Wertham, Fredric

Tagged: Author | Critic

(1895-1981) German-born US psychiatrist and author whose name was legally changed from Friedrich Ignatz Wertheimer in 1927. He is best remembered for his part in the 1950s US outcry against horror and Superhero Comics, expressed in such articles as "What Parents Don't Know About Comic Books" (November 1953 Ladies' Home Journal) and "Blueprints to Delinquency" (May 1954 Readers Digest), and above all in his highly tendentious study Seduction of the Innocent (1954). This went beyond the chronicling of gruesome or morbid themes, such as the "injury to the eye" motif in EC Comics, to suggestions that innocuous superhero comics contained Subliminal images of naked female pudenda, that the mild bondage association of Wonder Woman's golden lasso was significantly perverse, and that such hero/sidekick relationships as that of Batman and Robin were laden with then-taboo homosexuality. His conclusion that comic books fomented juvenile delinquency was among the causes of a US Congressional inquiry into the comics industry, and of that industry's defensive self-censorship in the USA through the establishment of the Comics Code in 1954. Later studies have suggested that Wertham's interpretation of his data was to say the least unreliable. According to Carol L Tilley in "Seducing the Innocent: Fredric Wertham and the Falsifications That Helped Condemn Comics" (2012 Information & Culture: A Journal of History volume 47 #4):

Wertham manipulated, overstated, compromised, and fabricated evidence – especially that evidence he attributed to personal clinical research with young people – for rhetorical gain.

Wertham's other book of genre relevance is The World of Fanzines: A Special Form of Communication (1973), a much more genial survey which takes an overall positive view of the creativity visible in Fanzine publication:

In my analysis, the editing of fanzines is a constructive and healthy exercise of creative drives. As for the question of morbid alienation or estrangement, what is psychiatrically decisive is that occupation with fanzines is not by any means a flight into solitude or isolation. The fanzine fan seeks communication and not the opposite. Fanzine editors are not idle dreamers. They do not run away from the rest of the world. In fact they cope well with very real people and institutions, like the paper merchants and the Post Office. Often they show what amounts to an extraordinary amount of energy and goodwill. Fanzines are a healthy part of our society.

While researching The World of Fanzines Wertham contributed letters to such publications as Riverside Quarterly. Some members of traditional sf Fandom complained that the coverage was sketchy, slapdash, based on an overly small and recent sample, and slanted towards Wertham's particular concern of comics fanzines; but it offers an interesting outsider viewpoint. [DRL]

Fredric Wertham

born Nuremberg, Bavaria, German Empire: 20 March 1895

died Kempton, Pennsylvania: 18 November 1981

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