Fredric Wertham

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Fredric Wertham
Born20 March 20 1895
Died18 November 1981 (aged 86)
Spouse(s)Florence Hesketh (1902-1981)

Fredric Wertham (20 March 1895 – 18 November 1981) was a Jewish[1] German-American psychiatrist. He was an author who wrote about images in media. He thought that violent imagery in mass media and comic books was harmful to children.[2] His best-known book was Seduction of the Innocent (1954). After this book became popular, the United States Congress took a close look at the comic book industry. Also, the Comics Code was made in response. He called television "a school for violence".[3]

Biography[change | change source]

He was born on 20 March 20 1895 in Munich.[2][3] He studied medicine in Germany and England. He and Sigmund Freud wrote letters to each other, and Wertham chose to study mainly psychiatry. In 1922 he was asked to come to the United States and to join the Phipps Psychiatric Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. He became a United States citizen in 1927.[2] He moved to New York City in 1932. He became the director of a psychiatric clinic connected with the New York Court of General Sessions. All people who were convicted of serious crimes had a psychiatric examination there. The report from those examinations were used in court.[2] In 1935 Wertham spoke in court for the defense in the trial of Albert Fish, a serial killer. Wertham said Fish was insane.[4]

Seduction of the Innocent[change | change source]

A typical crime comic

In Seduction of the Innocent, Wertham wrote about clear or hidden violence, sex, drug use, and other adult topics in "crime comics". Wertham used the words "crime comics" to mean popular comics about criminals and murder that were popular at that time. But, he also included superhero and horror comics in the same group of comics. He said that reading violent comics made children violent. However, this idea was from stories he had heard, not careful research.

Comics, especially the crime and horror titles started by EC Comics had many shocking or ugly images. Wertham often reproduced these pictures. He pointed out themes about death such as "injury to the eye" that he thought were common. One example Jack Cole's "Murder, Morphine and Me" in Magazine Village's True Crime Comics Vol. 1, #2 (May 1947). The story showed a character named Mary Kennedy who was a drug dealer. In her dream, she was almost stabbed in the eye with a needle by a drug addict.[5]). Many of his other ideas seemed like nonsense to the comics industry. Wertham thought he saw hidden sexual themes in comics such as nude women hidden in drawings of muscles and tree bark. He also thought Batman and Robin were gay partners. Wertham's idea that Wonder Woman had a hidden story of bondage did have some facts to support it. Her creator William Moulton Marston had said the same thing. However, Wertham also claimed that Wonder Woman's strength and independence made her a lesbian.

Wertham's book had many problems. He did not clearly record information with citations or a bibliography. There was no way of knowing if the stories in his book were true. In 2012, Carol Tilley, a professor of library and information science, found that Wertham was not honest in Seduction. He changed many facts such as making children in the book younger than they really were.[6]

Later career[change | change source]

Wertham's views on mass media have largely overshadowed his broader concerns with violence and with protecting children from psychological harm. His writings about the effects of racial segregation were evidence in the important Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education. Part of his 1966 book, A Sign for Cain, was about medical professionals and their actions in the Holocaust. He talked about the book on a popular TV program. Parts of these programs were shown at the 2003 Comic-Con International: San Diego[7]

Beaty writes that in 1959 Wertham tried to sell an another book to follow Seduction of the Innocent. It was called The War on Children. The book was about the effect of television on children. Wertham was unhappy that no companies wanted to publish it.

Wertham always said he did not want censorship of comics. In the 1970s he was more interested in the good side of comics fan groups. In his last book, The World of Fanzines (1974), he concluded that fanzines were a good way to be creative. Wertham was asked to speak to the New York Comic Art Convention. Most comics fans still had bad opinions about him. They did not trust him and yelled at him during his speech. He soon stopped writing about comics.

