Debating with Wertham's ghost: comic books, culture wars, and populist moral panics

Megan Condis, Mel Stanfill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Seduction of the Innocent, by Fredric Wertham, contended that comic books could harm youth; it is popularly understood as the impetus for the creation of the Comics Code Authority that limited what could appear in comics. Wertham subsequently became a ‘bogey man’ within the comics community, leveraged to do various kinds of political work. In this paper, we examine social media posts from reactionary fan movement Comicsgate to explore how Wertham is rhetorically deployed and (mis)remembered, arguing these reactionaries have more in common with the bogey man of comics culture than they realize: Both engage in moral panics about comics and queerness. Contemporary fans’ aggressive attempts to distance themselves from Wertham and to paint their ideological opponents as his contemporary analogues represent an attempt to disguise their reactionary impulse by painting themselves as victims of censorious power at the same time as they leverage toxic masculinity to attack legitimately vulnerable people.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCultural Studies
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

Keywords

  • Comics
  • Fredric Wertham
  • culture wars
  • moral panics
  • queerness

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