Juxtaposin’: Fredric Wertham Lives!

Blowhard, Esq. writes:


Comics nerd and intersectional feminist Laura Hudson thinks that “Rape Scenes Aren’t Just Awful. They’re Lazy Writing”:

A small but terrifying study conducted on college-age males earlier this year found that around one in three men said they would be willing to rape a woman if there were no consequences—but only if you didn’t call it “rape.” For these men, the resistance or disinterest of women was viewed as insincere or inconsequential, and the use of force or coercion was seen as either acceptable, or a nebulous “gray” area—but not “rape rape.” That’s why definitions of rape and consent are so crucially important: They literally encourage people to commit acts of rape by redefining them into social acceptability. Simply put, any form of media that reinforces any of these ideas actively enables sexual assault.

The impulse to sexualize women is so knee-jerk and compulsive that sexiness becomes functionally mandatory, which sets the stage for maximum creepiness any time those characters suffer, and particularly when they suffer sexual violence.

As Rachel Edidin wrote in her critique of sexualized rape scenes, “Women are exaggeratedly—and always—sexy. They’re sexy on the phone. Sexy on the job. Sexy fighting. Sexy tortured. Sexy dead. Sexy raped.”

If you’re a woman in media, you’re basically the sexy Halloween costume of human beings in a world where Halloween never ends. Again, I cannot believe I have to say this, but if a movie or TV show can’t visualize a woman in non-sexual terms even for the brief duration of a rape scene, it has no business depicting rape scenes.

One of the reasons that creators of media like to include rape in their work is specifically because it elicits strong feelings, even when divorced from all context and consequences. Think of it as a recipe for cheap drama: Take a story, add one rape, stir vigorously, and presto—instant emotional reaction! This is both incredibly lazy and incredibly callous, but it works, so people keep doing it. Rape has been so overused and misused in popular media that adding yet another manipulative sexual assault to the world just to heighten the stakes of a story or have a Very Special Episode is not just one of the most offensive things a writer can do, it is also one of the most boring.


From Wikipedia’s entry on Fredric Wertham:

Fredric Wertham (March 20, 1895 – November 18, 1981) was a German-born American psychiatrist and crusading author who protested the purportedly harmful effects of violent imagery in mass media and comic books on the development of children. His best-known book was Seduction of the Innocent (1954), which suggested that comic books were dangerous to children. Wertham’s criticisms of comic books helped spark a U.S. Congressional inquiry into the comic book industry and the creation of the Comics Code. He called television “a school for violence“, and said “If I should meet an unruly youngster in a dark alley, I prefer it to be one who has not seen Bonnie and Clyde.”

From Wikipedia’s entry on Seduction of the Innocent:

Seduction of the Innocent is a book by German-American psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, published in 1954, that warned thatcomic books were a negative form of popular literature and a serious cause of juvenile delinquency. The book was taken seriously at the time, and 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. Subsequent to the publication of Seduction of the Innocent, the Comics Code Authority was voluntarily established by publishers to self-censor their titles.

I love the incredulity of the clause “The book was taken seriously at the time…” Imagine that someone would take such arguments earnestly! We know better now!


About Blowhard, Esq.

Amateur, dilettante, wannabe.
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9 Responses to Juxtaposin’: Fredric Wertham Lives!

  1. Slumlord says:

    Maybe I’m missing the point here, but the “influence of the media” being a bullshit dump may come more from the fact that some people are better at recognising influential/causal links than others.

    The whole gay marriage thing is a case in point. Being saturated in a perceptual environment which promotes the idea caused people’s thinking on the matter to change. I started medicine in the early 90’s and can remember performing gynaecological examinations pre Sex in the City. Whilst the general trend of “less hair down there” was well established following the VCR revolution, after SITC started promoting the Brazilian it pretty much disappeared altogether amongst younger patients.

    …From your “bullshit dump” article;

    But, since this elusive “clutch ability” has no particular statistical dimension, it has become popular within the discussion as a bullshit dump.

    I’m convinced that some people don’t see links and ignore what they can’t measure. Paging modern economists. Intangibles are sometimes highly relevant. Robert McNamara was famous for regarding information that could not be measured as irrelevant and look where that got him.

    Lenin recoginsed the deficiency amongst some individuals in recognising causal links by coining the phrase “useful idiot”. Politicians frequently have a better grasp on human nature than many specialists who regard things they cannot measure as bullshit dumps.


    • Re: gay marriage, I’m not saying that a concerted, media-wide effort can’t sway public opinion on an issue. Nor am I saying that the media can’t influence fads and trends.

      But that’s quite different than saying that violent imagery in art leads to actual violence, which is what Wertham and Hudson are arguing.


      • Slumlord says:

        But that’s quite different than saying that violent imagery in art leads to actual violence, which is what Wertham and Hudson are arguing.

        Not really sure. A lot of lone men with guns, spraying bullets around. It’s a common meme in literature and the cinema. Shooting sprees were pretty uncommon prior to the 60’s.


