Introduction to "Seduction of the Innocent," by James A.

Introduction to "Seduction of the Innocent," by James A.

Postby admin » Fri Apr 04, 2014 10:39 pm

Seduction of the Innocent, by Fredric Wertham, M.D.

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PART 1 OF 2

Introduction by James E. Reibman

Fredric Wertham's ideas on the harmful effects created by media-induced violence, first set out in the late 1940s, resonate with those who are concerned by the searing of our cultural fabric. Many now decry a pervasive lack of civility and attenuated mores that reveal a profound failure to agree on what constitutes acceptable moral and social behavior. Our common distress has led us to revisit the debate on the origins of human aggression and the extent to which one's environment contributes to the development of personality. Although technological changes have introduced videos, cable television channels, and computer networks to the issues raised by crime comic books, the fundamental elements of concern remain the same: rape and sexual abuse, gender bias, racial prejudice, and anti-social behavior. Moreover, constitutionally protected rights to free speech, economic power, and industrial self-regulation all continue to contribute to the problem of violence in mass media.

Of course, these issues have a long history on the transforming power of art in Western Culture. Although the debate centers on Plato's argument in The Republic that recognizes the dangers of the mimesis (imitation): "For the fact that it succeeds in maiming even the decent men, except for a certain few, is surely terrible ... ," [1] alerts us to ambiguity of a powerful image. Certainly, Plato's fear of the unintended consequences of poetry is challenged by Aristotle's notion of cathersis in the Poetics that allows one to " ... thrill with horror and melt to pity at what takes place ... "and then "to effect a proper purgation of these emotions .... " [2] These competing ideas frame the argument that Wertham considers the locus classicus of the attraction of violence. This is set out clearly in the episode of Alypius in The Confessiones (397-401) written by St. Augustine of Hippo. Alypius, a young student, refuses his friends' entreaties to join them as they view the spectacles in the Colosseum in Rome. One day, when his friends drag Alypius to the Colosseum, he sits in the stands but covers his eyes so that he will not see what is taking place. Nevertheless, Alypius hears the shouts and slowly peers through his fingers to view the action. The spectacle is so riveting that Alypius lowers his hands. As he becomes engrossed in the violence and gore, his eyes become so full of desire, concupiscentia oculorum, that he cannot turn away and he joins in the blood lust himself. [3] "The effect of mass seduction by public spectacles on an immature mind, especially in the direction of unconscious fascination by sadism and violence" and the "role of social temptation" are first credited by Wertham to St. Augustine, whom Wertham calls "the first modern psychologist." [4] The power that draws one into viewing violence is neither redeeming nor edifying, but it is real and often harmful to young minds.

In Seduction of the Innocent (1954), which sums up his early work on comic book violence and addresses the commercial forces driving popular culture, Fredric Wertham directly confronts the issue of censorship raised by those who maintain that his efforts to control crime comic books subvert constitutional protections of freedom of speech:

What is censorship? The industry has observed that by claiming that the publisher exercises a censorship over himself. That is not what censorship means. It means control of one agency by another. When Freud speaks of an internal censor in the human mind, he does not mean that instinctive behavior can control itself. He specifically postulates another agency, the superego, which functions as a censor.

Comic books for children have no censorship. The contrast between censorship for adults and the lack of it for children leads to such fantastic incongruities as the arrest of a girl in a nightclub for obscenity because she wrestles with a stuffed gorilla, when any six-year old, for ten cents, can pore for hours or days over jungle books where real gorillas do much more exciting things with half-undressed girls than just wrestling. It is a widely held fallacy that civil liberties are endangered or could be curtailed via children's books. But freedom to publish comic books has nothing to do with civil liberties.

In crime comic books, murder, violence and rape are the themes. There seems to be a widely held belief that democracy demands leaving the regulation of children's reading to the individual. Leaving everything to the individual is actually not democracy; it is anarchy. And it is a pity that children should suffer from the anarchistic trends in our society. [5]


Wertham's argument is that the pernicious influence crime comic books wield on the minds of children constitutes primarily a public health issue, not a fundamental issue of censorship. While he does find moral bankruptcy in publishers hiding behind the veil of freedom of speech to cover the lucrative industry they have created, as a psychiatrist, Wertham's contention rests on the interpretation of clinical research. [6]

Alarmed by what he had discovered from his teenage patients at the Lafargue Clinic, Wertham set up a Hooky Club and a Comic Book Reader's Club, based on a group therapy model, to gain a better understanding of the relationship between juvenile crime and the patterns of behavior that were imitated from scenarios set forth in particular crime comic books they read. Soon, Wertham realized that he had misunderstood the nature of comics. At first Wertham paid little attention to the notion that comics influenced behavior, since he had assumed that most comics were essentially harmless, like those appearing in newspaper strips; however, he quickly realized his mistake. These patients provided testimony revealing the inspiration and method for their crimes came from comic books. This anecdotal evidence of patterning crimes from comics persuaded Wertham to investigate not only crime comic books, but also how these comic books shaped the moral and social universe of these patients. Wertham neither readily understood the influence crime comic books were exerting on impressionable young minds, nor did he fully appreciate the economic forces behind the proliferation of these books. His analysis of the publishing industry and their methods of distribution led him to focus on the power of the mass media and to argue that violence in the culture, if not challenged, would precipitate a public health epidemic affecting children.

At a symposium, The Psychopathology of Comic Books, which he organized, held 19 March 1948 at the New York Academy of Medicine, Wertham made the following introductory remarks:

Psychiatry was practiced intramurally in institutions originally, and only gradually concerned itself with the mental hygiene problems outside. In the same way psychotherapy was originally confined to the consultation room and is only now beginning to overcome its own claustrophilia and take an interest in the social forces that come to bear on the individual. It is, therefore, in the best scientific tradition to consider a social phenomenon so enormously widespread as comic books. The idea of this symposium originated in researches first carried out by the Lafargue Clinic. This is the first exhibition of comic books. You see here examples of about one-third of all the comic book titles. This is also the first report on scientific research about comic books which is not under the auspices of the comic book industry itself. It was carried out in clinics, in schools and in private practice.[7]


Wertham and his colleagues discovered from their clinical studies of children evaluated at the Lafargue Clinic [8] that the most benign influences that comics had on these patients include reading problems (which he labeled "linear dyslexia") and manifestations of inchoate sexual impulses or physical aggression. Their research indicated that more severe crimes of murder, robbery, and torture were accomplished by imitating story lines outlined in comic book scripts. Since many of these patients were committed to Wertham's clinic by either the New York courts or the Juvenile Aid Bureau, these children already evidenced hostile behavior and social dysfunction. Moreover, this pool of patients was increasing and their actions were becoming so egregious that Wertham, as a physician, felt impelled to act. Functioning as both a psychiatrist and an epidemiologist, [9] Wertham organized this first symposium ever held to discuss the social and psychological effect of comic books. This research attracted widespread national attention, opening additional fora for Wertham to publicize his studies on the enigma of preventable violence. [10] The quest to understand and to prevent violence, the core of Wertham's psychiatric practice, shaped his thinking on how the mass media create a climate permitting, indeed encouraging violent, anti-social acts. [11]

Fredric Wertham is remembered today, primarily as the author of Seduction of the Innocent, an incisive, blistering attack on the violence and horror purveyed by the comic book industry. This is ironic, for Wertham was in fact a distinguished psychiatrist of wide and deeply humane interests, an advocate of social reform, and a defender of civil liberties. His experience as a forensic psychiatrist in the 1920s led to a fascination with the ways in which violence shaped society and controlled human behavior. He insisted that "the power of human violence is very great, not only on the direct victims but in its influence on the orientation of a whole society as well. That is why the control of violence-producing factors occupies such a key position in the power structure of any society." [12] Wertham's professional career and personal actions were in part a dedication to understanding the nature of violence in society, the impact of violence on the individual, and the function of violence in determining the direction and the shaping of culture. From our vantage point today -- with our mass media filled with violence provoking rock videos and movies celebrating the exploits of characters like Rambo and Freddy Krugger, while drug related and youth gang violence fills the newspapers and television news -- Wertham's studies seem especially prescient.

