Estes Kefauver Was a Blithering Idiot

Interesting article at CNN on a nearly forgotten chapter of twentieth century history: the Great Comic Book Scare:

World War II was over, but as the 1940s gave way to the 1950s, a new evil lurked in the land. Ten-Cent Plague

It attracted a youthful audience — boys, mostly — who fell victim to its colorful images, dripping in red, and gave money to its purveyors.

Authorities took notice. The United States had a new menace, they said, one whose name started with “c” and whose first syllable rhymed with “bomb.”

Comic books.

At the time comic books were very popular among youth, perhaps because they were quite good at pushing the envelope. Comics of the time frequently featured gory violence, attractive (if unrealistically drawn) women, and controversial social commentary. A few years before Elvis shocked the world on the Ed Sullivan show, do-gooders and politicians believed comic books were corrupting the youth. A well-meaning but goofy psychiatrist named Frederic Wertham even wrote a book (sensationally entitled Seduction of the Innocent in which he argued that comics were responsible for juvenile delinquency.

Across America comic book burnings were held. Entire cities banned the sale of comic books. Tennessee’s very own Democratic Senator Estes Kefauver, fresh off his hearings on organized crime, took the logical next step in his anti-crime crusade and launched a Senate inquiry on comic books and their effects on children. He brought in Wertham himself, as well as Bill Gaines, boss of the popular and controversial EC comics line, proving that the wasting of taxpayer money by the federal government is hardly a new problem.

All in all, it was a very strange time. If any of this sounds interesting, you should definitely read The Ten-Cent Plague by David Hajdu. I read it over the weekend and loved it. A true story of mass hysteria, it is both amusing and frightening.

UPDATE: No, I don’t really think Kefauver was an idiot. The title of this post is a bit of hyperbole. Kefauver did some good things while in the Senate, but on this issue I do think he was out to lunch.

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