While chapter nine is called, “The Experts for the Defense: The Scientific Promotion of Comic Books,” I really don’t think that’s accurate. For one thing, he mentions more names in this chapter than any other so far—and almost all of them are people opposed to comics. In one footnote, he lists five people on the record as supporting comics. Scattered through the rest of the chapter are eleven names of people who opposed them, giving considerably more detail about their work.
There’s a lot of “some experts say this while other experts say the contradictory thing,” but not only does he fail to cite any actual studies—really, that Wertham calls the work of the pro-comic books side “an all-time low in American science” is just laughable—he doesn’t prove that either argument is actually wrong. He wants us to believe that some of the arguments are so self-evidently wrong that we are vaguely disgusted by the very idea that anyone would support them, but he never shows any real evidence beyond correlation.
Worse, the studies he mentions on the anti side all have clear methodological flaws that are obvious without even looking at them. Namely, not one of them has a decent sample. One Mary Louise McKinney worked with seventy-five children between the ages of ten and twelve, and there’s no indication that they weren’t all from the same area. He tries to impress us with another study.
A sociologist, Harold D. Eastman, carried out an analysis of some five hundred comic books and with the aid of his sociology students studied several hundred high school pupils from three high schools, thirty-five children at the fourth-grade level, pupils from a rural school and inmates of two institutions for the treatment of juvenile delinquents.
But of course the problems are obvious. Only three high schools? Only thirty-five younger children? One rural school? Inmates from two juvenile halls? How can you possibly get a broad sample from that? The sample of comic books is pretty good, I’ll admit, though I’d feel more confident in that assessment if I knew the list of names. Wertham criticizes another study for only looking at twelve comics, including both Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, but at least that survey names any names at all, something Wertham barely bothers to do in the course of this book.
His biggest complaint seems to be with the “same as it ever was” argument. He quotes an article about dime novels that suggests that said books never glorified their villains, something I’m sure Robert Ford would have found surprising. He quotes an expert who insists that the Grimm fairy tales should be bowdlerized without actually acknowledging that you’d do that because there’s stuff in there you don’t like. And then there’s this.
Folklore has intimate connections with other arts, from dances to folk plays and songs. In the history of mankind folklore has played an important role. It is one of the fountains of wisdom and of literature. Many writers—among them the greatest, such as Shakespeare and Goethe—have drawn on it. It does not require much thought to realize that comic books are just the opposite. [emphasis his] They are not poetic, not literary, have no relationship to any art, have as little do with the American people as alcohol, heroin or marihuana, although many people take them, too. They are not authentic creations of the people, but are planned and concocted. They do not express the genuine conflicts and aspirations of the people, but are made according to a cheap formula. Can you imagine a future great writer looking for a figure like Prometheus, Helena or Dr. Faustus among the stock comic-book figures like Superman, Wonder Woman or Jo-Jo, the Congo King?
There’s a lot to unpack there. Once again, he’s either unaware of or uninterested in the fact that Shakespeare was definitely “planned and concocted” and “made according to a cheap formula.” Okay, sure, he did it really well, but come on! The Victorians spent a lot of time trying to justify Shakespeare-worship with the smut and lawlessness and gore of a lot of the actual works of Shakespeare, and they never quite managed it. Wertham does by just ignoring all that.
And as for the whole “drugs don’t have anything to do with Americans even though lots of Americans take them,” where do you even go with that? Wertham lived through Prohibition. In the United States, even. He has to have been aware of what things were like then, right?
He expresses irritation that the comics don’t have any decent characters for little girls to look up to, but he calls William Moulton Marston a shill for the industry for trying to make a character for little girls to look up to. Of course he did it wrong, because Wonder Woman is obviously a lesbian (no one ever does remember Steve Trevor, do they?), and indeed he expresses anger that the only scenes of quiet domesticity in comics are between her and girls she’s adopted or between Bruce and Dick, because homosexuality.
A woman defends comics on the grounds of showing “advanced masculinity and femininity,” and Wertham isn’t having any of that, either.
As to the “advanced femininity,” what are the activities in comic books which women “indulge in on an equal footing with the men”? They do not work. They are not homemakers. They do not bring up a family. Mother-love is entirely absent. Even when Wonder Woman adopts a girl there are Lesbian overtones. They are either superwomen flying through the air, scantily dressed or uniformed, functioning like Wonder Woman in a fascistic-futuristic setting, or they are molls or prizes to be pushed around and sadistically abused. In no other literature for children has the iamge of womanhood been so degraded. Where in any other childhood literature except children’s comics do you find a woman called (and treated as) a “fat slut”? The activities which women share with men are mostly related to force and violence.
Because of course being a homemaker is being on an equal footing with men, except for the part where showing interest in the home clearly proves that Bruce Wayne is gay. It’s infuriating.
He is angry that children might not be getting guidance out of comic books, but he doesn’t seem to be angry that children might be called on to rely on any printed matter for guidance. I read a lot as a kid, but I still had adults in my life to go to if I was having problems. A child with no one is not likely to have a positive outcome, comics or no comics, and Wertham rejects that idea out of hand.
There’s also another tedious list of “children did stupid and dangerous things because of comic books” without any true evidence that the comics had cause their actions. Indeed, since many of them were hangings, it seems far more probable to me that the children had issues with depression, another concept Wertham seems to reject. In one case, the victim’s mother “told the jury that she thought he re-enacted a scene from comics books which he read incessantly.” But is there evidence? I mean, this is in the same section where a kid is said to be trying to walk on walls like Superman, even though Superman doesn’t do that.
Yes, he’s right that too many children are not shown to be disturbed until they commit a terrible act that leaves no doubt, but that is so often because children’s problems are ignored until you can’t anymore, either through neglect or because “children can’t really be troubled.” He says, “If only half of the excessive comic-book readers were sent to mental hygiene clinics, some of which already have a waiting list of a year or more, these clinics would be occupied with only this for a century.” But that is of course a tacit admission that far more kids are “excessive comic-book readers” than actually get into trouble. Not that he believes that proves anything, of course!