Wertham's research took him through this era of crime comic books to the culture violent movies and television created. [13] Writing in 1966 Wertham clearly analyzed a problem still extant:

Television represents one of the greatest technological advances and is an entirely new, potent method of communication. Unfortunately as it is presently used, it does have something in common with crime comic books: the devotion to violence. In the School for Violence, television represents the classical course. Many of the movies being shown increasingly on the TV screen also have a lot of violence in them and so merge with the overall picture. [14]

At this time, however, both television and movies were mild in comparison to what appears today on network and cable channels. The climate of violence developing since this observation has, if anything, increased and become more dangerous. Competition for audience share, demand for advertising revenue, and misguided applications of First Amendment rights have all encouraged aggressive displays of violent behavior to be broadcast. [15] The proliferation of music videos with their vignettes of racial, sexual, and social violence has attenuated social restraints, actually making such behaviors acceptable. These media have legitimized for many young people amoral conduct as it defines, indeed privileges, a discourse celebrating victimization of the individual. The acceptability of brutality and brutish behavior has now become the norm, not something to be abhorred. Wertham's observations prophetic in the 1940s are relevant today. Like Cassandra, Wertham was often ignored or scorned by those social scientists who sought to chart a new, more advanced civilization in a celebration of modernity. Unfortunately, the drive to broaden the culture neglected the substantial intellectual principles developed in the humanistic heritage of Western civilization and instead focused on cleansing what are now labeled elitist notions, ones that once provided stability. What emerged, however, is this current ahistorical climate in which an ill-conceived marriage of pop psychology and pop culture are supported by sophisticated developments in communications. Our advanced technical age allows unevaluated ideas and images to predominate.

Of course, the irony in all this is that Fredric Wertham, a traditional left-wing European intellectual and product of the Enlightenment tradition, continues to be both castigated and characterized as a reactionary. In addition to this calumny, his ideas on violence in the mass media once embraced by either mainstream intellectuals or appropriated, to his chagrin, by the extreme right are now quoted by Susan Brownmiller among current social theoreticians [16] who want to restrain a culture they maintain portrays women in a degraded and hostile fashion. Certainly Wertham recognized such intellectual imperialism and decried hostile images of women. However, Wertham was not a Cato-like Censor, but a responsible physician who believed that children need protection from such violent images and activity: nevertheless, adults were free and capable to evaluate all types of material. [17] His fundamental issue involved the capacity for mature understanding. He did not endorse violent forms of art and literature but recognized that since violence is not innate, man learns from his environment, therefore children need protection and education in order to realize how this material diminishes the human spirit.

Born 20 March 1895 in Nuremberg, Fredric Wertham was one of five children of Sigmund and Mathilde Wertheimer, nonreligious, assimilated middle-class Jews. His father, a successful businessman, was an active member of the local political establishment and endorsed the prevailing German authoritarian culture. His mother abandoned the Jewish traditions of her family, accepting her husband's preference for assimilation with the Gentile culture. Of course, during the Nazi period, the family was considered Jewish under Hitlerite laws: while Fredric had emigrated to America in the 1920s, his siblings and his mother who were still living in Germany and Austria, took refuge abroad. His brother Paul spent the war years in a Rotterdam attic hidden by his housekeeper, whom he later married. The other brother, Emil, set up a plastics factory in England, joining sister Babi who lived near London, The younger sister, Ida, by then also a psychiatrist, fled Austria and settled in Lancashire where she remarried into the locally prominent Macapline family. Ida and her son Richard Hunter, a psychiatrist at Guy's Hospital, became eminent medical historians known for their major studies Three Hundred Years of Psychiatry: 1535-1860 (1963) and George III and the Mad Business (1969). Throughout much of his adult life Fredric Wertham did not encourage family contacts, maintaining a cordial yet studied distance.

As a young man on the eve of the Great War (1914-1918), however, Wertham spent several summers in England with relatives, among whom was his cousin Ella Winter, who later became a controversial journalist and activist. He found the environment there open and relaxed -- a stark contrast to the rigid, disciplined, and intellectually pedantic German culture at home. During this period he explored Fabian socialism and the writings of Karl Marx. More importantly, he became an avid reader of the writings of Charles Dickens, impressed by their influence on the recognition and reform of social injustices. At the outbreak of the Great War Wertham, pursuing medical studies at King's College, University of London, found himself stranded in England and, as a German national, he was for a short time interned near Wakefield, then paroled. Since he so admired British society, Wertham happily remained in England during the war, reading medicine and literature. After the war he continued his studies at the Universities of Erlangen and Munich, obtaining his M.D. degree from the University of Wurzburg in 1921. Paris and Vienna were additional venues of postgraduate study before he joined the Kraepelin Clinic in Munich.

Emile Kraepelin, the distinguished classical psychiatrist who developed the standard system for the classification of mental diseases, was Wertham's first significant mentor. At this time psychiatrists generally made diagnoses on the basis of symptoms and theoretical preconceptions; Kraepelin believed the context -- family history, culture, environment, economic and political aspects -- must be considered in treating a patient. His technique owed much to Sister Castelli, the head nurse who spent more than thirty years working at the clinic. Of Sister Castelli, Wertham wrote: "Some of the doctors in the clinic were professionally snobbish and thought it beneath their dignity to ask her questions or discuss with her patients or procedures. On me, however, her knowledge, her authoritative manner yet coupled with modesty, made a great personal impression. I often discussed my patients with her and learned more from her about the Kraepelinian approach than from many formal lectures." [18] By rejecting the hierarchical constraints of German culture, especially in medicine, Wertham reveals his democratic nature not only in his relationship with this nun but also in his evaluation of her accomplishments: "to me she is a part of the history of psychiatry." [19]

Other significant figures in the history of psychiatry had varying influences on Wertham's development as a psychiatrist. Before leaving for America in 1922, Wertham, at the request of Walter Lippmann, visited Sigmund Freud to see if he would write an article on psychoanalysis for The Saturday Review. Freud told Wertham that one should not write on psychiatry for the popular press and that "Anyway, in America no one cares about psychoanalysis." [20] Freud did not write the article, and Wertham, as his career progressed, did not follow Freud's advice.

Wertham left Munich to accept a position working with Adolf Meyer, who had introduced to America Kraepelin's method of observation of abnormalities, first at Worcester (Massachusetts) State Hospital and then at Johns Hopkins University. It was with Meyer at the Phipps Psychiatric Clinic, Johns Hopkins University, where Wertham felt his training could best be continued. His arrival in Baltimore signaled a fundamental break with his European life. Not only did he Americanize his name, but he also applied for citizenship.

During his seven years at Johns Hopkins, Wertham refined his skills as a psychiatrist and began his career as a professor. In Baltimore Wertham established a friendship with H.L. Mencken (where he became a member of his Saturday Club) and worked with Clarence Darrow on legal issues to become one of the first psychiatrists willing to testify for indigent defendants, including blacks. Most importantly, Wertham met and married Florence Hesketh, an artist and Charlton Fellow in Medicine at Johns Hopkins. With her, Wertham co-authored "The Significance of the Physical Constitution in Mental Disease" (1926) and The Brain as an Organ: Its Postmortem Study and Interpretation (1934), for which Hesketh drew all the cell plate illustrations. Of The Brain as an Organ, Adolf Meyer wrote, " Psychiatry and neurology are in great need of internal harmonization. The present book is a most valuable contribution in the direction of such an orientation, not only among the specific data, but also among the broader relations." [21] The Brain as an Organ, for which Wertham received the first psychiatric grant made by the National Research Council in Washington, became a standard medical text published in several editions, for strange as it now seems, the brain had not been considered an organ by psychiatrists.

Wertham's marriage to the Maine-born, Wellesley-educated Florence Hesketh began a lifetime partnership and collaboration. Not only did Hesketh enjoy a distinguished career as a sculptor (her work was exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the Egan Gallery), but she also served as Wertham's editor, co-author, and protector. She created an environment, especially at 44 Gramercy Park, New York, and at Blue Hills, Kempton, Pennsylvania, in which the doctor, as she referred to him, could focus his energy and attention on his work. He used to say with gratitude that she made all the important decisions, allowing him to concentrate on psychiatry and writing. It was at her urging that they bought instead of the usual sedan, a two-seater M.G. motor car, so that their jaunts to the country were limited to themselves.

While at Johns Hopkins, Wertham was the first to publish a study on the effects of mescaline and did pioneer work on insulin use in psychotherapy. He also developed the mosaic test: by having a patient manipulate and assemble small multicolored pieces of wood into a freely chosen design, Wertham could evaluate the resulting pattern for what it revealed about the patient's ego organization. This diagnostic procedure was sometimes used in conjunction with paintings created by the patient, such as the watercolors done by Zelda Fitzgerald when under his treatment at the Phipps Clinic.

