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Crimcast is a virtual resource devoted to critical conversations about criminology and criminal justice issues. Our blogposts, twitter feeds, podcasts and other content provide an overview of trends, research, commentary and events of interest to criminal justice practitioners, academics and the general public. CrimCast is sponsored by The Center for Crime and Popular Culture, St. Francis College, Brooklyn, NY.

Wertham's Notes and the Seduction of the Innocent

Nickie Phillips

Frederic Wertham is most known for his scathing attacks on comic books, suggesting that they influence deviant behavior and juvenile delinquency.

In 1954 he published Seduction of the Innocent which contributed to public and political debates about the relationship between comic books and behavior, and was a contributing factor to the decline of the comic book industry. In 1954, Wertham testified at the Senate Subcommittee Hearings into Juvenile Delinquency arguing the deleterious effects of comic book consumption by youth. For more on Wertham, see Bart Beaty's Frederic Wertham and the Critique of Mass Culture.

Professor Carol Tilley examined Wertham's notes, stored at the Library of Congress, and concluded that his methodology was flawed. In her interview with Dusty Rhodes, she states,

“Lots of people have suspected for years that Wertham fudged his so-called clinical evidence in arguing against comics, but there’s been no proof,” Tilley said. “My research is the first definitive indication that he misrepresented and altered children’s own words about comics.”

Her article titled Seducing the Innocent: Fredric Wertham and the Falsifications that Helped Condemn Comics can be found in Information and Culture: A Journal of History.

Abstract:

Psychiatrist Fredric Wertham and his 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent serve as historical and cultural touchstones of the anti-comics movement in the United States during the 1940s and 1950s. Although there have been persistent concerns about the clinical evidence Wertham used as the basis for Seduction, his sources were made widely available only in 2010. This paper documents specific examples of how Wertham manipulated, overstated, compromised, and fabricated evidence—especially that evidence he attributed to personal clinical research with young people—for rhetorical gain.

http://www.thecomicbooks.com/wertham.html