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Blind Cyclops:
The Strange Case of Doctor Fredric Wertham

Fredric Wertham, 1895–1981

1,247 words

In 1954 an obscure psychiatrist penned a book called Seduction of the Innocent which almost put paid to the entire comic book industry in the United States. The whole incident is almost forgotten today, but it is highly instructive over how “fire-storms” and cultural wars can break out. It is also reasonably true to say that–unlike the parallel film industry–it took American comics about three decades to fully ingest and recover from Doctor Wertham’s assault.

Fredric Wertham was an Ashkenazic psychiatrist who basically applied half-digested ideas from social anthropology into the cultural realm. He definitely believed that many of the tear-aways and juvenile delinquents that he had to deal with in the late 1940s and early 1950s were the products of bad culture.

It’s instructive to point out that Wertham doesn’t seem to import any information from other disciplines or clusters of ideas. Like Boas and Margaret Mead, he believes that Man is totally socially conditioned when almost the opposite is true. Strongly influenced by real criminal cases, Wertham believed that young louts and hoodlums were the actual product of their violent “reading” material.

This is almost completely base about apex. It was true that reform school types majored on pulps, irregular ‘zines–the subliminal pornography of that era–and violent comic books. Many of the latter were published by Entertainment Comics (EC), owned by William Gaines, whose firm was virtually forced out of business as a result of Wertham’s fiat.

It is important to realize that a small proportion of Wertham’s assertions were true, at least from a socially conservative perspective. About five percent of these comics or graphic novels depicted quite considerable sadism (eye gouging, etc.) and tacitly sexual imagery. It is also true that such material was unashamedly targeted at minors, children, and young adults. Most parents instinctively believe that the escapist material which the young like to peruse is harmful–and a small proportion of it doubtless is.

But what Wertham doesn’t understand (on largely ideological grounds) is that mankind’s nature proves to be biologically grounded–the social and environmental attributes of which are themselves tributaries of genetics. Goaty youths want to peruse violent, forceful, imaginative, masculinist, and heroic material in order to escape from an often hum-drum existence. It is doubtless correct, however, that those with a psychopathic personality will be attracted to material that ramifies with their deepest urges.

The publication of Doctor Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent led to his appearance before the Senate Sub-committee on Juvenile Delinquency and the decimation of the comics industry thereafter. Many of these comics were completely harmless, in my view–the majority of their themes were Gothic staples akin to Isak Dinesen’s Seven Gothic Tales, or the works of Ambrose Bierce, Arthur Machen, and Edgar Allan Poe. The bulk of them would quite easily have provided scripts or (more accurately) story boards for The Twilight Zone and other series in the ’50s.

Nonetheless, due to the overwhelming ethnicity of those who founded the comics industry, a subtle “liberal” bias pervades. The touch (at this historical period) is extremely light, but anti-racism, a trace of anti-McCarthy feeling, anti-anti-Semitism, hostility to any type of color bar, a certain anti-police rhetoric, and an unheroic attitude to military service all prevail.

The latter point is quite interesting. In contrast to the virulent patriotism of Sergeants Fury and Rock at Marvel and DC later on, EC comics were pacifist, dead-beat, and cynical. It’s almost as if there attitude was more redolent of an anti-Vietnam war comic like War is Hell—even an ultra-cynical piece like Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun. (This piece of agit-prop, in artistic guise, goes right back to early Communist anti-war art, on the German side, after the Great War. This involved brochures or picture books which depicted soldiers who had been dreadfully maimed at the front. The Nietzschean response would be to commit suicide; the Leftist one to exhibit the maimed.)

Wertham’s views were subtly different from all of this, however. Despite sharing the “soft Left” or Jewish humanist mind-set of EC (up to a point), he saw things in a much wider way. After all, his intervention led to the self-imposed Comics Code (for fear of state intervention), as well as the destruction of hundreds of thousands of comics by state troopers in the ’50s. Some grainy black-and-white photos from this decade still survive.

It is interesting to note that much of the indictment of one particular government in the 20th century—book burning; persecution of modernist art; eugenics and dysgenics in psychiatric hospitals, etc.—all occurred in virtually every Western society. This includes Sweden, Britain, and the United States, where far Right movements were all conspicuously unsuccessful.

Bloated with success, Wertham attempted to “clean up” early television in the same way. But he was picking on a much larger, better financed, and more resilient industry here. It also possessed much more influential political backers and friends. His anti-televisual thesis, War on Children (1959) couldn’t find a publisher, and Wertham’s cultural influence subsequently waned.

