Thursday, March 1, 2012

1954: Psychoanalysis & Dr. Fredric Wertham

In 1954 the moral war against comic books reached a critical point of congressional action. These descendants of the pulps became public enemy number one during the hearings of the United States Senate Judiciary Committee on Juvenile Delinquency. At the center of the comic book witch-hunt was Dr. Fredric Wertham, a German-American psychiatrist who devoted most of his professional career declaring comic books as the main contributor to American juvenile delinquency. It was during this same year that EC Comics, the most widely-cited publisher of horror comics, released a short-lived series entitled Psychoanalysis.

Dr. Wertham was no stranger to the psychoanalytic tradition, as correspondence with Sigmund Freud led to his decision to become a psychiatrist. His most famous book, Seduction of the Innocent, appeared in 1954. The text, which presented Wertham's classic analysis of the homosexual pederasty in Batman, sexual bondage in Wonder Woman, and Superman as fascist, led to the comic book industry's preemptive establishment of the Comics Code Authority of 1954. The CCA placed regulations on the graphic depiction of violence and gore, as well as good girl art (GGA) which depicted women as sexually charged -regardless of the situation.

Psychoanalysis was one of seven titles that were published by EC Comics under the New Direction series -a reaction to the recently enacted CCA codes. Psychoanalysis saw only four issues before publisher William Gaines abandoned the comic book industry and went on to publish Mad magazine for over forty years.

Although Psychoanalysis possessed all of the intrigue and mystery of the unconscious itself, it was not the most controversial title in the series. Whereas Psychoanalysis offered young readers a voyeuristic peep at the psychoanalyst's couch, another title Judgement Day would become the most controversial of the New Direction series. An allegory of racial tensions in America, the CCA refused to approve the story unless the final frame -a black astronaut- was removed. Code administrator, Judge Charles Murphy, rescinded his decision under threat by EC Comics to publicly expose his bigotry.

Dr. Fredric Wertham continued his work to bring attention to violent and sexual content in the media. He made frequent appearances on talk shows, at congressional committee hearings, and even debated violence in film with none other than Alfred Hitchcock.