The New Yorker has a long article about the 1950s comic book crack down, including some interesting information about the man who started it all, Seduction of the Innocent author Fredric Wertham:
He did not want to censor comic books, only to restrict their sale so that kids could not buy them without a parent present. He wanted to give them the equivalent of an R rating. Bart Beaty’s ‘Fredric Wertham and the Critique of Mass Culture’ ($22, paper; University Press of Mississippi) makes a strong case for the revisionist position. As Beaty points out, Wertham was not a philistine; he was a progressive intellectual. His Harlem clinic was named for Paul Lafargue, Marx’s son-in-law. He collected modern art, helped produce an anthology of modernist writers, and opposed censorship. He believed that people’s behavior was partly determined by their environment, in this respect dissenting from orthodox Freudianism, and some of his work, on the psychological effects of segregation on African-Americans, was used in the Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education.
Wertham thought that representations make a difference-that how people see themselves and others reflected in the media affects the way they think and behave. As Beaty says, racist (particularly concerning Asians) and sexist images and remarks can be found on almost every page of crime and horror comics. What especially strikes a reader today is the fantastic proliferation of images of violence against women, almost always depicted in highly sexualized forms. If one believes that pervasive negative images of black people are harmful, why would one not believe the same thing about images of men beating, torturing, and killing women?
(via Mind Hacks).