Gay Artists in Modern American Culture: An Imagined Conspiracy

By Michael S. Sherry | Go to book overview

3
Frenzy

Agitation about homosexuals in the arts became more frenzied and conspicuous in the early 1960s. It also seemed less guarded and euphemistic, its explicitness sometimes equated with tolerance. But Vito Russo's claim about film's treatment of homosexuality—“the dirty secret of old emerged on the screen in those newly enlightened times as a dirty secret” —to a degree applied generally. “The much vaunted sexual permissiveness of our times,” Dennis Altman worried in 1971, “may replace being largely ignored with a prurient voyeurism” regarding gay people, or with “the patronizing tolerance of liberals, or what [Christopher] Isherwood has referredtoas 'annihilationbyblandness.'”1 Greater licensetodiscuss homosexuality often meant greater license to loathe it. In particular, hostile observers regarded gay secrecy as a threat to the nation's cultural and political vitality. In the 1970s, they became indignant that queers came out of the closet. In the 1960s, they were indignant that queers apparently hid in it.


Inventing the Closet

Indeed, those hostile inquisitors helped to invent “the closet”—that imagined place where gay people, they charged, hid their identities and practiced their wily ways. A key step in that invention was Jess Stearn's The Sixth Man (1961), a best seller unencumbered by expert jargon and backed by Stearn's credentials as a former Newsweek editor. Stearn's survey of male homosexuality “dripped with venom and contempt,” John

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Gay Artists in Modern American Culture: An Imagined Conspiracy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Introduction - Nixon, Myself, and Others 1
  • 1: Discocery 13
  • 2: Explanation 51
  • 3: Frenzy 105
  • 4: Barber at the Met 155
  • 5: Aftermath 204
  • Notes 239
  • Index 271
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