Before he retired, Wertham had several jobs. He became a professor of psychiatry at New York University. He was a senior psychiatrist in the New York City Department of Hospitals and a psychiatrist and the director of the Mental Hygiene Clinic at the Bellevue Hospital Center.[2]

He died on November 18, 1981 at his retirement home in Kempton, Pennsylvania. He was 86 years old.[2][3]

After his death[change | change source]

The Library of Congress keeps his papers. People were able to study them starting May 20, 2010.[8] The library has a list of all of his writing. This list shows Wertham's many different interests.[9]

Some of his writing[change | change source]

  • 1948: "The Comics, Very Funny", Saturday Review of Literature, May 29, 1948, p. 6. (condensed version in Reader's Digest, August 1948, p. 15)
  • 1953: "What Parents Don't Know". Ladies' Home Journal, Nov. 1953, p. 50.
  • 1954: "Blueprints to Delinquency". Reader's Digest, May 1954, p. 24.
  • 1954: Seduction of the Innocent. Amereon Ltd. ISBN 0-8488-1657-9
  • 1955: "It's Still Murder". Saturday Review of Literature, April 9, 1955, p. 11.
  • 1956: The Circle of Guilt. Rinehart & Company.
  • 1968: A Sign for Cain: An Exploration of Human Violence. Hale. ISBN 0-7091-0232-1
  • 1973: The World of Fanzines: A Special Form of Communication. Southern Illinois University Press. ISBN 0-8093-0619-0
  • 1973: "Doctor Wertham Strikes Back!" The Monster Times no. 22, May 1973, p. 6.

References[change | change source]

  1. ""Jews and American Comics from Another Angle"". Archived from the original on 2011-07-08. Retrieved 2010-12-16.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Webster, Bayard (December 1, 1981). "Fredric Wertham, 86, Dies. Foe of Violent TV and Comics". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-03-29. Dr. Fredric Wertham, an internationally known psychiatrist who believed that comic books, movies and television shows that featured crime, violence and horror exerted a damaging influence on many juveniles and young adults, died November 18 at his retirement home in Kempton, Pennsylvania. He was 86 years old.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Death Revealed". Time magazine. December 14, 1981. Archived from the original on 2010-10-15. Retrieved 2010-03-29. Fredric Wertham, 86, author and psychiatrist who crusaded against violence in comic books, movies and television; on Nov. 18; in Kempton, Pa. Wertham, a Munich-born authority on criminal psychology, argued that violence is a product of cultural influences.
  4. "Fish Held Insane By Three Experts. Defense Alienists Say Budd Girl's Murderer Was And Is Mentally Irresponsible". New York Times. May 21, 1935. Retrieved 2010-03-29. Three psychiatrists testified in Supreme Court today that Albert H. Fish, on trial for the murder of Grace Budd in June, 1928, was legally insane when he committed the murder and has been insane since that date.
  5. Spiegelman, Art and Kidd, Chip (2001). Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to their Limits, p.91. Retrieved on 2008-12-31.
  6. Rhodes, Dusty (2013-02-11). "BAM! WAP! KA-POW! Library prof bops doc who K.O.'d comic book industry". News Bureau, Public Affairs, University of Illinois. Archived from the original on 2013-02-13. Retrieved 2013-02-13.
  7. "News From Me". Archived from the original on 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2010-12-16.
  8. ""Wertham's Locked Vault"". Archived from the original on 2010-11-25. Retrieved 2010-12-16.
  9. Fredric Wertham: A Register of His Papers at the Library of Congress

Other websites[change | change source]

Further reading[change | change source]

  • (1954). "Are Comics Horrible?" Newsweek, May 3, 1954, p. 60.
  • Decker, Dwight. (1987). "The Strange Case of Dr. Wertham" Amazing Heroes #123 (August 15, 1987); "The Return of Dr. Wertham" Amazing Heroes #124 (Sept. 1, 1987); "From Dr. Wertham With Love" Amazing Heroes #125 (Sept. 15, 1987) [three part series, see below for link to condensed version posted online under title "Fredric Wertham - Anti-Comics Crusader Who Turned Advocate"].
  • Gibbs, Wolcott. (1954). "Keep Those Paws to Yourself, Space Rat!" The New Yorker, May 8, 1954.
  • Beaty, Bart. (2005). Fredric Wertham and the Critique of Mass Culture.
  • Bart Beaty. Fredric Wertham And the Critique of Mass Culture. University Press of Mississippi, 2005. ISBN 1578068193
  • David Hajdu. The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. ISBN 0374187673
  • James Bowman. "In Defense of Snobbery." August 26, 2008. [1]
  • Amy Kiste Nyberg. "Seal of Approval: The History of the Comics Code." University Press of Mississippi, 1998. ISBN 087805975X