Fredric Wertham

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 442

Superman (with the big S on his uniform—we should, I suppose, be thankful that it is not an S.S.) needs an endless stream of ever new submen, criminals and "foreign-looking" people not only to justify his existence but even to make it possible. It is this feature that engenders in children either one or the other of two attitudes: either they fantasy themselves as supermen, with the attendant prejudices against the submen, or it makes them submissive and receptive to the blandishments of strong men who will solve all their social problems for them—by force.

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Superman not only defies the laws of gravity, which his great strength makes conceivable; in addition he gives children a completely wrong idea of other basic physical laws. Not even Superman, for example, should be able to lift up a building while not standing on the ground, or to stop an airplane in midair while flying himself. (p. 34)

There are also super-children, like Superboy. Superboy can slice a tree like a cake, can melt glass by looking at it…. Superboy rewrites American history, too. In one story he helps George Washington's campaign and saves his life by hitting a Hessian with a snowball. (pp. 35-6)

One third of a page of this book is a picture of Washington crossing the Delaware—with Superboy guiding the boat through the ice floes. It is really Superboy who is crossing the Delaware, with George Washington in the boat. All this travesty is endorsed by the impressive board of experts in psychiatry, education and English literature [who approve the suitability of comic books for young readers]. (p. 36)

If I were asked to express in a single sentence what has happened mentally to many American children during the last decade I would know no better formula than to say that they were conquered by Superman. And if I were further asked what is the real moral of the Superman story, I would know no better answer than the fate of the creator of Superman himself….

[We] have often seen troubled children, children in trouble and children crushed by society's punishments, with Superman and Superboy comic books sticking out of their pockets.

How did the Superman formula work for his creator? The success formula he developed did not work for him. Superman flies high in comic books and on TV; but his creator has long since been left behind. (p. 265)

Fredric Wertham, "You Always Have to Slug 'Em" and "The Upas Tree," in his Seduction of the Innocent (copyright 1953, 1954 by Fredric Wertham; reprinted by permission of Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Publishers), Holt, 1954 (and reprinted by Kennikat Press, 1972), pp. 17-44, 251-72.∗

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