Books postsMonday May 12, 2008
The Ten-Cent Plague and the ebb and flow of culture
Hajdu’s also adept at our cultural ebb and flow: how and why the focus of comic books became superheroes, then crime, then romance, then horror, then Mad and all of its imitators; how comic books nearly went down in flames in 1954 after often going up in flames in comic-book burnings in isolated spots around the country in the late 1940s.
The general historical overview of this period tends to focus on Frederic Wertham’s book The Seduction of the Innocent, and Hadju shows not only how Wertham was deeper — he opened the first mental health clinic, the Lafargue Clinic, in Harlem — but how the scare went wider, encompassing the rise of juvenile delinquency as far back as the early 1940s. Comic books were an easy scapegoat, the quick fix we’re forever looking for. Even if delinquency wasn’t necessarily on the rise, our concern about it was. One of my favorite bits, from pg. 213:
In the spring of 1953, juvenile crime showed no signs of worsening: to the contrary, on April 16, a headline in The New York Times announced “Youth Delinquency Down”...Eleven days later, the United States Senate approved a resolution to launch an investigation into the causes and effects of juvenile delinquency...Those televised subcommittee hearings seem a staple of the 1950s — Army-McCarthy, etc. — but what I didn’t know, what Hajdu lets me know, was how popular they were. Sen. Estes Kerfauver’s earlier hearings on organized crime, which traveled around the country, from New Orleans to Detroit to St. Louis and onto the west coast, before landing in New York in March 1951, produced gigantic ratings for the period:
Some 70 percent of New Yorkers with TV sets tuned in for the hearings — seventeen times the number of people who usually watched daytime television... Two theaters in Manhattan, finding their seats vacant during the “Kefauver hours,” set up systems to project the broadcasts on their screens... Homemakers had “Kefauver parties”...Several schools dismissed students early so they could watch the hearings at home...I’m reminded of the discussion here a few months back on the fragmentation of our society and our current lack of a national meeting place; these hearings were obviously one such place. I’m also impressed that there was a time when Americans would rather be informed than entertained — or, at least, they found information, this information anyway, entertaining. Not sure how our culture flowed away from that dynamic.
Why a stripper is like you
My girlfriend bought Diablo Cody's “Candy Girl: A Year in the Life on an Unlikely Stripper” at the Minneapolis airport a few months ago and on the flight back to Seattle I read over her shoulder for a minute: a graf on the icky fetishes of some of the customers. My first thought: “So much for sex tonight.”
Finally read it myself. Zip zip. It's a fun, breezy read. Also prefigures one aspect of JUNO in this description of Sex World:
“There was a red sofa shaped like Marilyn's pucker, and a pair of chairs shaped like stiletto heels. It was all very reminiscent of the eighties trend toward 'wacky' high-concept furniture; I half-expected to see a hambuger phone.”
But it also reminded me of Jim Bouton's “Ball Four.” Both books are year-in-the-life stories regarding jobs (major league baseball player, stripper) that most of us can't get or don't want; but we relate because Bouton and Cody, in these occupations, suffer the way we suffer. I.e., the boss is an idiot.
Read here for Bouton. In Diablo's case it's more than the moustache-men and their fines over at Deja Vu; it's also the thick (in both senses) female manager at Dollhouse who leaves the following note:
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN I WANT THESE LIGHTS ON ALL THE TIME I DONT CARE HOW THEY MAKE YOU LOOK OR IF YOUR GETTING A HEADACHE IF I FIND THEM TURNED OFF YOULL RECIVE A WRITTEN WARNING AND OH YES I WILL WRITE YOU UP FOR SOME DUMD SHIT LIKE THE LIGHTS NOT BEING ON TRY ME ANY QUESTIONS
“Dumd shit.” You can't make that up.