His response was to become even more hysterical and side-lined, however. In his fringe published book in 1966, A Sign for Cain, Wertham declared that the increasing violence, grotesquerie, desensitization, and commercial “paganism” of mass media was laying the grounds for a new Holocaust. This was an extraordinary claim when taken at face value!

Yet Wertham was tapping into something—like Christian evangelicals and puritan campaigners of the time—who realized that generic media is a factor of 20 to 50 times more violent, explicit, sensual, sub-pornographic, and “uncensored” now than when I was born in 1962. Despite having campaigned for this “liberation,” many liberals are secretly uneasy about what they have unleashed—particularly if they settle down to have children in mid-life. But it’s too late now!

Put rather tritely, what Wertham and Co. misunderstand is Man’s dual nature. Most normal or well-adjusted people instinctively feel that children should be protected from low-grade material. Nonetheless, when it comes to adolescent and adult works, there is then a cultural war over the meaning of fare that oscillates between Eros and Thanatos. Humans are violent and erotic beings—this will manifest itself in culture.

You either have Shakespeare’s King Lear, replete with Gloucester’s blinding scene with Cornwall, or you have the Marxist equivalent of the play, Edward Bond’s Lear, containing, as it does, Bond’s eye-removing machine. The latter is a counter-cultural testament to the utilitarianism of cruelty. The struggle is to decide whether you have one variant or the other; and what it means.

At a much lower cultural level, does a Marvel comic like the Black Panther subliminally preach what Obama’s wife really thinks about the American Union; or does the revolutionary English Puritan Solomon Kane, another Marvel title from Robert E. Howard touched up by Roy Thomas, exemplify the glories of an Aryan warrior? Howard’s own words in one of his stories—a language use which was excised from a version printed in the late ’60s in Czechoslovakia.

Wertham himself declined later to a stumbling apologia for comics fandom, at least in terms of the fanzines which they produced themselves. These obviously didn’t contain the violent, mastodonic, and sensual material of which he disapproved. This work, The World of Fanzines (1974), attempted to reconcile him with a middle-aged clientele for graphic novels that viewed him with considerable hostility. There was even a revenge against him from within the community of fandom, Doctor Wirtham’s Comix and Stories (1979), which admitted that he was right.

An age of Horror awaits us all . . .?

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11 Comments

  1. Posted December 1, 2010 at 4:17 am | Permalink

    EC comics were not pacifistic at all. Have you even read Harvey Kurtzman’s war comics?

  2. Joe Owens
    Posted December 5, 2010 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    Why Jonathan Bowden choices to attack Dr Frederick Wertham is beyond me. The whole comic book and superhero genre was created by Jews, Jews and Jews. It was created with the intent of capturing young children’s minds. This should be plain to see through any white nationalists eyes. Dr Fredrick Wertham was right in attacking the comic book industry.

    “A branch of utopianism, one founded, and largely populated by, Jews, was the world of prose science fiction (SF). In the post – World War 1 era, young Jews rushed – as writers, editors, and publishers – to embrace the pulp magazines edited by Hugo Gernsback, a Jewish emigre fro Luxemburg, and other now – legendary figures. The enthusiasm – fuelled stories in these publications exploded with ideas of how the new technologies of the 20th century could be used to improve humankinds’ condition.”

    Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics, and the Creation of the Superhero by Danny Fingeroth

    • LightofApollo
      Posted December 5, 2010 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

      Bowden isn’t attacking Wertham so much as he is pointing out a significant flaw in his world-view, which is that man has no real “nature” and that behaviour and identity is almost completely socially constructed, which is an idea that comes from the jewish mindset. This idea prevented Wertham from seeing the complex nature of the relation between media and people, and lead him to believe that certain youth act badly because of things like comic books, which Bowden explains is a very naive view.

      Sure, certain forms in comic books/graphic novels, and other parts of entertainment, can have a significant negative effect on people, but that only becomes manifest when people with inborn (not socially conditioned) psychopathic behaviour are exposed to the truly vile, degenerative sub-stratum of modern entertainment.

      Is most of modern entertainment worthless? Yes, but most of it is not so lowly as to turn the average young person into psychopathic degenerates. Those with psychopathic personalities already have those personalities before they are exposed to forms of entertainment, and its only the most vile forms of /media that usually feed the desires of these personality types.