Wertham's acute critical judgment and his unassuming nature become apparent in his relationship with his cousin Ella Winter and her husband Lincoln Steffens. On a vacation visit to them in San Remo, Wertham discovered that Steffens was in the initial stages of the writing of his Autobiography (1931), seeking the right format for presenting the materials of his life. From their discussion Steffens decided that Wertham was the kind of reader he envisaged for his book. Steffens then sat Wertham down and read to him from the manuscript in order to gauge the effectiveness of the writing. Wertham's friendship and unacknowledged support for Steffens were returned, somewhat unkindly, many years later by Ella Winter. As Wertham told a close friend, on a visit to him, Winter was struck by admiration for the vivid colors of his El Lissitzky collection and learned that Madame Lissitzky, widow of the constructivist artist, was holding much of her husband's work for him since he was a longtime friend and collector. Within a week of her visit Winter set off to Russia, made contact with Madame Lissitzky, and by claiming to be Wertham's emissary, she obtained the collection for herself. Upon discovery of this treachery, Wertham refused to take action against her, though for the rest of his life he keenly felt the loss of those Lissitzky's promised to and saved for him. [22]

Named senior psychiatrist at Bellevue by the New York Department of Hospitals in 1932, Wertham that year organized and directed for the Court of General Sessions, now the State Supreme Court, the nation's first clinic providing a psychiatric screening for every convicted felon. In 1936 he was named director of Bellevue's Mental Hygiene Clinic. Four years later he moved to become director of psychiatric services at Queens Hospital Center. To fulfill as yet unmet critical needs in the health care system, Wertham founded in 1946 in Harlem the Lafargue Clinic and pioneered a clinic for sex offenders, the Quaker Emergency Service Readjustment Center, in 1947. This center was a humane effort to treat sex offenders and bring them back into the mainstream of American society.

During the 1930s Wertham's expertise as a forensic psychiatrist became known to the general public. His involvement in a number of spectacular murder cases, discussed in Dark Legend: A Study in Murder (1941) and The Show of Violence (1948), led him to advocate the duty of the psychiatrist to bring the psychiatric background of murder into relationship with the law and the society it represents. Wertham's support for an intelligent use of McNaughton's rule determining legal insanity, his understanding of how environmental forces shape individual responses, his argument that violence and murder are diseases of society -- all persuaded him that violence is not innate, and so could be prevented.

Dark Legend investigates the story of Gino, a seventeen-year-old, Italian-American who, commanded by the ghost of his dead father, murdered his promiscuous mother. In his diagnosis Wertham found that Gino "suffered from a definite circumscribed mental disorder which rendered him defenseless and resourceless at the time of the deed." [23] As a result of Wertham's testimony at the trial, Gino was committed to a psychiatric institution: discharged nine years later completely recovered, he married and led a happy, productive life. Wertham's compelling narrative draws upon the myth of Orestes and the legend of Hamlet. The incisive analysis of matricide set out in this book prompted Ernest Jones to remark: "Freud and I both underestimated the importance of the mother problem in Hamlet. You have made a real contribution." [24] Later Jones discussed with him the issues concerning matricide raised in Wertham's work before the publication of his own study on Hamlet and Orestes.

Wertham sent his manuscript of Dark Legend (working title: Shadow of Madness) to Thomas Mann for comment and advice. In a 3 October 1939 letter, Mann told Wertham he had read the manuscript with "intense interest" and praised Wertham for drawing "in it brilliant lines of connection between the actual murder case and some great psychological types of world literature." Prophetically Mann observed, "I believe that the book will attract a great deal of attention, especially so in America, where psycho-pathological matters find a certain popularity... " [25] And Mann was correct, for four years after publication, Arthur Miller wrote Wertham: "I have finished reading your Dark Legend for the 2-1/2th time and want to congratulate you on a profound and to me a deeply significant work. I keep wondering whether I could corner you for an hour or two some afternoon or evening, when we might discuss aspects of the work and some of the things suggested by it to my mind ... I can promise you no thorough grounding in psychiatry, but my fascination for it is professional and if I have few answers I do have plenty of questions. If you could manage a little time would you let me know where and when? " [26]

The fascination Dark Legend engendered impelled Helene Frankel to write an adaptation of it for the theatre. In a 25 March 1952 New York Times review of the play, Brooks Atkinson complained that there was too much of the case history about it. "No one," he wrote, "expects Mrs. Frankel to write with the fire of Aeschylus or Shakespeare, for no one is in those major leagues today. But to escape mediocrity even a factual, realistic play needs some of the momentum and excitement of poetic feeling." [27] The excitement and feeling that inform Wertham's own telling of Gino's tale, with its resonates of Aeschylus and Shakespeare had been lost in the process of dramatization.

The focus on matricide in Dark Legend made many people uncomfortable. In England publication of the book was delayed on "the score of obscenity," giving rise to the demand that its distribution be limited to physicians and mental health professionals. Only after a detailed review appeared in the New Statesman was the book available to booksellers. Hollywood was likewise made nervous by the book. The director Reuben Mamoulian (whose projects included the movie "Queen Christina" with Greta Garbo, the movie version of Clifford Odets's play "Golden Boy," and the stage play "Porgy" by Du Bose Hayward) told Wertham over a congenial luncheon in the Oak Room at New York's Plaza Hotel how much he wanted to make a film of Dark Legend, emphasizing in his conversation the conception of "Family Honor." "Of course," he added, " in a movie either on stage or off stage a mother cannot be killed. This would be completely out of the question." [28] He suggested it would be easy to substitute for the mother some old woman, possibly an aunt. In an almost stereotypical Hollywood fashion, Mamoulian assumed that Wertham would readily assent to such a ludicrous change. Not so! Of course, Wertham, a man of character and integrity quickly refused the blandishments of Hollywood.

In The Show of Violence Wertham analyzes the role a psychiatrist must play in criminal court proceedings, explains for the layman his discovery of the Catathymic Crisis, where "a violent act -- against another person or against oneself -- provides the only solution to a profound emotional conflict whose real nature remains below the threshold of the consciousness of the patient, [29] and reveals his own role in several celebrated murder cases. In this book Wertham discusses his courtroom work in the pathetic case of Madeline, a young woman who killed her two children and then failed in her suicide attempt. He also details the cases of the notorious child-murderer Albert Fish, the "mad sculptor" Robert Irwin, and the professional gunman Martin Lavin, among others. In each case Wertham probed the social background, the medical history, the political implications, and the legal response, all of which led him to question "society's sense of guilt." Wertham reconstructs the individual, historical development of the murder impulse to uncover the effect societal forces had in its creation. He argues that

The violence that manifests itself in violent crimes is not the expression of an inborn instinct of aggression and destruction. People like to be non-violent. It is always other negative factors in personality development and in the social medium where growth of the personality takes place that lead to murderous acts of violence. The murderer can never kill without a transformation of values which may come from the innermost mind but is always derived ultimately from social prejudgments and prejudices. [30]


His discussion of both individual and mass murder cases in The Show of Violence presents an indictment against a culture that fails to act as "its brother's keeper."

In 1947 Wertham contributed the introduction and psychoanalytic notes to a collection of stories The World Within: Fiction Illuminating the Neuroses of Our Time, edited by Mary Louise Aswell, literary editor of Harper's Bazaar. This book attempted to evaluate the literary imagination working on the "inner kingdom" of the mind. Writings by Hoffmann, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, James, Proust, Kafka, Welty, and Faulkner, among others, are examined for their psychiatric insights. Using methods of interpretation he developed in an experiment with Richard Wright ("An Unconscious Determinant in Native Son," 1944), Wertham explored the unconscious elements (the dream process) he found in the stories in this anthology.

Cognizant of the misuse of psychoanalytic material in literary criticism, Wertham is careful to maintain the integrity of writing and to respect the artistic dignity of each author. In his introduction Wertham set out the essence of this relationship:

What brings the science of psychiatry in the psychoanalytic era into such close and fruitful relationship with the art of literature is that psychoanalysis is analysis of a special kind. It does not delve into the mind to isolate disparate elements. Psychoanalysis always aims to relate the detail, the symbol, to the living organism as a whole. It is here that the research of the scientist and the search of the artist find a common ground. Great writers know how to give a unified picture of a whole personality through minute observation of a meaningful expression, a characteristic mannerism, or an unconscious habit. [31
]

Literature reveals the inner conflicts of the individual as it reflects the larger conflicts of the world without.

For a long time, Wertham had recognized that poor blacks in America were not only discriminated against in law and society but were also denied psychiatric medical services. Fully cognizant of this social and medical reality, Wertham, after trying -- and failing -- for almost ten years to obtain funding to open a clinic, decided that he must act even without governmental or philanthropic sponsorship. As Richard Wright noted, this presented not only an economic risk, but also a bold challenge to political establishments:

There occurred to the one psychiatrist who is striving to build a "social psychiatry," bold, sub rosa idea as to how to break the deadlock and subvert the defensive "idealism" of psychiatry in New York City. Dr. Frederick Wertham, one of the nation's leading psychiatrists, devised a stratagem that was extraordinary in its directness, simplicity, honesty, and passion to serve. Wertham's attitude is that psychiatry is for everybody or none at all. He came to the conclusion that "reform is possible only if one keeps away from the reformers." [32]


Working from this desire to serve and to make psychiatry responsive to all races and classes, Wertham, with the encouragement of and advice of Earl Brown, a writer for Life Magazine, Marion Hernandez, district secretary of the Hannah Stone Center for the Planned Parenthood Foundation, the singer and activist Paul Robeson, and writers Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison, undertook the organizational tasks necessary to start a clinic.

