ALL THE RAGE: The Story of Gay Visibility in America

Article excerpt

ALL THE RAGE: The Story of Gay Visibility in America Suzanna Danuta Walters Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2003; 338 pp.

Bothered by the corporatization of Pride festivities? Fed up with the we-arejust-like-you approach to political and legal change? Revelling in the proliferation of gay images on television? Openly browsing books in the "gay and lesbian" section at Chapters?

There is no doubt that gays and lesbians have entered public consciousness in unparalleled ways, courted by politicians and represented in mainstream media. In her fast-paced, well-written book, Suzanna Danuta Walters explores the opportunities, shortcomings, and dilemmas of this era of increased visibility. Accessible and sharply written, All the Rage is for everyone - queer or straight, conservative, liberal or radical - as it endeavours to critically examine the tremendous public imagining of gay and lesbian lives occurring in the United States.

Walters carefully locates this era of gay and lesbian visibility alongside an increasingly strident and vocal opposition to gay rights. As a whole, the book inquires into the potential for meaningful social change generated by the explosion of cultural and political visibility of gays and lesbians in the 1990s. Walters offers the reader rich and textured reflections on whether it has reshaped a more inclusive culture or instead has simply refashioned gay as hip but expendable. She asks, "What is the vision of gay life and gay identity being projected from the TV screen, from your local multiplex, as you turn the pages of a magazine? And what kinds of beliefs about gays are embedded in those images?" (pp. 26-27). These are valuable questions and thus, while the book is wholly American in its subject matter, it is relevant for a Canadian readership, not only because American popular culture is a huge part of our daily lives but also because the book asks us to think carefully about the tentative and tenuous links between trends in popular culture and socio-political transformation. Specifically, the author grapples with a dilemma posed by this visibility, namely that gays and lesbians may be seen but are we known? While images of fun-loving gay men are splashed across the pages of stylish magazines and Martina Navratilova sells Subaru's to trendy dykes, and while marriage is now an option for same-sex couples across most of Canada, this is also a moment reluctant to embrace the realities of gay and lesbian identities and practices in all their fullness and complexities. Witness the police raids on the Pussy Palace in Toronto and Goliath's in Calgary, and the long-term legal battles of Little Sister's bookstore in Vancouver over censorship.

All the Rage is fairly encyclopaedic in nature and covers a lot of ground but is deftly tied together by Walters' insistence on examining the quality of gay and lesbian visibility. She seeks to understand which forms of visibility shake up the world, which ones lead to new forms of homophobia, and which ones recycle old stereotypes. To do so, Walters hones her analysis in on a number of sites, including television programs, Hollywood films, the public representation of same-sex marriage, gay and lesbian parenting and comingout stories, and the targeting of gays and lesbians by corporate America alongside the emergence of a booming gay entrepreneurship. …