct/Nov 1948, and even before then, there were a few other ladies in Bruce Wayne's life, like Julie Madison, introduced in Detective Comics 31 in Sept 1939. They've confused numbers here, I see, and it sounds like they're coming up with misguided research to tell how comics succumbed to Wertham's shoddy influence. I suppose some people assumed Vicki Vale was Batman's first true girlfriend simply because Tim Burton used her in his 1989 movie. But better research would show otherwise.

There's plenty of legitimate beefs to be leveled against Wertham. But Vox isn't building them properly.

Update: and as the Wash. Free Beacon (via Accuracy in Media) reveals, it may not be so surprising Vox could goof.

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For years, I assumed that Dr. Wertham was a right-wing paranoid, looking for "commies" behind every bush. As it turns out, he was a Progressive/liberal, blaming crime on everything except criminals. He often testified as an expert witness for the defense in trials, claiming that juvenile delinquents were not responsible for their behavior, because they had been warped by bad influences in the media (movies, TV, comics books).

I do believe that competition from other media (TV in the 1950's and 1960's, video games in the 1980's) hurt the comic book industry. Sales have been declining for years, and today's best-sellers would have been cancelled for low sales in the 1960's or earlier.

I don't know how much of the impetus behind the CCA was to knock EC out of the running, and how much of it was a desperate attempt to stave off government anti-comics legislation by imposing self-censorship. The Hays Code served a similar purpose for the movie business.

Actually, DC had created its own set of house rules by the early 1940's, when they realized that a high percentage of fans were kids. Limits on violence, no overt sex, crime could not be glamorized or glorified, etc.

Several articles and blogs in the past few years have suggested that Vicki Vale was created to deflect claims that Batman was gay. Maybe because the character was introduced in the late 1940's, about the same time as Wertham's anti-comics crusade. But Batman/Bruce had girlfriends long before that. Besides Julie Madison, there were Linda Page and even Catwoman.

Presumably, Vicki was the love interest in the 1989 movie (and in the 1949 movie serial) because she was the heroine in the comics at the time. Linda Page appeared in the 1943 movie serial, probably for the same reason.

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