      I agree that comic books are populated with a certain mindset mentioned in your post, but does that mean you’ll find it everywhere in comics and their mythos, and/or that there is nothing of value in certain sectors? No. As seen in Bowden’s articles here, there is value in the Batman mythos, as well as the Conan mythos of Robert E. Howard.

      • Joe Owens
        Posted December 6, 2010 at 2:27 am | Permalink

        Yes, not all kids who read or watch the Jew garbage turn out psychopathic. However, kids will still be influenced by such poison on a lesser level than those of a psychopathic disposition. Having read Dr Frederick Wertham’s book, and several old articles he penned for magazines back in the 1950’s, he doesn’t say all kids will become psychos reading comics. There are many cases sited where comics have influenced anti-social behaviour and delinquency. Those of a psychopathic tendency will not need comics to set them on the path to murder.

        The whole comic book creation is also an unnatural one. Kids need real heroes to emotionally and spiritually mature and not abstract garbage. Batman and Robin are no different than the feminised pop/rock singers of today. The Jews have replaced real heroes with the pansy hip wrigglers and cartoon characters. Men like Daniel Boone and George Washington have almost been forgotten.

        http://davidsvoice.org/page.aspx?id=195520

        • LightofApollo
          Posted December 6, 2010 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

          “There are many cases sited where comics have influenced anti-social behaviour and delinquency.”

          Could you provide some recent studies showing this?

          “Batman and Robin are no different than the feminised pop/rock singers of today.”

          I’d say that is the case for the Robin character, but I disagree about the Batman character (an earlier article on here by Bowden shows the implicit fascist and masculine desire to conquer an enemy in a good example from one of the stories, and its not the only example). In fact, Robin was never a popular character. I’m pretty sure the character has been killed off in the past recent 20 years of the comic book.

        • LightofApollo
          Posted December 6, 2010 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

          “Kids need real heroes to emotionally and spiritually mature and not abstract garbage. ”

          So would you consider the metaphysical and meta-historical figures of Hercules and Arthur as examples of abstract garbage?

          And I would hardly use George Washington, an individual at the forefront of the further decline of western civilization and spread of Semitic values, as a figure for male youth to look up to. If you want to cite historical figures of the west as heroic examples to look up to, men like Charlemange, the Spartan 300, Marcus Aurelius, and the Templars are appropriate.

  3. Joe Owens
    Posted December 5, 2010 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Barely two years after the introduction of Superman, North wrote that comics were “a poisonous mushroom growth of the last two years” and that comic book publishers were “guilty of a cultural slaughter of the innocents.”[1] (These charges were echoed over the following 15 years by other public figures like J. Edgar Hoover, John Mason Brown, and most notably Dr. Fredric Wertham, until Congressional hearings led to the mid-1950s self-censorship and rapid shrinkage of the comics industry.)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sterling_North

  4. Joe Owens
    Posted December 6, 2010 at 2:38 am | Permalink

    Here we have Gerry Anderson’s (Abrahams) Captain Scarlet. Captain Scarlet is a 1960s British science-fiction television series for kids. In this series, Captain Scarlet battles against the evil forces of the Mysterons and Captain Black. But what is very interesting is Gerry Anderson’s believe in a ‘utopian’ society run by a world government. The programme depicts (according to reviewers) civil disobedience and Cold War scenarios. Running parallel with this is the need for a world government that will end all violence, wars and racial conflict. Interestingly, Sylvia Anderson (Gerry’s ex wife) was a graduate from the (Marxist) London School of Economics. So what is Mr (and Mrs) Anderson up too? Well, like the rest who created Sci – Fi and Superheroes, he’s up to no good? They are using kid’s programmes to subliminally implant messages of universal brotherhood and one world government. Not surprisingly, Gerry Anderson doesn’t mention who’ll be running this utopian world government, does he?

    So here we have a criminal conspiracy hiding under the cover of kid’s entertainment.

    .

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captain_Scarlet_and_the_Mysterons

  5. Joe Owens
    Posted December 6, 2010 at 3:18 am | Permalink

    How the Jews Stole the Comic Book Industry.

    COMIC BOOK – SUPERHEROES

    Another and often overlooked attack against our young is Comic book Superheroes. Infact, it’s an attack so cleverly disguised very few have noticed it. An attack so insidious and poisonous it warrants a book alone on this EVIL capture of young innocent minds.

    Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson (January 4, 1890 – January 1, 1968) pioneered the American comic book publishing the first such periodical consisting solely of original material rather than reprints of newspaper comic strips. His comic book company, National Allied Publications, would evolve into DC Comics, one of the world’s two largest comic book publishers, though long after its founder had left it.

    Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson had led a military life and by all accounts, a very extraordinary one. According to differing sources, he rose to become either “the youngest major in the Army”, the youngest in the Cavalry, or one of the youngest in the Cavalry. By his own account, he “chased bandits on the Mexican border, fought fevers and played polo in the Philippines, led a battalion of infantry against the Bolsheviks in Siberia, helped straighten out the affairs of the army in France [and] commanded the headquarters cavalry of the American force in the Rhine”. His Cavalry unit was among those under John J. Pershing’s command that in 1916 hunted the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. The following year, he served under Pershing fighting the Muslim Moros in the Philippines, and with a Cossack troop in Siberia. Subsequent outposts included Japan; London, England; and Germany.

    In autumn 1934, Wheeler-Nicholson formed the comics publishing company National Allied Publications. While most existing comics of that time, like Famous Funnies, were of reprints of old syndicate material, Wheeler-Nicholson’s premiere comic — New Fun #1 (Feb. 1935) — became the first comic book containing all-original material. As author Nicky Wright wrote,

    “It was at this point Wheeler-Nicholson made history. He produced a comic appropriately titled New Fun: The Big Comic Magazine, so-called because it was larger than the other comics, measuring 10 by 15 inches. … Not only was the size different, so were the strips. They were all original, featuring all new characters specially drawn for New Fun … Besides original strips; New Fun was the first comic to carry advertising”.

    The features included the funny animal comic “Pelion and Ossa” and the college-set “Jigger and Ginger”, mixed with such dramatic fare as the Western strip “Jack Woods” and the “Yellow Peril” adventure “Barry O’Neill”, featuring a Fu Manchu-styled villain, Fang Gow While all-original material was a risky venture, the book sold well enough that National Allied Publishing continued to fill books “with new strips every month.”

    In 1935 Wheeler-Nicholson brought in two new writers, Jews, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the future creators of Superman. Now this is where things seem to go downhill for Wheeler- Nicholson and National Allied Publications. After hiring Siegel and Shuster, newsstands began refusing to stock his magazines. Due to this Wheeler – Nicholson began having problems paying printers and the banks. By 1937 Wheeler-Nicholson was in dept to printing-plant owner and magazine distributor, Harry Donenfeld. Due to this financial burden Wheeler-Nicholson was compelled to take (Romanian Jew) on Donenfeld as a partner in order to keep publishing Detective Comics. Detective Comics, Inc. was formed, with Wheeler-Nicholson and Jack (Jacob) S. Liebowitz, Donenfeld’s accountant, listed as owners. However, things went from bad to worse with Wheeler-Nicholson having to sell his publishing business to Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz in 1937. Comic’s historian Gerard Jones describes the events:

    “In early 1938, Harry Donenfeld sends him and his wife on a cruise to Cuba to ‘work up new ideas’. When they came home, the major found the lock to his office door changed. In his absence, Harry had sued him for non-payment and pushed Detective Comics, Inc. into bankruptcy court. There a judge named Abe Mennen, one of Harry’s old Tammany buddies, had been appointed interim president of the firm and arranged a quick sale of its assets to Independent News. Harry gave the major a percentage of More Fun Comics as a shut-up token and wished him well.”

    Comics then went from harmless stories to violent and sexual ones. Given that Jews dominate this genre one must draw inference.

    Dr Frederick Wertham was at least on the right track.

    • LightofApollo
      Posted December 6, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      This post doesn’t serve your argument in the least. Your description is of a publication being taken over by Jews (I don’t disagree) and the creation of the superman mythos that would push universalist themes (I also don’t disagree with this). It doesn’t really speak of anything about the lowest common denominator of sex and violence that can been seen in that form of entertainment, but when you end your post, you treat it as if it does, and proclaim Ah! Werthamn was on to something! And thats what is is really hair scratching about your whole argument. You speak about the worldview of the modern Jew being pushed in comics, and I agree, yet you use someone like Wertham as an example of someone who knew what was really going on in the industry. If he did, than why did he not take time to mention and warn one about this universalist, utopian, bourgeois worldview in most of comics? I’ll give an answer, because he held that same worldview! (as seen in his support to push for racial integration in america, along with his jewish, bourgeois fear of any kind of danger and desire for security, which are values that are anything but Indo-European and Aryan). Where did you think that bourgeois worldview that is obsessed with safeness and security that is cherished not only by the typical modern liberal humanist but also the typical Christian moralist comes from? I’ll give you a hint, it definitely doesn’t come from Indo-Europeans (men who were inclined towards adventure and danger) who founded the western tradition.

