LGBTQ* Queer Media Theory You Might Find Interesting
Over The Rainbow
For many people in the LGBTQ* community, The Wizard of Oz is a sort of queer* fairy tale. From our association with the Rainbow as a place of solace, to the “born sissy” in the Cowardly Lion, many have found comfort in this familiar tale.
There have been many theories surrounding The Wizard of Oz (film) and it’s embrace by the LGBTQ*/queer* community. One of the many theories presented is that of Dorothy’s journey being one of a young girl exploring her lesbian identity in a world of archetypes. Arguably, Dorothy must encounter everyone in Oz before finding comfort in her own identity and being able to return (happily?) to bleak Kansas.
Listed above are quick breakdowns of this argument.
For more information, check out:
Daniel Dervin. “Over the Rainbow and Under the Twister: A Drama of the Girl’s Passage through the Phallic Phase,” Bulletin of the Meninger Clinic, 42 (1978), pp. 51-57, quoted in Paul Nathanson, Over the Rainbow: The Wizard of Oz as a Secular Myth of America (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991), p. 63.
Harvey Greenberg, “The Wizard of Oz: Little Girl Lost—and Found,” The Movies of Your Mind(New York: Saturday Review Press, 1975), pp. 13-32, summarized in Paul Nathanson, Over the Rainbow: The Wizard of Oz as a Secular Myth of America (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991), pp. 67-72.
Alexander Doty, Making Things Perfectly Queer (University of Minnesota Press, 1993)
Dyer, Richard (1986). Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society. British Film Institute
Miller, Neil (1995). Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present. Vintage UK
Loughery, John (1998). The Other Side of Silence: Men’s Lives and Gay Identities: A Twentieth Century History. Henry Holt and Company
In the West, plot is commonly thought to revolve around conflict: a confrontation between two or more elements, in which one ultimately dominates the other. The standard three- and five-act plot structures—which permeate Western media—have conflict written into their very foundations. A “problem” appears near the end of the first act; and, in the second act, the conflict generated by this problem takes center stage. Conflict is used to create reader involvement even by many post-modern writers, whose work otherwise defies traditional structure.
The necessity of conflict is preached as a kind of dogma by contemporary writers’ workshops and Internet “guides” to writing. A plot without conflict is considered dull; some even go so far as to call it impossible. This has influenced not only fiction, but writing in general—arguably even philosophy. Yet, is there any truth to this belief? Does plot necessarily hinge on conflict? No. Such claims are a product of the West’s insularity. For countless centuries, Chinese and Japanese writers have used a plot structure that does not have conflict “built in”, so to speak. Rather, it relies on exposition and contrast to generate interest. This structure is known as kishōtenketsu.
This is the Epitaph of Seikilos. It is the earliest complete music composition with notation ever discovered. It dates from somewhere between 100 BC and 100 AD. There are earlier examples of music to be sure - the Delphic Hymns, of course, as well as some early Japenese and Chinese ceremonial music, but it’s all either fragmented or unable to be dated due to oral tradition.
The original ‘score’, such as it is, doesn’t look like much to our modern eyes:
If you translate that into Western notation, however:
This is music that is two thousand years old. It could have been played when Christ walked the earth. And thanks to music being a universal language, we can hear those exact same notes, like a piece of history coming to life in front of us. Isn’t that just incredible?
This is so beautiful.
“The culture at that time was trying to deny that homosexuality even existed, and here they had well known Hollywood players involved in it, so they didn’t want to see what was there. […] What is extraordinary about [Rope] is its treatment of homosexuality. I mean today it still is one of the most sophisticated movies ever made on that subject; probably treats them more as people than anybody else has. Hitchcock certainly knew that, and it certainly attracted him. And what he liked was not that they were homosexual, but that they were homosexual murderers. If they were just murderers he wouldn’t have been interested, if they were just homosexual he wouldn’t have been interested. You had to have another little twist to it…”
— as told by Arthur Laurents, the screenwriter of Rope, a 1948 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, adapted from a 1929 play based on a real murder case. Arthur Laurents, both of the actors portraying the couple (John Dall and Farley Granger), and the composer of the featured piano score were all known to be gay in real life (though it’s said that Granger resented the gay label, and he officially came out as bisexual towards the end of his life). The character played by Jimmy Stewart in Rope was also gay, but the final version of the script was so subtle due to censorship that Laurents was unsure if Stewart ever realized he was playing a gay character.
This movie is actualfax great, and especially so if you are at all interested in queer cinema and/or queer history.
George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World 1890-1940 (via mswyrr)
Ah, the dawning of the Jazz Age in Chicago. Divey drinking establishments, elegant suits and silk dresses, wonderful, wonderful music… and one ridiculously talented gay Black pianist and songwriter who had everyone in town copying his style!
