Rorschach tests and Rorschach vigilantes: Queering the history of Psychology in Watchmen

Hubbard, Katherine and Hegarty, Peter (2017). Rorschach tests and Rorschach vigilantes: Queering the history of Psychology in Watchmen. History of the Human Sciences, 30(4) pp. 75–99.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0952695117722719

Abstract

One of the clearest signs that Psychology has impacted popular culture is the public’s familiarity with the Rorschach ink blot test. An excellent example of the Rorschach in popular culture can be found in Watchmen, the comic/graphic novel written by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1987). In the mid-20th century Psychology had an especially contentious relationship with comics; some psychologists were very anxious about the impact on comics on young people, whereas others wrote comics to subvert dominant norms about gender and sexuality. Yet historians of Psychology have had almost nothing to say about this popular and critically acclaimed novel. We read Watchmen here for its narratives that most concern the history of Psychology. We focus on such themes as anti-psychiatry, sexual violence, homophobia, lesbian erasure, and social psychological research on bystander intervention. We argue it is possible to more closely align Psychology and comics despite their sometimes contentious history. In doing so we demonstrate the active role of the public in the history of the Rorschach, public engagement of Psychology via comics, and also reveal what is possible when historians consider comics within their histories.

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