‘Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?’: Frederic Wertham and The Seduction of the Innocent by Chris Bishop
Monday 19 March, 4.15 - 5.30pm
School of Cultural Inquiry Conference Room, Level 1, A.D. Hope Building (14)
In 1954, the year of the United States Senate Subcommittee hearings on Juvenile Delinquency, eminent psychologist Frederic Wertham published Seduction of the Innocent. In that book, Wertham described television as ‘a school for violence’ and labeled comics as the source of delinquent behaviour in adolescents.
At the time, Wertham’s opinions were generally respected and, although academics and intellectuals found much to criticise in his writings, middle America praised him for his ‘commendable service to the public’, his ‘careful observations’ and his ‘sober reflections’. With the growing liberalisation of America in the ‘60s and ‘70s, however, Wertham’s ‘crusade’ came to be seen as reactionary and backward and his moralising stance was popularly conflated with the amorphous conservatism of the McCarthy-era.
Wertham famously interpreted Superman as a violent narcissist, read homoeroticism into the Batman adventures, and presented Wonder Woman as a lesbian sadomasochist. To present these images today is to invite open ridicule, but was Wertham so far from the truth in terms of his psychoanalysis of these comic-book characters? A close reading of the comics in question, especially a reading contextualised by the events that followed the public hearings of 1954, would seem to validate many of Wertham’s original theories.
Chris Bishop is a Visiting Fellow in the School of Cultural Inquiry
Enquiries: Dr Ned Curthoys