Wertham’s Crusade

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Jeet Heer in Slate revisits the story of Fredric Wertham, an American psychiatrist who started a campaign against comic books in the 1940’s and 50’s, arguing that they promote juvenile delinquency and homosexuality. The campaign was a great success, culminating in mass book burnings and Congressional hearings. Many publishers went out of business and the rest were forced to accept a draconian censorship regime.

The comic book industry was devastated and never fully recovered. At the same time, perhaps by coincidence (though I think not) the American animation industry began a slow decline that was never reversed; by now it has almost disappeared.

At the same time, probably by coincidence, the manga industry was taking off in Japan. That in turn led to the anime industry. Today both art forms, originally pioneered by Americans, are dominated by the Japanese. Perhaps this says something about the power of mass hysteria.