Provided with a church basement to house his clinic, Wertham enlisted a multiracial, volunteer staff to establish in Harlem a clinic dedicated to alleviating the "free-floating hostility" afflicting many in Harlem and to understanding the realities of the black in America. Named in memory of Karl Marx's son-in-law, Dr. Paul Lafargue -- a Cuban-born Black-French physician, politician, social reformer, and philosopher -- The Lafargue Clinic became one of the most noteworthy institutions in the United States to serve poor Americans and to promote the cause of civil rights. In "Harlem is Nowhere" (1948) Ralph Ellison writes:

This clinic (whose staff receives no salary and whose fee is only twenty-five cents -- to those who can afford it) is perhaps the most successful in the nation to provide psychotherapy for the underprivileged. Certainly it has become in two years one of Harlem's most important institutions. Not only is it the sole mental clinic in the section, it is the only center in the city where both Negroes and whites may receive extended psychiatric care. Thus its importance transcends even its greatest value as a center for psychotherapy: it represents an underground extension of democracy. [33]


Wertham, who became known in Harlem as "Doctor Quarter" (this fee was charged because he believed strongly that a feeling of responsibility for oneself should be encouraged), kept this clinic open for about a decade. During this time he studied at the request of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the effects of segregation on children [34] and developed his ideas on the contribution horror comic books made to a climate of juvenile violence.

In order to prepare for their discrimination cases in the State of Delaware Chancery Court against local Boards of Education [Belton v. Gebhart and Bulah v. Gebhart, 87 A. 2d. 862 (Del. Ch. 1952), 91 A. 2d.137 (1953), 347 U.S.483(1954)], attorneys Louis Redding and Jack Greenberg needed medical testimony on the impairment segregation had on children. Although they were able to assemble a distinguished panel of experts in education and psychology, they felt psychiatric evidence would strengthen their case. Richard Kluger in Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality (1975) wrote of the search to enlist a prominent medical authority willing to help:

Greenberg wanted to add a qualitative evaluation by a prominent clinical psychiatrist with full medical credentials. If such an authority would first examine in depth a group of both black and white Delaware youngsters and then report to the court on how segregation affected them, the effect might be powerful. But psychiatrists were expensive, and to find one who would give a good deal of time to such a project without charging for it seemed an unlikely prospect. Yet Greenberg did find one, and an eminent one at that, with a touch of genuine Viennese in his speech. The effect on the courtroom in Wilmington proved not only powerful but nearly hypnotic. [35]


Wertham's presence and his cogent argument detailing the results of his research so persuaded Chancellor Collins Seitz that in his legal opinion he both quotes from and paraphrases at length Wertham's testimony. Seitz supported his ruling outlawing current Delaware school segregation by underscoring Wertham's analysis that the practice of racial separation "creates a mental health problem in many Negro children with a resulting impediment in their educational progress." [36] Wertham's testimony was significant because his research was the first to examine both black and white children attending segregated schools. The evidence revealed the possibility that white children, too, may be harmed by segregated schools.

Wertham's research and testimony in the Delaware cases became part of the legal argument used in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, [F. Supp. 797 (1951), 347 U.S. 483 (1954), 349 U.S.294(1955)]. Thurgood Marshall in a 25 May 1954 letter to Wertham pointed out the critical nature of his work and thanked him,

for the important assistance which you gave us in the school segregation cases which were recently decided by the Supreme Court. It is unfortunate that the opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States could not, in so many words, give recognition to all of those who were of assistance to us. However, I hope that you and the members of your clinic will have the satisfaction in knowing your great efforts contributed significantly to the end result. Not only was your testimony in the Delaware case before the Court in the printed record of testimony, but the Chancellor in Delaware came to his conclusions concerning the effects of segregation largely upon the basis of your testimony and the work done by your clinic. You may recall also that the Chancellor referred to you as one of America's foremost psychiatrists. Besides this, you and your clinic's work were mentioned in our briefs on several occasions. [37]


The Lafargue Clinic that had begun so modestly had now achieved major national recognition.

As gratifying as Marshall's remarks were to him, Wertham, after a Harvard Law School symposium on the 25th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, observed: "Psychologically the Supreme Court's decision made a great difference for blacks and whites. It gave legal sanction to a moral judgment. But practically and historically it is an unfulfilled promise. While a lot has been accomplished in the South, in the largest cities of the North and West desegregation has not materialized. The Court's order of 'deliberate speed' has been translated into relentless slowness." [38] Wertham's disenchantment with the pace of segregation, however, did not result in bitterness.

His renown as a forensic psychiatrist, his compassion for his fellow man, and his personal integrity and courage suggested to attorney Emanuel Bloch that Wertham might agree to interview his client Ethel Rosenberg, who was suffering incapacitating mental anguish. Bloch felt that Rosenberg, now on death row at Sing Sing prison, was on the verge of a severe mental breakdown and would be unable to confer with him on her appeal. Aware especially of Wertham's work at the Lafargue Clinic, Bloch believed that he might be willing to appear for the defense in the espionage trial of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. Convicted as members of a conspiracy to send stolen atomic-bomb secrets to the Soviet Union, the Rosenbergs, nevertheless, always maintained their innocence and averred that they were victims of a United States government frame-up. Political passions, fears of the Red menace, charges of treason and betrayal, swirled at the time against the backdrop of the Korean War. Such circumstances persuaded many prominent individuals to keep a low profile in order not to be tainted by helping the Rosenbergs. Bloch hoped that Wertham would risk involvement.

The petition Bloch drafted seeking permission for Wertham to examine Ethel Rosenberg at Sing Sing was denied. Although the court absolutely refused to allow Wertham direct access to Rosenberg, it gave him permission to testify in federal court under oath about her mental condition. Not only did this order deny Rosenberg due process, but it also created the paradoxical situation of permitting Wertham to testify about the mental condition of a patient whom he was not allowed to examine. Although he would now have to rely on second-hand information and would have to use Bloch as an intermediary, Wertham accepted these limitations and testified twice.

The cross-examination to which Wertham was subjected was vicious and often improper. Nevertheless, his understanding of the condition "prison psychoses" and his humanitarian concern for Rosenberg's health made his testimony compelling. Later he wrote:

The results of my testimony were most startling. With record speed in a few days Washington, which had been so adamant before, completely reversed itself. Husband and wife were no longer to be kept separate. Mrs. Rosenberg's husband was forthwith transferred from the Federal House of Detention in New York to Sing Sing. The warden of Sing Sing announced officially that husband and wife would now be allowed to visit regularly. I got some congratulatory phone messages. For Mrs. Rosenberg it meant that a heavy load was lifted from her. She improved dramatically and for the last two years of her life could at least live a more dignified, less morbid, emotionally tolerable life. [39]


This, however, did not end Wertham's services for the Rosenbergs. He was brought in to deal with the two children, Michael and Robert, whom he advised and helped to secure adoption by the Meeropol family.

Nothing so characterizes the climate of the period as Wertham's observation many years later:

Never in my life have I been blamed so much for anything I did as I have been for testifying for Mrs. Rosenberg. This happened not only with uneducated people but also with those who think of themselves as informed and liberal-minded. Some people even stopped speaking to me! A prison doctor after all treats all inmates as best he can regardless of what crimes they may have committed. He is not held accountable for them. Sometimes the fact that psychiatry has not only a scientific aspect but is humanitarian as well is in danger of getting lost sight of. A psychiatric colleague of mine, one of my best friends, approached me one day on this subject. My testimony had hardly been mentioned in the press and he had just heard about it. He felt it was very wrong and was really perturbed about it. "You see," he said, "if you do that kind of thing you will be losing your reputation." [40]


Wertham, after reminding his colleague of many ill-advised and frowned upon court appearances, including his testimony defending George Moore's translation of Daphnis and Chloe, which had been banned as obscene, replied, "You see, I have lost my reputation so often I can hardly call it my own any more." [41]

It was precisely this reputation for fearlessness and integrity that encouraged Senator Estes Kefauver to appoint Wertham sole psychiatric consultant to the Senate Subcommittee for the Study of Organized Crime. Not only did Wertham bring his expertise as a forensic psychiatrist to Kefauver's committee, but his experience in dealing with New York crime and governmental institutions made his observations particularly valuable. Of course, in the 1950s, the role organized crime played in American society was one that engendered fear, revulsion, respect, cynicism, and even admiration, especially for the way in which violent crime could be of service to politics.

