Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

"There Lived in the Land of Oz Two Queerly Made Men": Queer Utopianism and Antisocial Eroticism in L. Frank Baum's Oz Series

Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

"There Lived in the Land of Oz Two Queerly Made Men": Queer Utopianism and Antisocial Eroticism in L. Frank Baum's Oz Series

Article excerpt

The film version of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz serves as a pop-culture icon of twentieth- century Western gay culture.1 With Judy Garland as the star, its exaggerated characters of good and evil, and its Technicolor wonderland of vibrant colors and outlandish costumes, the film displays a queer sensibility that countless viewers adore. Today gay bars in New Orleans, Seattle, and Sweden bear the name Oz, and the iconic polychromatic flag of the gay community pays homage to the film's theme song, "Over the Rainbow." References to the film appear in numerous other artifacts of gay culture, such as in Mart Crowley's The Boys in the Band when one character derides another's ostensible heterosexuality by declaring "he's about as straight as the Yellow Brick Road" (27). Daniel Harris documents the "canonic" nature of references to Oz in the oft- repeated catchphrase, "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas any- more" (19),2 which, for certain T-shirt incarnations, has been campily refor- mulated as "Aunt Em: Hate you! Hate Kansas! Taking the dog. Dorothy" (Gilman 127). Although numerous other cinematic classics - from Mildred Pierce to Mommie Dearest - display a queer sensibility that elevates them to the status of cultural touchstones in the gay community, The Wizard of Oz towers above the rest in terms of its iconic role in queer cinema's relationship to queer culture.3 As Harry M. Benshoff and Sean Griffin observe, "almost every viewer (queer or not) probably enjoys the film not for its sepia-toned representation of banal 'normality' but for its breathtaking creation of a Technicolor Oz, a land where difference and deviation from the norm are the norm" (Queer Images 68).

In this essay, however, I would like to trace the roots of Oz's queerness to its beginning as a series of children's fairy tales.4 Queerness bears a double meaning in studies of children's literature, in that these fictions often depict a world where oddness - which can be understood as asexual queerness - is embraced as a chief narrative value. In other usages queerness carries a sexual denotation referring to sexual identities resistant to ideological normativity, and it is this confluence of asexual oddness with sexual nonnormativity that I seek to uncover in the ensuing study. As Kenneth Kidd observes, "[M] any classics of Anglo-American children's literature are fundamentally homosocial, or concerned with same-sex friendships and family bonds. In retrospect, some of these classics seem decidedly queer" (14). In such a light, the Oz books merit a retrospective analysis to plumb their queer depths. Certainly, they display an antinormative sensibility in their celebration of the unique, the eccentric, and the downright peculiar, but antinormativity as oddness at times intriguingly merges with hints of sexual queerness, resulting in texts that subvert constructions of gender and sexuality from their supposedly normative foundations.

After exploring the thematic queerness of the Oz series in its queerfriendly messages of embracing oddness and in its construction as an antinormative utopia, I turn to the ways in which Baum's Oz books fundamentally reimagine procreation, heterosexuality, and erotic drives. If we see Oz as a queer utopia, as a haven from the drudgeries of heteronormative inculcation, it becomes apparent that this fairy kingdom threatens the very possibility of heterosexuality by revising the meanings of romance and erotic attachment. The Oz texts are thus particularly pertinent to contemporary queer theory, especially in regard to current debates addressing the tensions between utopianism and antisociality in the construction of queer culture and identity5 As an erotically antisocial queer utopia, Oz challenges the libidinal economy of heteronormative reproduction and highlights queer alternatives to expected forms of social organization.

The Queer Utopia of Oz

In terms of Baum's portrayal of Oz as a queer utopia, numerous characters, places, and even objects in the books are passingly described as queer. …

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