    • Jan says:

      As violent video games have become prevalent, the incidence of violent crime has collapsed. As internet porn has become universally available, the incidence of rape has gone down enormously. Correlation is not causation, but when there’s a huge negative correlation, it’s difficult to argue that there’s a big effect in the opposite direction.


  2. agnostic says:

    What this rambling dingbat is trying to convey, but is getting distorted by her liberal moral filter, is that gratuitous rape scenes are corrupting the morals of the audience, especially younger people whose minds are still developing.

    That is in fact a repeated finding in the academic literature on how trash media affects people — they don’t go out and shoot up a school, but they do become desensitized to violence (presumably including rape, though the studies are usually about gun violence, murder, etc.).

    The human mind is not designed to collapse into hysterical ravings about SAVE THE VICTIMS after every act of violence. But it’s not meant to be desensitized to it either — that is a warped mind. Indeed, the hysterical over-sensitization is a result of desensitization — trying to shake some feeling back into the audience that has grown numb.

    It’s just that the moral lobes of the liberal brain respond primarily to matters of harm avoidance / providing care, and fairness / justice. Conservatives respond to all sorts of moral matters, including those relating to purity, rightness, sanctity, and taboo. Puritans, even more so.

    But some liberals still have an inkling that something is wrong about gratuitous rape scenes in pop culture. They just have atrophied moral lobes relating to whether it’s good or right for something to be natural and proper rather than warped and corrupted. So that little intuition that something’s wrong gets felt as, and communicated as, a matter of harm avoidance (rape scenes “teach” or “train” growing boys to rape) or justice (rape scenes perpetuate male dominance over women).

    I don’t give a damn how oddly they’re expressing that inkling, as long as they actually felt that something is not-right about a larger and larger share of young people tuning into masturbatory nerd fanfic like Game of Thrones, where shock scenes like rape are used shamelessly to pander to the audience. It’s no better than liberal faggot performance artists whose only draw is shock value about something sacred or taboo.

    Libertarians are even more morally stunted than liberals, according to Jonathan Haidt’s research. They *only* respond to harm and fairness, not just primarily.

    “Welp, as long as these growing masses of dorks with warped minds don’t actually rape or murder anyone, what’s the big deal for society?”

    Because normlessness and lack of fellow-feeling corrode our social bonds.

    Liked by 1 person

    • amac78 says:

      T. Greer recently discussed these points, focusing on the Game of Thrones TV series.

      …in writing [GoT], George R.R. Martin relies on a regular narrative pattern designed to produce a specific emotional reaction from his readers. It works like this: do everything possible to get readers emotionally invested in a character, and then abuse this character as graphically as possible.

      The allure of Game of Thrones is the allure of seeing the worst of humanity, viscerally depicted, without leaving the comfort of your living room. The extreme levels of violence, torture, and sex, or the constant betrayals and ‘plot twist’ deaths present in the story-line do not have any other motive than astonishment and emotional shock. Much like the Saw films, Game of Thrones allows the viewer to revel in depravity from afar. Game of Thrones is not as gratuitous as Saw… but its perversion cuts deeper because the viewer has a stronger emotional connection with the characters.


      Game of Thrones does not correspond to any ‘reality’ upper-class Americans have ever experienced… Yet somehow modern Americans, living at the height of the richest, most productive civilization in history, have succumbed to the idea that “real” can only be found in the gruesome, the lewd, and the heinous.

      This dark inclination extends far past Game of Thrones, infecting most pop-culture items pedaled to the “mass intelligent.” …Breaking Bad is a perfect example. [Like educated, upper-class Americans, Walter White] is smart, white, and comes from a rather tame background. But unlike them he is thrust down into a world of violence and perversity that is utterly unlike anything they have experienced–or indeed, would ever want to. But the desire to see that world up close remains, and Breaking Bad, just like Game of Thrones, allows its viewers to experience the intrigues and evils of the underworld without having to bear any of its consequences. It is depravity voyeurism wrapped up in a neat, high end package.


      • JV says:

        That’s some smug analysis. My wife and I enjoy Game of Thrones because it’s good fun, with lots of intrigue and adventure and sex. Pure escapism. And hey, I’m almost certain we’re smart enough to know the difference between that and good ol’ “art.”


  3. agnostic says:

    The same goes for Wertham, btw. Jews are typical liberals and focus primarily on harm and fairness, but every now and then one of them reveals an atavistic Hebrew indignation over blasphemy, corruption, degradation, and sodomy.

    If you read through Seduction of the Innocent, the main concern is not that horror and crime comic books would lead to higher crime rates. He throws in anecdotes here and there to that effect, but mostly what he’s going on about is, “Imagine what kind of mind would be produced by consuming this stuff all day, day in and day out”.

    Corrupting the morals of the young is the main theme. Hence the term “seduction” — it’s tempting and might feel good in some way, for some amount of time, but ultimately it’s going to warp their mind.

    That book is a must-read, no matter what you think of his views. It’s such a fascinating glimpse into one of the most important phenomena of popular culture during the Midcentury — especially the normally glossed-over Pre-Elvis years of the 1950s.

    Liked by 1 person

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