Wertham's fascination with the mob's relationship to politics heightened as he observed some of the security precautions Senator Kefauver took. For example, Kefauver would often secretly confer with Wertham at his Gramercy Park apartment. During those conferences Kefauver would make several, rather long telephone calls, instead of making them from either his office or his hotel room. At first Wertham was puzzled by this until he happened to mention Kefauver's telephone activity to an attorney who frequently served as a consultant to governmental committees. This lawyer was not at all surprised by Kefauver's caution: "Sure," he told Wertham,

"Kefauver was wise in the use of concealed bugs. Nobody could know that and when he went to your apartment he was sure that that phone was not bugged. He went on to explain to me that members of his own party were suspicious of Kefauver and called him "dangerously sincere." They were fearful that his investigations would come too near to sensitive spots -- which indeed they did -- and would elicit too much that might be politically harmful." [42]


These observations are particularly revealing, for they explain why the Senate's investigation stopped abruptly and its recommendations proved inconsequential.

At this time America faced two primary fears: communism and juvenile delinquency. The axis on which these two met found Wertham, whose studies probed the social dynamic permitting the development of these fears and the underlying violence inflaming their intensity. Despite his Fabian proclivities and his close association with progressive intellectuals, Wertham escaped severe censure from Senator Joseph McCarthy and his followers. Moreover, he was able to develop his greatest public influence, drawing considerable media attention, with the publication of Seduction of the Innocent, the culmination of his seven-year long study on the effect of comic books on children.

In Seduction of the Innocent Wertham sets out his argument on the connection between the rise in juvenile delinquency and the role of comic books, attractive to children and easily available, in promoting violent activity. Wertham maintained that such comics created a culture of violence and encouraged anti-social behavior. The deleterious effect these comics had on child development led Wertham to the conclusion that access to these books for those under fourteen or fifteen years of age must be controlled. Although Wertham was mistakenly maligned as a censor -- a charge that angered him -- his work did stimulate the comic book industry to adopt a code (the Code of the Comics Magazine Association of America, 26 October 1954), labeling the suitability of each comic book now published.

However, the adoption of a comic book code did not come without intense resistance from the comic book publishing industry or without abuse directed at Wertham. After he had published a series of articles and given lectures describing his research detailing the harmful effects of mass media violence, Wertham decided his accumulated work merited a book-length study. Mindful of Henry Steele Commager's observation that "The ideals that grown-ups think should obtain are to be found more readily in children's literature than anywhere else. All our innocences are there." [43] Wertham planned to entitle his book All Our Innocences, but his editors had him change it to Seduction of the Innocent. This title, more gripping and evocative than the one originally proposed, continues today to incite an anti-Werthamite reaction among comic book aficionados as well as those who feel Wertham's work threatens the democratic thrust of American popular culture. Moreover, the emerging dominance of American popular culture was itself considered as posing a threat to re-establishing the authority of European culture in the postwar years. [44]

Of course, this is supremely ironic because the publishing history of Seduction of the Innocent and the vilification Wertham personally endured are anything but democratic. For example, the Book of the Month Club selected Seduction of the Innocent as an alternate choice and planned to run in its club newsletter a favorable review of it by Clifton Fadiman. However, the Book of the Month Club abruptly canceled both the offering and the review. Although an advance copy of Fadiman' s review survives among Wertham's private papers, it is yet to be published. More disturbing was the news Wertham received from many book stores and outraged book buyers who found their copies of Seduction of the Innocent had pages 399-400 missing. These pages contained the "Bibliographical Notes" where Wertham had listed the publishing sources for the book's illustrations. Apparently, Wertham's own publisher, Rinehart and Company, Inc., succumbed to extreme pressure from both comic book publishers and distributors and agreed to have the offending pages excised. Thus a finished book was mutilated neither with the knowledge nor the consent of the author.

In addition, Wertham was investigated and harassed by agents of the comic book industry, much in the same manner that Ralph Nader was treated years later by agents of General Motors. An entire public relations campaign was directed against Wertham. David Finn, who served at the time as a consultant to the comic book publishers, wrote in The Corporate Oligarch about his creation of the "Scorn Wertham" club and the efforts he made on behalf of his clients to discredit Wertham. The unfortunate legacy of that campaign remains, for among comic book cognoscenti, his name has become a by-word for the censorious, the narrow-minded, and the ill-informed. In addition, by devising its own code the comic book industry believed, as Finn pointed out, that it had circumvented dealing with the substance of Wertham's objections:
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Re: Introduction to "Seduction of the Innocent," by James A.

Postby admin » Fri Apr 04, 2014 10:41 pm

It was also clear that the industry had solved its problem without coming to grips with the basic social issues implicit in its business. And there was no immediate prospect that the heads of the companies would assume responsibility for the emotional consequences of their product -- whatever those consequences might be. [45]


Today both the vilification of Wertham and the harmful effects of violent comics continue. [46]

According to Robert M. Overstreet, editor of the series Comic Book Price Guide and one of the most reasoned voices in today's comic book culture, Wertham's intentions and influence have not been fully appreciated:

His (Wertham's) concern for the influence of comics and television was genuine. The direction the comics industry took was greatly affected by this man. Hopefully his true place in history and contribution to our hobby will soon be recognized and noted. [47]


His legacy has been recognized in some unfortunate ways: comic books whose illustrations appear in Seduction of the Innocent are now collector's items; Eclipse Comics published in November 1985 a lurid series of books under the cover title Seduction of the Innocent; vicious caricatures of Dr. Wertham appear in many comic books; and historians continue to mischaracterize his work and blame him for the demise of comic books. Wertham's reputation among many of those involved in the comic book culture may be gauged from Catherine Yronwode's 1983 column in The Comics Buyer's Guide:

Probably the single individual most responsible for causing comic books to be so reviled in America is our good friend and nemesis, Dr. Frederic (sic) Wertham... We hate him, despise him... he and he alone virtually brought about the collapse of the comic book industry during the 1950's. That he was so misguided only adds to the injustice of it all, and we, fandom collectively, seem to perceive this injustice as a child does. In truth, many of us were children when Wertham destroyed comics, and even the younger of us know the legend well, for it is repeated among us like some tribal myth. [48]


This tribal myth is re-energized in Adult Comics: An Introduction (1993) where Roger Sabin writes about the "crusade against comics" and "the institution of a restrictive code" in a chapter entitled "1954-seduction of the experienced." Sabin, who posits that it is the simple-minded that blame social disorder on art and on the technology that makes artistic expression accessible, excoriates Seduction of the Innocent:

This was Wertham's magnum opus, the Mein Kampf of comics. It drew together all the threads of his campaigning over the years, and took in every kind of comic, raising objections to them all. He used the term 'crime comic books' to designate any kind of comic in which crime was depicted -- thus extending the negative implications of the 'crime' label until it encompassed almost the whole industry. Specific comics had specific dangers: super-hero comics were essentially fascist, 'ubermensch' fantasies, often with homo-erotic undercurrents (especially in the case of Batman's relationship with Robin); the romance comics were lasciviously sexual and morally bankrupt. Worst of all, of course, were the ersatz crime and horror comics. These were so pernicious they could actually lead to delinquency, 'a fact' that Wertham attempted to prove by recounting true case histories of juvenile murders and sex crimes. [49]


Moreover, Sabin criticizes Wertham's methodology, the logic of his argument with its attribution of delinquency based on comic panels, and the assertion that many of Wertham's examples were clearly taken out of context. Calling Wertham's approach "blatantly sensationalist," his analysis "cod[e]-Freudianism," (sic) thus reflecting its concomitant titillation and the repression of the 50s, Sabin maintains that "Ultimately, there was not evidence in the book that comics were a corrupting influence." [50] Finally, Sabin acknowledges that Wertham was not calling for a total ban on comics, but was seeking a way to distinguish comics suitable for children from those appropriate for adults.

To Wertham, a card-carrying member of the liberal intelligentsia, such animosity and misunderstanding were particularly painful. He did not believe in censorship but in protection of those whose extreme youth made them prey to manipulation and influence. Testifying before a televised Senate Subcommittee Hearing, 21 April 1954, Wertham stated: " ... if I may speak in seriousness about one suggestion that I have, I detest censorship. I have appeared in very unpopular cases in court defending such novelties as The Gilded Hearse, and so on, as I believe adults should be allowed to write for adults. I believe what is necessary for children is supervision." [51] In his analysis of the competing interests of unfettered free expression and responsible protection for those whose values have not been formed, Wertham believed there is a positive duty to ensure a safe environment for a child's value system to develop.

