Fredric Wertham was a lot more than a psychologist that picked on
comic books. He is extremely important in American history.
Read on and see...
Fredric Wertham was born on March 20, 1895, in Nuremberg, Germany.
He went to the University of Wurzburg and received his MD in 1921.
After a year of post-graduate study, he got a job at the Kraepelin
Clinic in Munich. The clinic's founder, Emile Kraepelin, had the theory
that a patient's environment had to be considered when deciding upon a
course of treatment for them. This was a new idea at the time, but it appealed
to Fredric, and was used throughout his career as a psychologist.
In 1922, Wertham moved to the U.S. and got a job at the Phipps Psychiatric
Clinic at the Johns Hopkins University. While there, he wrote his first
book entitled The Brain as an Organ this book was published in 1926.
The theories espoused in this book were different than those supported by
most psychologists at the time, but the book nevertheless went on to become
a widely-used medical textbook. Because of this, Dr. Wertham would become
the first psychiatrist to receive a National Research Council grant.
In 1932, Wertham left his job at Phipps Psychiatric for one of the most
prestigious posts in the psychiatric field--Senior Psychiatrist at
Belleview Hospital in New York. There, Fredric wrote several articles for
psychiatric journals, and gained an interest in the connection between
mental health and criminal behavior. He helped the state of New York set
up a psychiatric evaluation for convicted criminals.
In 1941, Dr. Wertham wrote a true life story about a 17-year-old
teenager who killed his mother in Dark Legend. The book was very
successful and was eventually made into a play. Dr. Wertham's book was
almost made into a film as well, but the deal fell through because he
insisted that the details of the book remain the same. In 1949,
Dr. Wertham got his third book published, Show of Violence. This
book talked about several real-life cases instead of just one. It
also showed Dr. Wertham's experience with psychiatry in criminal cases.
It should also be noted that Wertham had a lot of experience providing
his professional opinions to the government. In 1951, he testified in
front of the New York State Legislature about the psychiatric aspects of
criminal behavior, mentioning also the "bad influence" of comic books.
Dr. Wertham gave some more significant testimony--speaking against school
segregation-- to the Delaware Chancery Court. This testimony was used in
the U.S. Supreme Court case of Brown vs. The Board of Education, resulting
in a Supreme Court ruling declaring that racial discrimination in public
schools was unconstitutional.
In 1954 his big, bad, Seduction of the Innocent book came out.
I won't bother talking about here because I've gone into extensive details
in my Main Page. In 1958, Dr. Wertham produced his fifth book entitled
The Circle of Guilt. In this book, Wertham proclaimed that people were
beginning to feel less and less responsible for their actions, and that
this was causing more violent crime in America. Wertham suggested that
comics and the mass media were contributing to this. In 1966, Wertham wrote
another book about human violence called A Sign for Cain. His
campaign against comic books continued in this volume as well.
Still, what surprised comic readers was his final book (published in 1973),
The World of Fanzines. This book looked at a subculture of people
interested in comics and science fiction of all sorts and how they
communicate through fanzines. Fanzines were magazines that fans created
and distributed, talking about whatever or whoever was the object of their
admiration. Fanzines were a new form of communication at that time, and
Wertham only promoted them by stating that:
"(fanzines) constitutes a vivid and vital kind of method of interchange of thoughts and opinions."
"Fanzines show a combination of independence and responsibility not easily found elsewhere in our culture."
"achievements such as fanzines...are worthwhile and constructive.
Communication is the opposite of violence. And every facet of communication
has a legitimate place."
I guess all those kids who read comic books back in the 50's didn't turn out so bad after all.