April 24th, 2006

Seduction of the Innocent

One book I have always longed to read is the infamous Seduction of the Innocent, by Dr. Fredric Wertham. If you don't know about this book, you should: First published in 1954, it was almost single-handedly responsible for the destruction of EC Comics and the instituting of the "Comics Code", and I suspect we're still feeling its ripple waves whenever some other kid goes nuts, shoots somebody, and then his parents/his attorney/the media blame his collection of horror novels.

Although I still have yet to read Seduction (the average price for a copy is $200), I did recently run across an old science fiction fanzine which quoted extensively from the book. Here is a selection from the book's last few paragraphs:

One evening at the Lafargue Clinic, a young woman came to see me. She was the mother of a boy who after some delinquency had been referred to the Clinic and been treated there. She told me that the boy had got into trouble again, this time picked up with a switchblade knife...she had managed to control her sobbing, but she could not talk. So I consolded her again and told her we would do whatever we could. Then I added, "I know what you have done for this boy...you have done all that you could. I have the whole chart here and we know it from the boy himself. You are a good mother, and you've given this boy a good home. But the influences children are exposed to - the comic books, the crime programs and all that. Adult influences work against them. We have studied that, and know good parents when we see them. So don't worry about yourself. It's not your fault."

She seemed to come out from under a cloud. She thanked me and got up to go. When she was halfway through the doorway she turned slowly. "Doctor," she said in a low voice, "I'm sorry to take your time. But please - tell me again."

I looked at her questioningly.

"Tell me again," she said slowly and hesitantly. "Tell me again that it isn't my fault."

And I did.

Ahhh, I see. So this book was so effective because it served as a sop to irresponsible parents. "No," it says, "it's not that you never gave little Johnny enough love or took the time to teach him right from wrong, no - it's those nasty horror stories."

To Dr. Wertham, I say: Thank you for both allowing several generations of bad parenting to occur while simultaneously laying waste to an entire art form (horror comics) that many of us would be enjoying today if it still existed.