Wertham's studies on juvenile delinquency led him to probe deeper into the role various media have in creating, in perpetuating, and in distorting the social problems of teenagers. Comic books were certainly one important element that shaped teenage activity, but mass news publications also influenced behavior. In The Circle of Guilt (1956) Wertham, using investigation techniques he developed as a psychiatrist, discovered the truth behind the death of "model boy" Billy Blankenship, murdered allegedly without provocation by Puerto Rican "hoodlum" Frank Santana in a New York City street fight. The paradigm of fear, racism, distrust, and prejudice many New York City residents held conveniently fit Santana. Journalistic stereotyping: "New York was shocked to the core by the heartless, pointless murder," for example, and "the cold-blooded shooting of a high-school boy by a teen-age gangster, the tragedy that had a thunder-clap effect in awakening the general public," -- set the stage for Wertham's involvement on the defense team. [52]

Asked by two young pro bono attorneys, Mark Lane and Seymour Ostrow, if he would examine Santana and would testify about his findings in court, Wertham willingly agreed. Faced with the uncertain admissibility of an insanity plea, with a district attorney pressing for "a speedy and vigorous prosecution," and with a hostile press, Wertham accepted the challenge. His intuition told him that the case as presented by the press reflected more cultural prejudice than an understanding of the violent circumstances present. After an exhaustive investigation exposed Blankenship's active participation in teenage gang activities and revealed Santana's undeveloped personality, Wertham had the facts to confirm his intuition:

Santana is not a criminal who lashes back at life. Hostility, anger or resentment are notably absent from his whole make-up. He is a mixture between a lack of interest, compliance, withdrawal, chronic discouragement, self effacement, docility, lack of initiative and immature impulsiveness ... Essentially he is not a rebel but a conformist. That seemed to me to be one of the keys to the whole case ... But as a boy without a father, member of a hard-pressed family and especially Puerto Rican in a ruthlessly hostile environment, he could not orient himself... He belongs to that large group of people who do not have the opportunity or capacity to place themselves. He belongs to that category which I call the unplaced. Although not given serious consideration, they are a psychological and social reality. [53]


In the case of Santana the court did not give him any consideration; the judge in response to a bargained guilty plea to a second degree murder charge handed down a harsh sentence: twenty-five years to life.

It was Wertham's outrage at this sentence and at the prevailing climate of violence that compelled him to write The Circle of Guilt. In his final analysis of this case Wertham presented a forceful indictment against the society which creates its own teenage tyranny:

In Santana's case, there was added a sense of personal inadequacy and the effect of mass indoctrination with violence. Inversely, this feeling against Puerto Ricans affected young Blankenship as well. Neither boy learned race prejudice in his home. It came from outside. Where there is so much hostility in the environment. It would mean looking through the wrong end of the telescope to stress the hostility of the individual child. It was on the altar of community prejudice and antagonism that Billy Blankenship was sacrificed. [54]


The Circle of Guilt exposes both failure and hypocrisy on the part of the legal system in complicity with the social service establishment. More importantly, it is a mirror reflecting our violent society and our refusal to confront our own insidious cultural stereotyping.

In 1966 Wertham published his major study on human violence: A Sign for Cain: An Exploration of Human Violence. To answer the paradoxical question: "Can we abolish violence without violence?" Wertham probed why violence is becoming more entrenched in our society than many believe and argued that, if willing, it is within our capacity "to conquer and to abolish it." A sociological history of violence in Western culture, A Sign for Cain focuses on the harmful effects of prolonged exposure to the mass media; deals with the virulence of political tyrannies in this century; explores the emergence of the legal and medical legitimization for violence; and probes the willing acceptance of the value of violence in our society.

Since he maintained that "in principle, violence is indivisible; but has many faces," [55] Wertham believed that all the Hydra-like manifestations of violence must be overcome. He recognized that the eradication of violence would be extremely difficult, but he was sure it could be done. His diagnosis and prescription are curiously relevant:

To make the world unviolent requires a greater state of disinterestedness than our everyday selves have. It cannot be done without sacrifices. Those who speak so much of an "open society" usually have a closed mind. An intimate relationship exists between individualism, selfishness, and latent violence. When -- and wherever -- we can, we must oppose hyper-individualism and hyper-nationalism, both of which seek satisfaction for themselves at the cost of others. An equitable social-economic structure of societies must be the basis for bringing about a universal revulsion against violence. If the individual -- all individuals -- and society become the integrated unity which they truly are in a fully developed civilization, motives for killing will yield to habits of nonviolence, and nobody will have to be afraid any longer of violent interference with his life or that of his children. [56]


Although this seems to be a utopian vision, it is based on the conviction Wertham developed from both his scientific and clinical studies that violence is not innate but is culturally determined.

Wertham's thinking on the nature of violence provokes controversy among social theorists who interpret scientific data in ways to explain away outrageous behavior. Although admitting the existence of cultural shaping, they argue an instinctive drive for aggression is present at birth. An acceptance of this principle, however, limits the boundaries which frame responsibility. By controlling the parameters of how aggression manifests itself, ideas of correct behavior or of defined values become political and ideological. This is especially true when notions of punishment are considered. And in our society it often devolves upon the psychiatrist to discern if behavior is instinctive, thus absolving man from his anti-social actions. Wertham, however, rejected this line of reasoning as specious. He believed that punishment, for example, is a legitimate response to crime: Many say punishment is old-fashioned and obsolete. That I think is wrong. Punishment is a language, a form of communication. When a man is killed society speaks or should speak both to the persons involved and to all other people." [57] His focus on communication as a cultural value derives from his belief that man is educable and his society can become nonviolent.

It is the perversion of communication as a social value that disturbs Wertham. For example, the widespread acceptance of this idea of "an inborn biologically fixed instinct of violence in man," he finds to be, "a theory that creates an entirely false and nihilistic destructive image of man." Violence may be the result of "negative factors in the personality and in the social medium where the growth of the personality takes place." Indeed, he argues "the primary natural tendency [of man is] to maintain and care for the intactness and integrity of others. Man does not have an 'instinct' of violence; he has the capacity and the physiological apparatus for violence." [58] To Wertham man has survived because he valued cooperation, not inherited violence.

The ethical dimension to Wertham's scientific studies on violence brings him to indict mass culture, not because it is 'low level' but because it represents all too accurately the reality of present violence. His special concern with the mass media (comic books, television, movies, magazines, certain paperbacks, and would now certainly include rock music videos) is based on its celebration of violence. These forms of communication Wertham maintained:

. . . feed on violence in all its forms and implications. In them violence has been variously glorified, romanticized, idealized, routine-ized. Often they teach the thrill of violence or are object lessons in how to kill. At other times they affirm that violence is really the best or the only method to get things done. Even outer space is made into a glorious battlefield. What is extolled is often not the heroic perpetrator of the violence but violence itself. The mass media are a reflection of our social life and at the same time they help to mold it. There is a continuous dynamic interaction between conscious, unconscious and social forces.

With comic books (there are of course harmless ones, too) we are confronted with the most promiscuous exploitation of suggestive violence. Many of them have violent themes, plots, pictures and brutal scenes. Violence is made alluring and cruelty heroic. [59]


What is particularly pernicious is the abundance and accessibility of these forms of communication. They confront us everywhere and their influence is pervasive, creating what Wertham described as a "naturalness and inevitability of human violence." [60]

The American Society of Psychoanalytic Physicians named Wertham the recipient of its Annual Sigmund Freud Award, in 1971, in recognition of his distinguished career. In her address, "Fredric Wertham: Pillar and Prophet," Dr. Natalie Shainess reminded her colleagues on that occasion of Wertham's contributions to psychoanalysis and the scientific study of violence. She lauded Wertham who "had the vision to see truly, and from the broad perspective of past, present and future, as well as the courage to stand firm in opposition to popular and prevailing ideologies." [61] His pioneering studies on relationships among violence and mass media, she noted, reflect Wertham's ethically responsible notions of preventive medicine. Shainess disclosed the imperative behind his vigorous advocacy on behalf of children "noting that adults -- which includes psychiatrists! -- conceal their disregard for social responsibility behind "scientific abstractions"." [62] She concluded her assessment of him by observing that "perhaps unknown to himself, he was a woman's liberationist long before the current brouhaha, and a lover of women in the Greek sense of Agape, of brotherly love, -- which simply cannot be more, and certainly not less, than being a man of deep compassion." [63]

Wertham's interest in youth and how communication by the young shapes our culture led him to publish his last book The World of Fanzines: A Special Form of Communication (1973). Arguing that fanzines are a revealing form of communication because they are "free from outside interference, without control or manipulation from above, without censorship, visible or invisible," [64] Wertham sees them not just of our society but a reaction to it. Fanzines show the capacity of the individual fan to reshape violent material in a socially useful way. The paraculture that is the world of fanzines contains patterns of fantasy, art, and literature manifesting healthy creativity, independence, and social responsibility. The fan-produced magazine expresses a genuine voice wanting to be heard, defying the oppressive roar of the mass media. Since fanzine artists and writers stress the role of heroes who have "cleared their minds of cant," Wertham sees in the integrity of these heroes and super-heroes "a message for our unheroic age." [65]

