Context Matters: The Dark Ages of Comics

The foci of comics changed with the times and did so in a highly creative manner that allowed for the development of different genres in order to keep the interest of the populace.  This change included the creation of Comics Code Authority and its Comics Code, both ways to regain some control in the face of McCarthyism by establishing its own body and making conciliatory changes itself instead of allowing the government to dictate changes.  McCarthyism targeted comics since they were part of media and a pop culture that allowed for the housing of possible “un-American” sentiments and actions.  Dr. Fredric Wertham and his book The Seduction of the Innocent served to support and justify the targeting of comics.  The Smithsonian course “The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact on Pop Culture” queries if the book is “[h]omophobic pseudo-science or is there some validity to what Wertham is saying?”. The book clearly promotes a sexist, xenophobic, and homophobic ideology from which comics were interpreted by Wertham.  When interpreting literature, some aspects that matter most are whether or not the interpretation can be supported, the quality of support, and the critical lens.  The support in this book tends to lack credibility, and the critical lens is flawed.  Yet, the text is valuable for many reasons, including the fact that it displays how much context always matters regarding understanding subject matter.  This holds true when viewing The Seduction of the Innocent as part of a greater arc: a response to and a product of the 1950s that was ushered in by fear of attack remaining from World War II and of financial difficulty remaining from the Great Depression and that was pushed out by the cultural revolution of the 1960s, which allowed comics to flourish once again.

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