Superheroes and Superegos: Analyzing the Minds behind the Masks

Superheroes and Superegos: Analyzing the Minds behind the Masks

Superheroes and Superegos: Analyzing the Minds behind the Masks

Superheroes and Superegos: Analyzing the Minds behind the Masks

Synopsis

Psychiatrist and social advocate Fredric Wertham lobbied against comics because of their sexual and sadistic subtext and their potential to reverse women's roles and encourage same-sex behavior. However, Wertham's McCarthy Era stance forgot that early superhero comics foretold Hitler's threat-and offered solutions.

Excerpt

Superhero stories always have origin stories. Those origin stories typically bear no resemblance to endpoint of their adventures and make sense only in retrospect.

Since this book is about superheroes, it is only fitting that it has its own origin story. It should not be surprising that its “origin story” is far removed from the final product. The contents of this book may just as well have started on a distant planet.

Let me tell you how it happened. I had previously published books on dream, film, and psychiatry. (One was entitled Dreams in Myth, Medicine, and Movies. Another covered Movies and the Modern Psyche.) I had written book chapters and journal articles on various combinations of psychiatry, Judaism, ethnicity, and religion in general, with occasional articles about art and medicine (including one about Grunewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece and its relationship to the ergot epidemics). And then there were some short works on psychopharmacology. I should also mention that I am a physician and practicing psychiatrist and that I am an assistant clinical professor at a medical school.

Several years ago, a patient entered my office, wearing a swastika tattoo. Horrified, I became fixated on the Holocaust and its many connections to psychiatry. (That was hardly my first introduction to the Holocaust, but it was the first time I sat face-to-face with someone who looked me in the eye and displayed a swastika tattoo on the same spot on the forearm where concentration camp numbers were tattooed.)

Once I started to read about this subject, I could not stop. I mentioned this interest to a colleague, who delivered his entire collection of Holocaustrelated works to my country house the next Sunday. His collection filled his car. He seemed relieved to rid himself of a library that had once intrigued him but now threatened to destroy him, like the symbiote that attached itself to Spider-Man.

It was well known that the course of American psychiatry shifted because of the Holocaust. Refugee analysts, almost all of them Jewish, left Europe, fled . . .

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