The last years of Fredric Wertham's life were spent at his beloved Blue Hills, a former Pennsylvania Dutch farm near the Hawk Mountain Bird Sanctuary at Kempton. A gentle man, he did not go gently into that good night but rather continued to study and write. While he would work in the restored barn that served as his library, using the old piggery for his study, Hesketh continued to sculpting the chicken stable and loft for her studio. Together they remained a vigorous, dynamic, intellectually active partnership until his death on November 18, 1981. Hesketh lived on at Blue Hills until her death in her eighty-fifth year on May 20, 1987. Her last years were spent refining a vision of how best to build upon the work Fredric and she had begun.
PART 2 OF 2

The Werthams had great interest in the relationship between law and psychiatry -- the law representing the external forces operating in society and psychiatry revealing the internal forces shaping personality. The law creates an outer order of safety, in the security of which psychiatry helps maintain the orderly structure of personality. The dynamic interaction of law and psychiatry creates the kind of society we have, and will have. In her search for a framework to explore this idea and to convey its importance to students, Hesketh found Harvard College willing to undertake this unusual challenge. From her bequest in memory of her husband the Fredric Wertham Professorship of Law and Psychiatry in Society and the Fredric Wertham Fund were established.

This legacy is not only for Harvard students, but also for all those who are deeply concerned with the violent nature of society. The response to a new generation of violent crime and horror comics is part and parcel of a culture inured by increased racial tension, economic dislocation, tabloid television news, and a virulent species of degrading, violent film and video images. Contemporary society suffers from an alienation and despair rooted in a loss of traditional values, an inability to accept the dignity of each individual, and to respect shared values shaped by the contributions from diverse cultures. Fredric Wertham embodied the fundamental principles of a humane psychiatrist.

_______________


Notes:

1. Plato, The Republic, Book X, line 605.

2. Aristotle, Poetics, Book 14, 1453; Book 6, 1449.

3. St. Augustine, The Confessions, Book VI, part 8.

4. Fredric Wertham, Seduction of the Innocent (New York: Rinehart & Company, Inc. 1953, 1954).

5. Ibid. pp. 326-327.

6. See James Gilbert, A Cycle of Outrage: America's Reaction to the Juvenile Delinquent in the 1950's, (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 93: "Yet beneath his moncausal theory and simple solution, Wertham proposed arguments that struck at a more complex contemporary problem and suggested a profounder analysis. Over and above the problem of comics, the psychologist (sic) had raised two important considerations. The first aimed at defending a pragmatic social psychiatry. Was there such a thing as a sociological psychiatry that could define the relationship between an individual and the surrounding culture? he asked. Did culture mold individual psychologies to such an extent that it could be considered a cause of behavior? If so, his theory of delinquency implied a larger cultural determinism, which, if true, had extraordinary implications for social analysis. The second idea was more vaguely stated. It underlay Wertham's suggestion that commercial culture, specifically advertising, was the problem. Commercial culture with its economic allegiances and motives had, according to Wertham, stifled the relationship between parent and child. Thus he argued that the market economy could be stronger, in its impact, than traditional modes of character formation."

7. Wertham, The Psychopathology of Comic Books: A Symposium, N.Y. Academy of Medicine, March 19, 1948: unpublished notes, Wertham's remarks appear in The Saturday Review of Literature, March 29, 1948. See, Judith Crist, "Comic Books Dissected at Psychiatric Forum: Symposium at Academy of Medicine Joins 75% of Writers Town Meeting of the Air in Condemning the Books as Harmful to Children," Herald Tribune, March 21, 1948; George V. Denny, Jr., moderator, Al Capp, George J. Hecht, John Mason Brown, and Marya Mannes, speakers, "What's Wrong With the Comics?" in Town Meeting: Bulletin of America's Town Meeting of the Air, Broadcast by Stations of the American Broadcasting Co., (N.Y.: The Town Hall, Inc., March 2, 1948, Vol. 13, no. 45); Time Magazine, March 15, 1948, The Press.

8. Fredric Wertham, "The Comics ... Very Funny!" The Saturday Review of Literature, 29 May 1948, p. 29; Patient Notes, unpub., 1946-1954; Hilde L. Mosse "Aggression and Violence in Fantasy and Fact," American Journal of Psychotherapy, vol. II, no. 3, July 1948.

9. Fredric Wertham, "Comic Book Control Needed as Public Health Measure," The Daily Compass, Friday, 5 November 1949.

10. Ob cit. footnote 1; Fredric Wertham, "The Psychopathology of Comic Books, The Association for the Advancement of Psychotherapy, 19 March 1948, See also "Poodles of Blood" in Time Magazine, 29 March 1948, pp, 66-68.

11. "Penologists Urged to Combat Comics, in The Christian Science Monitor, 3 September 1948; "Psychiatrists Urged Action to Clean Up Comic Books," ibid.; "Crime Does Not Pay," (editorial) ibid., 22 September 1948; "School for Sadism," The Art Digest, vol. 23, no. 15, 1 May 1949; "Psychiatrist Asks Comic Book Ban," The New York Times, 14 December 1950; see also Wertham correspondence with Arthur J. Freund, chair, American Bar Association Committee on Motion Pictures, Radio Broadcasting, and Comic Strips in relation to the Administration of Justice, beginning 30 January 1948 and ff. The Wertham-Freund papers include published reports, ABA sponsored hearings, Congressional testimony, and unpublished letters.

See also: Fredric Wertham, "The Catathymic Crisis: A Clinical Entity," Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, vol. 37 (1937), p. 974 ff: Wertham defines this condition in which one conquers internal restraints because there is a need to do violence to both oneself and to others, Environmental influences like crime comics reshape and eventually atrophy internal prohibitions.

12. Fredric Wertham, "Human Violence and Society," unpublished lecture, n.d. pp.2-3.

13. Fredric Wertham, "Are the Movies Teaching Us to be Violent?" The New York Times, Sunday, 30 June 1968.

14. Fredric Wertham, The Sign of Cain, p. 199.

15. See Newton N. Minow and Craig L. LeMay, Abandoned in the Wasteland: Children, Television, and The First Amendment, (New York: Hill and Wang, A Division of Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1995), p. 6: "Instead of talking seriously about [how] to improve television for our children, Americans argue to a statement about broadcasters' rights and government censorship. We neglect discussion of moral responsibility by converting the public interest into an economic abstraction, and we use the First Amendment to stop debate rather than enhance it, thus reducing our first freedom to the logical equivalent of a suicide pact." See also Surgeon General's Scientific Advisory Committee on Television and Social Behavior, Television and Growing Up: The Impact of Televised Violence (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1972); Leonard Eron, "Statement of Dr. Leonard Eron, American Psychological Association, Institute For Social Research, University of Michigan," in Television Violence: Hearing of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, United States Senate (One Hundred Fourth Congress, Fist Session, July 12, 1995) (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1995), p. 232: " ... the debate about whether TV violence affects children in profound ways is over. We know that prolonged exposure to TV violence increases risk for later aggressive behavior, and that this risk reduces the quality of life and degree of safety for all of us. Congress is appropriately seeking solutions to this problem that balance the First Amendment rights of broadcasters and consumers with the need for industry regulation -- be it self-imposed or government imposed -- that will reduce this risk."

16. Steven I. Friedland, "Date Rape and the Culture of Acceptance. 43 Florida Law Review 487 (July 1991): "According to Ms. Brownmiller, over ten million women "read romance, confession, and other comics and magazines." ibid. Dr. Fredric Wertham also stated the "comic books create sex fears of all kinds." Seduction of the Innocent: S. Brownmiller, supra note 37, at p. 342.