Born in 1884 in New Orleans, young Tony Jackson was something of a musical prodigy. He constructed a harpsichord made from junk in his back garden at the age of ten because his family didn’t have the money to buy him a piano. By the age of 15, he’d become one of the most sought-after piano players in Storyville, the city’s red light district — and he’d also almost certainly realised that he was gay. This didn’t make life in New Orleans particularly easy for him. The memoirs of jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton suggest that Jackson complained to Morton about the difficulty of being out and gay in New Orleans at the beginning of the twentieth century (see below). By 1904, Jackson had left New Orleans to tour with various music outfits, and eventually he moved to Chicago, where he worked with and influenced artists such as Morton and Clarence Williams. Here’s what Morton had to say about him:
All these men were hard to beat, but when Tony Jackson walked in, any one of them would get up from the piano stool. If he didn’t, somebody was liable to say, 'Get up from that piano. You hurting its feelings. Let Tony play.' Tony was real dark and not a bit good-looking, but he had a beautiful disposition. He was the outstanding favourite of New Orleans…
There was no tune that come up from any opera or any show of any kind or anything that was wrote on paper that Tony couldn’t play. He had such a beautiful voice and a marvellous range. His voice on an opera tune was exactly as an opera singer. His range on a blues would be just exactly like a blues singer… Tony happened to be one of those gentlemens that a lot of people call them lady or sissy — I suppose he was either a ferry or a steamboat, one of the other, probably you would say a ferry because that’s what you pay a nickel for — and that was the cause of him going to Chicago about 1906. He liked the freedom there. (from Alan Lomax, Mister Jelly Roll: The Fortunes of Jelly Roll Morton, New Orleans Creole and Inventor of Jazz (1973) pp. 43-5)
(FWIW, I’m still researching exact details on the ‘ferry’ and ‘steamboat’ slang terms — any historical linguists out there who can help?)
In Chicago, Jackson quickly became just as popular as he’d been at home, performing at venues across the South Side (and apparently influencing other people’s fashion choices with his ascot ties and diamond stick pins!). Jackson doesn’t appear to have discussed his sexuality with many other people in great detail, but as Morton’s comments suggest, it doesn’t appear to have been any great secret either.
He didn’t make any recordings, which is a horrible tragedy to my mind, but he did publish a number of songs as sheet music with full or shared credit. One of these was 'Pretty Baby', which was apparently part of Jackson’s performance repertoire as early as 1912, but wasn’t published until 1916. The published version clearly refers to a female lover (there’s a picture of a woman on the cover of the songsheet, for example), but the lyrics themselves are ambiguous (and adorable and obnoxious in equal measures!):You ask me why I’m always teasing you. /You hate to have me call you “Pretty Baby.” /I really thought that I was pleasing you, /For you’re just a baby to me… /… And just like Peter Pan it seems you’ll always be /The same sweet cunning little baby dear to me, /And that is why I’m sure that I /Will always love you best of all.
To me, there’s something particularly poignant in one of the last lines of the song —- And I’d like to be your sister, brother, dad and mother too, Pretty baby, pretty baby. At the time Jackson was writing, I suspect that to quite a large extent, out queer people very much did have to be one another’s families.
Jackson died in 1921, possibly of alcoholism or syphilis (the sources I’ve come across so far are divided as to exactly what cased his death)… he was thirty-fucking-seven years old. In 2011, Tony Jackson was added to the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame for being ‘an openly gay man when that was rare' — recognition that came very late, but definitely (for us, at least) better than never.
Bio from Out History: http://outhistory.org/wiki/Tony_Jackson#Tony_Jackson.2C_A_Gay_Blues_Pianist_from_Chicago
2011 induction into Chicago GL Hall of Fame: http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/ARTICLE.php?AID=33783
An early recording of ‘Pretty Baby’: http://ia700504.us.archive.org/9/items/BillyMurray_part4/BillyMurray-PrettyBaby.mp3
Bio from All About Jazz: http://musicians.allaboutjazz.com/musician.php?id=7944#.UNw8Nm_Za3s
Wiki page for ‘Pretty Baby’: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pretty_Baby_(song)
Wikipedia bio: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Jackson_(jazz_musician)
Google Books link: Entry in Vaudeville Old and New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America: http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=XFnfnKg6BcAC&pg=PA559&dq=tony+jackson&hl=en&sa=X&ei=ZUPcUOP0Fq6Z0QWH0IGYBQ&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=tony%20jackson&f=false
Google Books link: Information about Jackson in Chicago Whispers: A History of LGBT Chicago Before Stonewall: http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=44lheqlq-jYC&dq=tony+jackson+chicago+whispers&source=gbs_navlinks_s