Liar, Liar

Liar, Liar

A close friend of mine recently brought an article to my attention that directly involves the comic book community as well as the national issue about violence in comics and videogames being debated in congress even as I write this. Entitled “How one man’s lies almost destroyed the comics industry” by journalist Annalee Newitz, the article recounts recent re-examinations of the anti-comic publication Seduction of the Innocent by Dr. Fredric Wertham. Although this book was published over half a century ago (1954), it nonetheless had a significant impact on the development of comics and comics in the public opinion. For those of you who don’t know as of reading this, Dr. Wertham was a psychologist that worked at the Lafargue Clinic in Harlem, a mental health center for under-privileged citizens of the community. Dr. Wertham took a keen interest in adolescent mental health and it was upon this age group that he based his controversial work. Although it was published more than half a century ago, Seduction of the Innocent had, and continued to have, (until yesterday) a profound effect on not only the development of comics, but on the way the public viewed and accepted the reading of comic books. In his work, Dr. Wertham cites what he alleged were over 500 cases a year of adolescent lives impacted negatively by themes within comics. His complied research was brought before congress and eventually gave rise to what Newitz dubbed “the restrictive editorial code issued by the Comics Magazine Association of America”. In addition to putting a limit to what could be published and limiting freedom of speech and expression, Wertham’s work, as I stated before, caused many American families to associate comics with homosexuality, violence, and even in some cases, prostitution. Wertham was cited in one of his studies as saying comics were being sold in the same place “prostitutes peddled their wares”.


Seduction of the Innocent
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For over fifty years, people took his science seriously. As of yesterday, it turns out that his allegations were based off of fabricated and stretched research that could not be verified in his documentation of cases. Not only did he make a majority of his “research” up, he just flat out lied about most of it. In 2010 Wertham’s documents were opened by the Library of Congress for academic review, and Professor Carol Tilley of the University of Illinois took them up on that opportunity. She published her findings in late 2012, though the article featuring her work was written yesterday, February 19th, in Information & Culture magazine. The results were pretty instantaneous. In less than two months since it’s publication, Tilley’s work is already headline news in the literary community. Starting from the beginning, Tilley reveals that out of ten years of service at his clinic in Harlem, Dr. Wertham only saw a TOTAL of 500 adolescent patients, NOT 500 a year. What he also failed to mention was that many of his patients were already predisposed to violent and unbecoming environments from birth and most of them already had violent histories prior to even picking up their first comics. Tilley cites several specific examples, including cases Wertham claimed to involve children that supposedly became gay, violent towards men, or sexually active after reading comics that were fabricated. Most of his information, claims Tilley, came from second-hand sources such as other colleagues, and Wertham never even saw these children himself. Not only did he not see some of the patients he claimed he did, Wertham is also revealed as having split several of the patients he did see into multiple people. What I mean is that he made one case into four and studied the same person claiming that the occurrences he recorded actually happened to four different people instead of just the actual one.

Simply put, this guy is a liar and as such, he ought to have all of his accreditation taken away. Such an egregious misuse of not only his medical office but also the abuse of trust that he perpetrated upon the comic community, American families, and even Congress is a serious offense that reflects badly on the scientific and academic communities themselves. I’m sure as it’s continually re-examined this case of “no mas pantalones”(the recent Progressive auto insurance commercial comes to mind here) might make everyone involved in the debate about violence in multimedia rethink and re-examine just how viable their sources really are.

  6 comments for “Liar, Liar

  1. teh_manis
    February 22, 2013 at 12:05 am

    I remember learning about the Seduction of the Innocent by Fredric Wertham in the documentary Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked. This documentary gave me an inside of this situation and the aftermath; the comics that came out after were almost silly and not the same. This changed the comics forever, and this event stamped comics as a negative influence for the youth. I’m glad to hear that Professor Carol Tilley published her findings against Wertham’s claim. Wertham was clearly is wrong and the evidences that support his claim should have been dismissed. It makes me upset that the congress sided with Wertham on his comic and put restrictions on comics without questioning his findings. His sources and claim did sound suspicious, why didn’t anyone call him out sooner? Oh well, at least the deed is done.

  2. Sara
    February 22, 2013 at 9:22 am

    I think that this is the most interesting blog post I have come across so far. I always enjoy hearing about how people who are held in such high regard are lying about their findings in a certain field. What sucks about this, is even though he was lying and people should not take his work seriously, they will. People hear what they want to hear and disregard the fact that what they are hearing is actually a lie.

  3. February 24, 2013 at 10:14 pm
    Simply put, this guy is a liar and as such, he ought to have all of his accreditation taken away.

    Well, he died over 20 years ago, so I don’t think you can do that posthumously. 🙂

    But Sara makes a good point: it doesn’t so much matter that he stretched his facts as it does that his findings confirmed things that people already believed about comics.

    The same generalizations might be made of video games, and likewise, some of the research into how games contribute to violence (for the major example) might be inaccurate or at least flawed.

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