Seduction of the Innocent  

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Seduction of the Innocent is a book by Dr. Fredric Wertham, published in 1954, that warned that comic books were a bad form of popular literature and a serious cause of juvenile delinquency. The book was a minor bestseller that created alarm in parents and galvanized them to campaign for censorship. At the same time, a U.S. Congressional inquiry was launched into the comic book industry, and the Comics Code Authority was voluntarily established by publishers to self-censor their titles.

Seduction of the Innocent cited overt or covert depictions of violence, sex, drug use, and other adult fare within "crime comics"—a term Wertham used to describe not only the popular gangster/murder-oriented titles of the time, but superhero and horror comics as well. The book asserted, largely based on undocumented anecdotes, that reading this material encouraged similar behavior in children.

Comics, especially the crime/horror titles pioneered by EC, were not lacking in gruesome images; Wertham reproduced these extensively, pointing out what he saw as recurring morbid themes such as "injury to the eye". Many of his other conjectures, particularly about hidden sexual themes (e.g. images of female nudity concealed in drawings of muscles and tree bark, or Batman and Robin as homosexual lovers), were met with derision within the comics industry. (Wertham's claim that Wonder Woman had a bondage subtext was somewhat better documented, as her creator William Moulton Marston had admitted as much; however, Wertham also claimed Wonder Woman's strength and independence made her a lesbian.)

The splash made by this book, and Wertham's previous credentials as an expert witness, made it inevitable that he would appear before the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency led by anti-crime crusader Estes Kefauver. In extensive testimony before the committee, Wertham restated arguments from his book and pointed to comics as a major cause of juvenile crime. The committee's questioning of their next witness, EC publisher William Gaines, focused on violent scenes of the type Wertham had decried. Though the committee's final report did not blame comics for crime, it recommended that the comics industry tone down its content voluntarily. Possibly taking this as a veiled threat of potential censorship, publishers developed the Comics Code Authority to censor their own content. The code not only banned violent images, but entire words and concepts (e.g. "terror" and "zombies"), and dictated that criminals must always be punished. This destroyed most EC-style titles, leaving a sanitized subset of superhero comics as the chief remaining genre. Wertham nevertheless considered the Comics Code inadequate to protect youth.

Wertham's book was profusely illustrated with comic-book panels (reprinted from EC and other publishers' titles) that allegedly offered evidence for his claims. Although early editions of Seduction of the Innocent are constantly sought by book collectors, and routinely re-sell for high figures, it is extremely difficult to find an intact copy, as so many copies of this book have been vandalized by readers who cut out or tore out the most sensational illustrations.

What is often overlooked in discussions of Seduction of the Innocent is Wertham's analysis of the advertisements that appeared in 1950s comic books and the commercial context in which these publications existed. Wertham objected to not only the violence in the stories but also the fact that air rifles and knives were advertised alongside them. Also rarely mentioned in summaries or reviews of Seduction of the Innocent are Wertham's claims that retailers who did not want to sell material with which they were uncomfortable, such as horror comics, were essentially held to ransom by the distributors. According to Wertham, news vendors were told by the distributors that if they did not sell the objectionable comic books, they would not be allowed to sell any of the other publications being distributed.

Among comic-book collectors and dealers, any comic-book issue specifically cited in Wertham's book is known as a "Seduction issue", and is generally more valuable (and more highly sought) than other issues in the run of the same title.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Seduction of the Innocent" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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