17. See Fredric Wertham's testimony in People of New York on the complaint of Harry Kahan vs. Creative Age Press before the Hon. Frederick L. Strong, City Magistrate, Lower Summons Court, Borough of Manhattan, (April 8, 1948) where he defends the publication of Charles O. Gorham's novel The Gilded Hearse against challenges raised by John S. Sumner, secretary of the former Society for the Prevention of Vice. Moreover, in response to defendant's counsel's question: "Confine yourself to the reason why you find The Gilded Hearse is not corrupting and these comic books are (re: comic book True Crime Magazine, marked "Exhibit D"). Wertham replied: "These comic books, very many of them, like the one I have here, depict sadism. That is to say, violence in relation to sex. This particular book (the witness refers to True Crime Comics of May 1948, page 8, picture in the lower left-hand corner) shows a man jabbing a hypodermic needle into the right eye of a young blonde girl. I think that can only have two effects on young people: either it would cause anxiety -- even to adults who look at it; or it makes them completely obtuse to sympathy and to any kind of human feeling about inflicting pain or suffering on other people, especially a girl. And I think that this kind of picture would have a very deleterious effect on adolescents and children. Another reason, your Honor, is this: these books have a very wide circulation. There are 200,000 copies of this book .... And I don't think that The Gilded Hearse would go to so many copies." Also see Wertham, "Sworn Affidavit Prepared for Los Angeles County Counsel Harold W. Kennedy, January 1949, (34 pages); "Can Comic Books for Children Be Effectively Controlled Without Legal Censorship," (n.d.): "When in 1948 I first advised parents to ask for an ordinance to control the spoiling of their children's eyes and the corruption of their minds by comic books, my proposal had nothing whatsoever to do with adult reading. But the comic book publishers, whom Sterling North long ago characterized as having the minds of racketeers, have used the red herring of freedom of the press to great advantage. They have been unwittingly aided in this by such incompetently drawn-up laws as the Feinberg bill [1949 Session of the Legislature, Senate Bill Introductory Number 351), which would have been unworkable even if Governor Dewey had not vetoed it. ... The word censorship in its ordinary meaning is not applicable to the control of children's reading. An ordinance regulating what is being forced down children' s throats in the way of corrupting pictures and words (that is the correct sequence) is nothing but a public health measure. It is no more a restriction of freedom of speech than not selling whiskey to children is restraint of trade .... It shows the confusion and the precarious state of our own civil liberties, if an ordinance to protect children can be construed in any way as a threat to free expression for adults." State of New York, Report of the New York State Joint Legislative Committee To Study The publication of Comics (Albany: Williams Press, 1951) provides a history of the legislature's efforts. However, by 1954, Dewey signed three bills dealing with comics and indecent literature.

18. Fredric Wertham, "Episodes: From the Life of a Psychiatrist," un. pub. Manuscript, n.d., p. 135.

19. Ibid., p. 136.

20. "Peace Loving Psychiatrist," MD Medical Newsmagazine, 11, no. 7 (July 1967), pp. 229-235; Wertham, "Episodes," p. 133.

21. Adolf Meyer, Introduction to The Brain as an Organ, Fredric and Florence Wertham, (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1934), p. xii.

22. Charles T. Noonan, Esq., interview, December 1989; Wertham, "Episodes," p. 133.

23. Wertham, "Episodes," p. 128.

24. 14 October 1948.

25. 3 October 1939.

26. 18 December 1945.

27. Brooks Atkinson, The New York Times, 25 March 1952, p. 24; see also: Sam Zolotow, "Bow Tonight Set for Dark Legend, New York Times, 24 March 1952.

28. Wertham, "Episodes," p. 131.

29. Fredric Wertham, Dark Legend: A Study in Murder (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pierce), p. 253.

30. Fredric Wertham, The Show of Violence (Garden City: Doubleday, 1949), p. 253.

31. Fredric Wertham, "Introduction: The Dreams That Heal," in The World Within: Fiction Illuminating the Neuroses of Our Time, edited by Mary Louise Aswell (New York: McGraw-Hill, Whittlesley House, 1947), p. xvi.

32. Richard Wright, "Psychiatry Comes to Harlem," Free World, September 1946.

33. Ralph Ellison, "Harlem is Nowhere," in Shadow and Act, (New York: Signet, New American Library, 1953, 1964), p. 282.

34. Fredric Wertham, "Psychological Effects of School Segregation," 6 [No. I] American Journal of Psychotherapy 94-103 (1952).

35. Richard Kluger, Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality, (New York: Vintage, 1975), p. 440; see also: Jack Greenberg, Crusaders in the Courts: How A Dedicated Band of Lawyers Fought for the Civil Rights Revolution, (New York: BasicBooks, A Division of Harper Collins Publishers, Inc., 1994), pp. 35-139.

36. Chancellor Seitz, Belton v. Gebhart, 32 Del. Ch. 87 A. 2d. 137 (Delaware); see also Fredric Wertham, "Psychiatric Observations on Abolition of School Segregation," unpublished lecture, n.d.

37. 25 May 1954

38. Wertham, "Episodes," p. 104.

39. Ibid., p. 142.

40. Ibid., p. 143.

41. Ibid.

42. Ibid., p. 92.

43. Henry Steele Commager quoted in "Episodes," p. 69.

44. Soren Schou, "Postwar Americanisation and the revitalization of European culture," in Media Cultures: Reappraising Transnational Media, edited by Michael Skovmand and Kim Christian Schroder, (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), p. 156: "A final point I would like to make is that the impact of America after the war may have been increased by the fact that American popular culture was regarded as a threat by school authorities and the high culture establishment. The Danish writer Tork Haxthausen published the book Opdragelse til terror (Seduction to Terror) in 1955, in which he discussed the damaging effects of American comics on children. This book, influenced by Frederic [sic] Wertham, is just one example of the concern over Americanisation of the period; many others could be given. The cries of alarm about the seduction of the innocent and adult warnings about the depraving influence of American films and comic books may well have had unintentional effects. It may be that young people tended to regard American popular culture as the proverbial forbidden fruit, a way of turning one's back on the establishment and of rebellious showing off, years before the real youth rebellion began."

45. David Finn, The Corporate Oligarch, (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1983; c. 1969), pp. 175-76.

46. Kristen Droter, "Modernity and modern panics," in Media Cultures: Reappraising Transnational Media, pp. 45-46: "In the history of mass communication, print media naturally offer the first examples of media panics. Perhaps best known is the so-called comics campaign that swept many European countries as well as North America in the 1950's. The American psychiatrist Frederic [sic] Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent (Wertham 1954) has gone down as the archetypal reaction to a new mass medium. The title indicates Wertham's view of the comics as morally contagious sexually dangerous. It also expresses his view of children as vulnerable creatures whose innocence must be protected by conscientious adults. The contents of the book confirm the cultural perspective shown in its title, and Wertham's form of argumentation, as well as his strategy of selecting the most extreme examples taken out of context, is entirely typical of other panics. Seduction of the Innocent became enormously influential and was used in countries as diverse as Italy, Sweden, and Britain as proof of the detrimental effects caused by comics. (Barker 1984); see also Martin Barker, A Haunt of Fears: The Strange History of the British Horror Comics Campaign, (London, Sydney: Pluto Press, 1984), for a discussion of the political aspects of the comics campaign in the United Kingdom.

47. Robert M. Overstreet, ed., The Comic Book Price Guide, 1983.

48. Catherine Yronwode, The Comic Buyer's Guide (Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1983).

49. Roger Sabin, Adult Comics: An Introduction, (London and New York: Routledge, 1993), pp.157-158; see also: Lynn Spigel and Henry Jenkins, "Some Bat Channel Different Bat Times: Mass Culture and Popular Memory," in Roberta E. Pearson and William Uriccio, eds., The Many Lives of Batman: Critical Approaches to a Superhero and his Media, (New York: Routledge, 1991), pp. 149-163.

50. Sabin, p. 158.

51. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency, Juvenile Delinquency, (Comic Books); hearings pursuant to S. 190; 21, 22 April and 4 June 1954.310 (83:2), 1954. See note 11.

52. Wertham, "Episodes," 107; The Circle of Guilt (New York: Rinehart, 1956), 191-192.

53. Ibid.

54. Wertham, "Episodes," 105.

55. Fredric Wertham, A Sign for Cain: An Exploration of Human Violence (New York: Macmillan, 1966), 374.

56. Ibid.

57. MD Magazine, 234.

58. Wertham, "Human Violence and Society," 4.

59. Ibid., 11.

60. Ibid.

61. Natalie Shainess, M.D., "Fredric Wertham: Pillar and Prophet," (Discussion of Psychoanalysis and the Scientific Study of Violence) given 3 April 1971 at the Annual Convention, American Society of Psychoanalytic Physicians, New York City, 4.

62. Ibid., 5.

63. Ibid., 8.

64. Fredric Wertham, The World of Fanzines: A Special Form of Communication. (Carbondale and Edwardsville, III.: Southern Illinois University Press, 1973), 130.

65. Ibid.



James E. Reibman teaches literature and media studies at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. A specialist on law and literature, he has published on legal writings of the Scottish Enlightenment and on Samuel Johnson and his circle. His most recent lectures and writings are concerned with the graphic novel, popular culture, Twentieth-century American intellectual history, and violence in the media. Reibman is the biographer of Fredric Wertham, M.D., and is co-editor of the forthcoming Fredric Wertham Reader. Professor Reibman received his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and his Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh.
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