Chabon on Defensive Over Kavalier

Michael Chabon is on the defensive after a column in Slate criticized his portrayal of Fredric Wertham, a psychiatrist whose writings helped fuel criticism of comic books in the 1950s as overly violent and innappropriate for children.

In Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Chabon describes Wertham as “a child pyschiatrist with unimpeachable credentials and a well-earned sense of outrage” who “had for several years been trying to persuade the partents and legislators of America that the minds of American children were being deeply damaged by the reading of comic books.” Congressional hearings that followed the publication of Wertham’s book Seducation of the Innocent are credited with bringing about the end of EC Comics and the birth of the Comics Code Authority, a self-censorship body.

In a column on Slate earlier this month, Jeet Heer, co-editor of Arguing Comics, writes that while Wertham’s criticisms were off, such as of the supposed homoerotic themes in Batman and Robin comics, his principle concen about the violence, misogyny, and racism in comics of the time “wasn’t wrong.”

“Many of the comics now nostalgically celebrated by Hajdu and Chabon were extremely unsavory in their social attitudes,” Heer writes.

Heer calls Chabon’s portrayal of Wertham in Kavalier “unsympathetic” and notes Wertham’s defenders call Chabon’s view point “pure calumny.”

And to that, Chabon took issue. In a reply posted April 8, Chabon calls Heer’s description of his portrayal of Werthem “seems simpleminded, or at least awfully lazy” and says Heer must have “failed to read the novel, or at least to have read it carefully or recently.”

“In fact my personal view of Wertham, reflected in the novel itself, had progressed beyond the simplistic condemnation … or demonization that Heer suggests well before I actually wrote the relevant scenes in the novel itself,” Chabon writes. “No one who does even the most rudimentary research into Wertham’s career and accomplishments can fail to admire him for his compassion, his intelligence, his desire to help children, and his fairly snappy prose style. He was not wrong about the meretriciousness or offensiveness of many of the comics he condemned, though he was wrong about a lot of them; nor was he wrong when he argued that many of the stories featured inappropriate material for young children.”

Chabon continues: “It was Wertham’s boneheaded inferences about the direct causal connection between, say, ‘headlight’ comics and ‘deviance’ in children, not to mention the hysteria his inferences helped to foster (along with a counter-hysteria among comics fans) that have tarnished his admirable legacy.”

Chabon also took issue with Heer’s claim that Kavalier “nostalgically celebrated” the “extremely unsavory” social attitudes in the comics of those days. But Heer, in his own reply, sticks by his argument. “Surely any good reader of Kavalier & Clay would acknowledge that the novel is suffused with a nostalgic appreciation of the early comic books,” Heer says.

To read up on the entire literary dust-up, click here.

Ayelet Wins Delegate Seat

Ayelet Waldman could be forgiven for thinking winning the race to become a delegate for Sen. Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention for her Congressional district was a long-shot. After all, 101 people were competing for four seats, and experts told her she’d need at least 100 votes to be competitive.

But good news came Sunday night: Waldman won by 347, “by far the highest in my caucus,” Waldman said via e-mail.

What does that mean? It means come August, Waldman will be heading to Denver to cast the formal vote for Obama. And while in the past that would just mean she’d be around for a great party, this year is all about the delegates, thanks to the never-ending campaign by Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Waldman has been highly active volunteering for Obama’s campaign. She helped campaign in Nevada, South Carolina, and Texas, and trained lawyers in Northern California. She organized fundraisers, and raised $65,000 on the Internet.

Chabon’s Spidey 2 Script Online

More than three years after the release of Spider-Man 2, McSweeney’s has posted online the never-before-published script Michael Chabon wrote for the film.

McSweeney’s released the script in honor of the publication of Maps and Legends, Chabon’s first nonfiction book.

“Chabon was the third of four screenwriters assigned to the project; he ultimately received shared ‘screen story’ credit,” McSweeney’s Web site says. “As far as we know, this script hasn’t been seen anywhere else, and it won’t be seen here for long.”

To read the entire 252-page script, click here.

Waldman Aims to be a Delegate

Ayelet Waldman is hoping to become one of 241 delegates from California for the Democratic National Convention in Denver this summer, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Waldman is sending out viral e-mails to get picked for a slot as an Obama delegate. An election is being held today at 3 p.m. PST.

“(One hundred) people is A LOT of people. Way more people than I know,” Waldman wrote in her e-mail. “Which is why I’m asking – no BEGGING – you to turn out, bring your loved ones, sign up to vote for me and (her running mate Fred Feller) and then, if you like, come over to my house for a thank you party.”

Feller is an attorney with Berkley-based law firm Buresh Kaplan Jang & Feller.

Waldman also put up posters made by Michael Chabon at the local grocery store and campaigned door-to-door.

“But I’m a mother of four. I understand that things can come up on a Sunday afternoon,” she said. “I’m just hoping that people come. I’m hoping that they can find parking.”

She faces heavy competition: 101 people are competing for four seats.

