Homosexuality in Cold War America: Resistance and the Crisis of Masculinity / Edition 1

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Challenging widely held assumptions about postwar gay male culture and politics, Homosexuality in Cold War America examines how gay men in the 1950s resisted pressures to remain in the closet. Robert J. Corber argues that a form of gay male identity emerged in the 1950s that simultaneously drew on and transcended left-wing opposition to the Cold War cultural and political consensus. Combining readings of novels, plays, and films of the period with historical research into the national security state, the growth of the suburbs, and postwar consumer culture, Corber examines how gay men resisted the "organization man" model of masculinity that rose to dominance in the wake of World War II. By exploring the representation of gay men in film noir, Corber suggests that even as this Hollywood genre reinforced homophobic stereotypes, it legitimized the gay male "gaze." He emphasizes how film noir's introduction of homosexual characters countered the national "project" to render gay men invisible, and marked a deep subversion of the Cold War mentality. Corber then considers the work of gay male writers Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, and James Baldwin, demonstrating how these authors declined to represent homosexuality as a discrete subculture and instead promoted a model of political solidarity rooted in the shared experience of oppression.

Homosexuality in Cold War America reveals that the ideological critique of the dominant culture made by gay male authors of the 1950s laid the foundation for the gay liberation movement of the following decade. It will be of interest to a wide range of readers, including students and scholars in the fields of American literature, film, and gay studies.

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Editorial Reviews

Lambda Book Report
Homosexuality in Cold War America is a book of much richness. In addition to an extended consideration of gay manhood in Vidal's The City and the Pillar, there are two chapters on film noir. . . . There is also an excellent political-sociological reading of Willie Loman's troubles in Death of a Salesman.
American Literature
Corber's book allows for a more nuanced and historically rigorous critique of some of the popular literary texts of the period. . . . It is in his treatments of Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, and James Baldwin that the book is most provocative and delightful. . . . [This] vitally important book . . . helps us to think about our own moment in the context of the past which gave rise to us and to our words.
American Studies
Homosexuality in Cold War America investigates the cultural construction of gay male subjectivity in the midst of the postwar crisis in masculinity precipitated by the ascendance of a post-Fordist economy of consumption. . . . Recognizing gay men as subjects in history without acceding to an essentialist, minoritarian model of identity, Corber seeks to recenter the dynamic contradictions and instabilities within gay cultural politics and 'to address the political needs and aspirations underlying identity politics. . . . [I]mportant analysis.
A deep, detailed, and meticulous study.
Intensely readable. . .
From the Publisher

“Corber substantially rethinks the work of these 1950s writers and links them to recent poststructuralist interventions. Wonderfully nuanced, this marks an important contribution to the field of U. S. cultural studies.”—David Savran, Brown University

“Homosexuality in Cold War America is an important contribution to our understanding of postwar U. S. culture and a welcome step toward historicizing questions of male subjectivity.”—Jay Clayton, Vanderbilt University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822319641
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 5/28/1997
  • Series: New Americanists Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.13 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Corber is an associate professor of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Trinity College. He is the author of Homosexuality in Cold War America: Resistance and the Crisis of Masculinity (1997), In the Name of National Security: Hitchcock, Homophobia, and the Political Construction of Gender in Postwar America (1993), and co-editor of Queer Studies: An Interdisciplinary Reader (2003).
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Table of Contents

Introduction: I'm Really a Queen Myself 1
Pt. 1 Film Noir and the Political Economy of Cold War Masculinity 21
1 Masculinizing the American Dream: Discourses of Resistance in the Cold War Era 23
2 Resisting the Lure of the Commodity: Laura and the Spectacle of the Gay Male Body 55
3 "Real American History": Crossfire and the Increasing Invisibility of Gay Men in the Cold War Era 79
Pt. 2 Gay Male Cultural Production in the Cold War Era 105
4 Tennessee Williams and the Politics of the Closet 107
5 Gore Vidal and the Erotics of Masculinity 135
6 A Negative Relation to One's Culture: James Baldwin and the Homophobic Politics of Form 160
Conclusion: The Work of Transformation 191
Notes 199
Index 237
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