Dr. Fredric Wertham: not too pleased to be reading a horror comic.
Last week in the Globe and Mail, I wrote about David Hajdu’s entertaining new history of the post World War II anti-comics crusade, The Ten-Cent Plague, in which Dr. Fredric Wertham, an intellectual leader of the anti-comics crowd, is portrayed as a prissy, humourless scold. Bart Beaty, a leading comics scholar and also a very fine critic, is the author of an intelligent and sympathetic intellectual biography of Wertham. Not surprisingly, Beaty had problems with Hajdu’s book and my review. We thrash things out in today Globe and Mail, in a back-and-forth that can be found here.
Here’s an excerpt from Beaty’s rejoinder:
Hajdu’s portrayal of Wertham substitutes a stereotype of the uptight German intellectual in place of the facts. In order to portray Wertham as a censor, the author ignores his long history as an anti-censorship expert witness. To present him as a dilettante obsessed with comic books, he has to mask his accomplishments as one of the foremost psychiatrists of his day. Most important, to depict him as a foe of children, he has to entirely ignore the monumental role Wertham’s research played in public education reforms, in particular desegregating U.S. schools in the 1950s.
And here is a bit of my counterthrust:
Alas, Beaty’s apologia is not completely convincing. True, Wertham didn’t favour censorship and the rating system he advocated was eminently sensible. Still, Wertham used language so inflammatory as to give aid and comfort to censors and book-burners. “I think Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic-book industry,” Wertham argued. If Superman and Tales from the Crypt were more dangerous than Mein Kampf or Triumph of the Will, then it might make sense to have comic-book burnings, as happened in the Wertham era.