There's a couple articles about Wertham and then Valerie D'Orazio's talking about it and there's a healthy smattering of interest and response.
But when ol' Cranky McWomanhater talks about Wertham, well, only a few will brave those dark waters.*
Okay, sure, maybe I made it all uncomfortable-feeling by linking Wertham's attitudes to some displayed by elements of the feminist fandom. It's pretty damn interesting to me, though, how there can be this "was-he-or-wasn't-he" discussion of Wertham and what he did, whether he was right about those crime comics being inappropriate for kids, and then I can click on some other link at WFA and find Looking To The Stars' blog talking about The Latest Bendis Warcrime. Read:
So why did I feel the need to comment on this when so many other more distinguished luminaries, including that master parodist Christopher Bird, have already weighed in on this issue?OH GOD TAKE COVER HERE IT COMES
Because of something that the children's librarian in me remembered from reading through a catalog and something that I think is rather important. Namely, that this book - Mighty Avengers #11 - was rated All Ages by whoever it is that Marvel has rate their comics for age-appropriateness.
Yes. All-Ages. As in, you're supposed to be able to give this to anyone without fear of it containing inappropriate material.
Now, I'm not a prude. Far from it.
Anybody who has read my work, knows my reading habits or is familiar with my weekend exploits as part of a Rocky Horror troupe can vouch that I am not easily offended nor am I a Helen Lovejoy "Won't Somebody PLEASE Think of the children" type.THERE'S A "BUT" COMING I JUST KNOW IT
But I have to ask: Since when has "whore" been an acceptable word for use in children's books? Even children's pictorial bibles don't drop the W-bomb!And right there, the ghost of Wertham rises, to reach a quavering claw-like hand from beyond the grave!
Before now, I was content to limit my ban on Marvel Comics to my own personal reading habits. Now, I'm enforcing it at my library. Because if I can't trust Marvel Comics to honestly and fairly rate their own materials, then I can't be bothered to take the risk on anything they publish.
I mean, no sooner has he said he's not all "think of the children", he goes right in and thinks primarily of the children! A complete ban on Marvel at the library? Is this is a library that only caters to kids? Are the comics normally only racked in the kid's section? Do adults never peruse the comics at his library?
Unless this is a kids-only library (hell, I dunno, it could be), what he's saying in effect is: because Marvel drops the ball with its labeling in his opinion, nobody at the library should get to read any Marvel comic from now on, be they minors or adults. It is more important that a kid not have to see the word "whore" in a comic than said comic is available to those old enough to not suffer brain damage from reading the kind of words they say on prime-time TV.
(And in addition: at what age is a kid able to withstand the horrors of the word "whore", and does this mean that the library, even if it caters exclusively to minors, would be removing Marvel not only for the teeniest wee sheltered readers but also the teens and just-about-teens? Yes, of course it does. Were I a teenager in such a situation, I'd feel pretty damn condescended to, and I'd avoid such an institution like the plague.)
And since labeling is the issue here, let's trot over back to Occasional Superheroine, where we see in the comments section, courtesy of Ami Angelwings:
Here's the problem.
I dun see a problem with a warning label or description of what's in it. I mean as a writer who posts a lot of fiction online I know a lot of stories have tags at the beginning to inform readers about what sort of themes are contained. We have NSFW stuff in posts. A tag or label isn't censorship in any way :\ It's just more information :) Like nutritional labels in food products :)
Warning labels are arbitrary. They hold standards which are based on opinion. A food label, at least, has the benefit of supposedly telling you objective facts ("this candy bar has peanuts in it"); a label that says "this comic has too much violence for an 11-year-old" depends on the person reading the label and the agency placing the label on the book having similar standards.
Ever gone to a movie and thought the violence was too much for the PG rating? Or seen an R-rated movie and wondered what the fuss was all about? That's someone at the MPAA board deciding for you that this is too much violence for some folks here, but this other violence here is more acceptable.
Someone at Marvel thought "whore" was an acceptable word to put in an all-ages book**, and our librarian disagreed, and now no more Marvel at the library. That is censorship, right there. Not in a country-wide fashion, no, you can still read Marvel comics elsewhere. But it is censorship nonetheless. And going back to movie ratings: when was the last time you saw a movie with an "A" rating in the theater? Once someone marks a film as being "too adult for even the R rating", that pretty much kills its distribution. Oh, sure, you can still find a few places that might play it, depending on the film. A seedy adult film theater (if they still exist in the days of private DVDs and internet porn), a tiny art-house showing, or heck, just wait for the DVD. Well, gosh, it can't really be censorship if it's still around, right?
Sure. And all those comics that didn't take up the Comics Code in the fifties could still be published, they weren't being censored, no, you just couldn't find them on the majority of newsstands.
Labels suck. They are, in a fashion, an abandoning of personal responsibility: "Well, the label says it's bad, so I don't have to use my own judgment and think about it myself, out it goes!".
They are also a hammer, a threat: "take that blood spray or cleavage out of that scene, there, or we'll give you an "A" rating and then you can't get your film into theaters. Conform to our standards for decency!"
You may not think a simple warning label could have much effect, but then you probably also don't pay much attention to what CDs get into Wal-Mart and which don't due to labels or potentially offensive material. You don't care or even know about about some gangsta rapper failing to sell some album because the forces that be behind the scenes are "looking out for the public interest". You probably don't know about artists as tame as Sheryl Crow running into content troubles with chain outlets. And Tipper Gore only wanted to help parents with the awful drudge-work of raising children when she formed the PMRC. Surely she didn't think she would institute censorship, oh, no.
Ami probably means well, the librarian may have nothing but the finest of intentions, but really, it doesn't take a whole lot of foresight to see how these things can start benignly but snowball out of control, far beyond what anyone thought they wanted, since it's happened before, and we even have an example specific to comics that we can look at and evaluate.
What's that everyone says about history and being doomed to repeat it...?
*I really wish I were confident enough about my readership that I didn't feel the need to mention that was all a joke.
**Actually, I think it's far more likely that nobody at Marvel is really paying attention to their rating labels, or that they don't want to have to judge each issue individually so that little Billy can read Avengers #347 but isn't allowed to see the continued story in Avengers #348...