      I’ll end this post off by explaining the severe consequence (though it certainly isn’t the only one) of Wertham’s view (which you may or may not share). He is right that the lowest common denominator of violence (sadism and masochism….something that is actually prevalent throughout the history of not only judaism, but also christianity……any wonder why we see so much of that kind of violence modern western culture?) and sex (pornographic, near pornographic) is not something that should be apart of the culture at large, and that it can have some influence on the individual (though definitely not to the extent that Wertham exaggerates in that it turns one into a psychopath). The consequence comes in when this concern is extended towards something in art or entertainment that is not feeding the lowest common denominator, but is attacked nonetheless merely because it has a portrayal of sex and violence. I’ll use an example with film. There is a difference between the violent torture porn Saw films, and the Samurai films of Kurosawa. The former showcases violence for the sake of violence and in the most sadistic way possible, the latter shows it as a possibility for a path of heroic action. But with someone like Wertham, they both are the same because to them, there is no difference because they have a fear and revulsion towards violence (and sex) of any kind, no matter how its shown.

      So to sum up what I think of comics and the conclusions of your’s and Wertham’s. Do most comics push a universalist view from the Jewish mindset (and also the Christian mindset)? Of course (and no, its obviously not a worldview I share). Is sex and violence shown in the lowest common denominator way? Yes, however, unlike you and Wertham, I definitely don’t believe this is the case in every corner of the industry…I would be hard press to say even the majority, the majority of the industry shows it in an average common denominator way (and by no means am I saying that an average denominator portray is good). And the last two points that you and Wertham make: (1) comics on a whole influence those who read them towards criminal, deviant behaviour, and (2) its all pretty much worthless. My answer: no and no. No credible studies show a correlation with reading comic books and an increase in criminal, deviant behaviour among young people. Have you ever met people that read comic books? They are some of the most timid and geeky people living, hardly the types that fit the personality of a psychopath. Comic books are not exactly the entertainment past time for street gangs like the Crips. Its not even the entertainment past time for the majority of youth for the past 20-30 years (seriously, just how old are you?). Obviously normal, well-adjusted people(if that means anything at this current point in the Iron Age) exposing themselves to the lowest common-denominator of things isn’t going to make them better people. But it also won’t make them lesser to the point of becoming psychopathic deviants. As stated in my other posts and in Bowden’s article, studies show time and again, contrary to the liberal status quo and Wertham’s belief, psychopathic and extreme criminal behaviour is biological, not learned. As for the worth of comics, like pretty much all forms of modern entertainment, I think its mostly worthless and of no value. However, nothing of culture is truly destroyed, that includes expressions of primordial themes like heroism and masculinity, it only gets transferred into different avenues. Sometimes the avenue can be of a lowly one, as the case with comics, but at least the heroic theme still exists. Now that heroic theme can be used to serve a worldview not in line with that of the western tradition, as is the case with the universalist humanism of something like the Superman mythos. However, that isn’t always the case, as seen with Howard’s original Conan stories (stories, if you’ve read them, certainly don’t push the worldview that you fear, it pushes a completely opposite worldview) and the idea of heroic tragedy (a staple of the western tradition) surrounding Batman and that character’s. If you can’t see any value in the Conan stories merely because they have portrayals of violence and sex, or any value in the Batman mythos because there is an implicit idea of male bonding in it (which is not the same as homosexual sex), which has been an integral part of western civilization since that was how culture was usually passed down…..between an older male mentor and young male protege, something that a Semite like Wertham will never understand/accept, then you have fallen into the same trap/error that Wertham fell into.

  6. LightofApollo
    Posted December 6, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    “Comic books are cheap, shoddy, anonymous. Children spend their good money for bad paper, bad English, and more often than not, bad drawing.”

    Of all Wertham’s written statements, I’d say this is the only one that has a significant amount of truth. Though in today’s world, it should read dorky, mild-mannered youth instead of children.

    And Bodwen’s comment that Wertham shared the soft left jewish mindset mindset is an understatement. Wertham’s assertions that Superman is a symbol for fascism provided me with a good laugh.

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