Just finished the introduction of FREDRIC WERTHAM AND THE CRITIQUE OF MASS CULTURE-- and no, I don't plan to blog on every chapter this minutely, but the opening does a superlative job of making clear author Bart Beaty's set of biases.
I should note that prior to this I did a long thread on Comicon.com in which I *did* expatiate at length on the many inaccuracies and half-truths of Wertham's signature work, SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT. (I may copy them to this blog some day.) When I first heard that Beaty's work constituted some sort of defense of Dr. W, my first thought was, "How could anyone hope to rehabilitate W.'s reputation, given his long catalogue of un-scientific errors, which mitigate against taking SOTI seriously as a tool of research?"
Bart Beaty gives me his answer in this introduction.
Up to page 14 Beaty does a creditable job establishing the intellectual climate in which W. lived and worked, and the various schools of popular culture research, divided into "the critical school" (Wertham's) and "the empirical school" (which, unlike W.'s school, became dominant in the fields of academe). Beaty also tells us that the former school concerned itself with "macrolevel studies of media ownership and control" while the later concentrated on "working with the broadcasting industry" in order to "direct social change through microlevel investigations concerned with effects." I like that subtle jab at the latter school, "working with the industry." It will be interesting to see if Beaty documents real-world examples of empirical-types "working for The Man" for these "microlevel effects."
Then Beaty marshals the opinion of one J.D. Peters to argue that "the media-effects paradigm developed in a scientific culture that emphasized the cleavage of facts and values," and he suggests that W. became marginalized because his critiques of mass culture were too passionate about the "urgent need for progressive social change." Such passion tainted his observations for those who wanted this absolute separation of "facts and values."
Beaty then concludes that "popular culture researchers whose interest remained tied to traditional notions of scientific validity and authority generally degraded Wertham's work."
Uh-huh. So it wasn't that W. did BAD research to prove his point. It was that he was just too, too passionate for words, and therefore the mean old scientific authorities denied him "the possibility of emerging as a critical voice."
I'm not optimistic about where this introduction seems to be leading, but am trying to keep an open mind. Onward...
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