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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Not since the 1960s has Frederic Wertham's name been in good odor, but in recent years a few individuals have tried to lemon-pledge the stink away. I devoted several essays to Bart Beaty's biography of the doctor: here's one example.

Now one can add Alex Vernon's name to that short list. True, he only quotes Wertham on four pages of ON TARZAN, but even these short pages make Vernon's entire project problematic.

Of those four pages, three are just toss-off remarks, though I'll save one of them for later as it's slightly amusing. Vernon's longest pronouncement on Wertham appears on page 109:

"Wertham's argument exaggerated the negative influence of comic books on juvenile behavior, and his inclusion of homosexual activity alongside sadistic violence against women was misguided, but he and the pre-adolescent and adolescent subjects of his study all recognized how the 'muscular male stereotype' worked as 'the object of homoerotic sexual curiosity and stimulation.'
Later, following Vernon's summation of the good doctor's "major example" of such a buff-bod in a comic book, Vernon adds:

"These comics also included 'art nudes' of men in their various advertisements, images 'which correspond to the athletic male art nudes appearing in certain magazines for adults so often collected by homosexuals.'"

I must say that in the last sentence, Vernon shows that despite his tut-tutting at Wertham's stigmatization of gayness, he's learned well from this past master, for the latter statement fairly resonates with Wertham's patented "guilt by association" strategy. Admittedly, whereas Wertham was attempting to stamp out seductive images of perversity to protect innocent children, Vernon may well believe that he's liberating his readers from the very stereotype Wertham championed: the stereotype of the mature and unconflicted hetero male. But as I demonstrated in Part 2, here Vernon vaults over any suggestion that female readers of comics may have liked looking at male forms in the comics as much as the gays did, whether those representations were images of Tarzan or "male art nudes." Moreover, I'd like to know if these "male art nudes" were disproportionate in comparison to the number of scantily-clad women in the comic books of Wertham's time. I seem to recollect Wertham objecting to many of these, but mentioning that might have weakened Vernon's case re: "homoerotic curiosity."

Finally, I'll finish up by noting that on page 129-30 Vernon brackets two separate observations as more evidence for the "love that dare not speak its name," ranging from the distant past of man's evolution to, of course, comic books:

"One scholar's summary of theorized causes of homosexuality from 'the late 18th century to the early 20th century' includes 'regression to a prehuman era when the hindquarters were the primar visual stimulant,' and Wertham asserted that the 'fetishism' of 'girls' buttocks' in comic illustrations 'may have a relationship to early homosexual attitudes.'"

Maybe it's me, but I found it funny that on one hand Vernon's got one guy claiming that homosexuality stemmed from the days when prehumanoids of all persuasions went dorsal instead of ventral, and the other he's got Freddy W. claiming that modern guys liking "girls' buttocks" is evidence of straight-up (you should pardon the term) homosexuality.

All of which leads us to but one inevitable conclusion--

Whatever else he was, Frederic Wertham was never a butt-man.

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