Update: Waldman was kind enough to give me a copy of the viral e-mail she’s been using in her campaign. We’ll keep you posted on if she wins or loses today. In the meanwhile, here’s the e-mail:

    Hey folks, (those who live in Barbara Lee’s Congressional District): I am running for election to become a pledged Delegate for Obama in Congressional District 9 at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. I’m desperate to go, as are, I imagine, any number of people. But I’m willing to be that there are few people in this district who have done as much for Obama as I have. Or who are as insane about this election as I am. My brother-in-law says I am suffering from OCD — Obama Compulsive Disorder.

    The system is a little nutty, but it works like this. On Sunday, April 13th there will be a Caucus held in Oakland, at the Beebe Memorial Cathedral at 3900 Telegraph Ave Oakland, CA 94609. You must show up in person at 2 pm, sign up to vote for me, and then leave. Or you could stay and listen to the speeches. But there’s really no reason to do that unless you’re curious or enjoy that kind of thing.

    There are 58 people running to be pledged delegates, and only 2 slots for a female. My friend Fred Fuller, who worked in the Obama Election Protection boiler room I ran out of my kitchen, is also running. As we’re not competing for the same seat, Fred and I are running together, asking our friends if they can come and vote for both of us. I’ve heard from the campaign that unless I turn out 100 people, I’m not going to get a spot. 100 people is A LOT of people. Way more people than I know. Which is why I’m asking — no BEGGING — you to turn out, bring your loved ones, sign up to vote for me and Fred, and then, if you like, come over to my house for a thank you party. If you have other folks you want to vote for, you can vote for them, too. You can place votes up to the total number of delegates allowed.

    For those of you who don’t already know the extent of my OCD, let me tell you what I’ve done for Obama.

    1. I’ve travelled. I went and canvassed and site managed a caucus in Nevada (like many of you did). I went and worked in the Voter Protection boiler room in South Carolina, making sure that every single Obama voter got to vote. I went to Texas to do Voter Protection, too, and ended up site managing 3 caucus sites, because folks in Texas had no idea what was going on. The rules were new, and crazy, and with my single caucus experience I was the oldest hand in the room.

    2. I ran Voter Protection, Northern California. I recruited and trained lawyers to staff polling sites in Northern California. I ran the Alameda county program, which involved putting lawyers at more than 50 polling sites, running the boiler room out of my kitchen, where a small team of us answered phone and trouble-shot from 5 am through 10 pm. Prevailing upon a judge who was a friend, we managed to get the polls held open an extra couple of hours due to voting irregularities.

    3. I’ve organized fundraisers. With Linda Gage I put together a Writing for Change event in Berkeley. I arranged to have Tobey Wolff, Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket), Dave Eggers and my husband, Michael Chabon, speak at the event. We raised over $70,000. That event was replicated in NYC to great success. I organized another event with Mari Mayeda at which MichaelPollan spoke. We raised $60,000. I helped Jean Driscoll with her event, managing the on line part of it. I’ve also “hosted” two other events – which basically means I just brought in $25,000.

    4. I’ve made, like many of you, countless phone calls to friends and strangers, alike, canvassing. I’m amazed at how successful these phone efforts have been and I urge you to try doing it, if you haven’t already. Email me and I’ll tell you how.

    5. I’ve written articles in the SF Chronicle and the Washington Post about Barack. The Wash Po one was widely disseminated. Since no one reads the Chronicle, no one saw that one. 😉

    6. I’m on the Northern California Finance Committee and the Women for Obama Leadership Committee.

    7. I’ve appeared as an “Obama surrogate” at events in the East Bay, one of which involved convincing a room full of elderly Jewish voters that Obama is not a Muslim. Lovely people, but a challenge, let me tell you.

    8. Michael and I have raised $65,000 on the internet, and he drafted the preamble to the arts policy, has written op eds about Barack, and has given a little input on speeches.

    So that’s me. I’ll also say that I’m desperate to go to the convention. This experience has profoundly changed my life. I feel like ever since my children were born I’ve been telling them a story about America, how we are the land of Martin Luther King, of Susan B. Anthony, of war resisters, suffragettes, and abolitionists. When I’ve told my kids these stories, I often felt like I was lying to them. We tell them about Jim Crow like it was the past. But we all know that there are huge divides between the races. After Barack’s eloquent and profound speech, after seeing black and white people unite in South Carolina, I suddenly feel like maybe I won’t need to lie to my children anymore. Barack Obama’s election will mean so much to us as a country. Everything changes on the day he takes the Oath of Office. Don’t get me wrong. I know he’ll be inheriting a hellish nightmare wrought by Bush, and he will have to knock himself out to make things even a little better, but the very fact of his election will begin that process.

    I always used to say that America gets the president it deserves. We deserved Reagan, we deserved George Bush, we even deserved the wasted opportunity that was Bill Clinton. I’m betting everything on the hope that now, at this moment, America deserves Barack Obama.

    I hope you’ll consider coming out and supporting me. Please let me know if you can make it.