Oz in the News 9.24.19

Why Is Judy Garland The Ultimate Gay Icon? While Garland was still alive, critics made ham-fisted attempts to answer this question. A 1969 review of her Palace Theatre show in Esquire Magazine reads: “Homosexuals tend to identify with suffering. They are a persecuted group and they understand suffering. And so does Garland.” However queer historian Dr Justin Bengry warns against generalising in this way. “It’s important to ask: for whom is Judy Garland resonant, important and iconic?” he tells BBC Culture. “It seems to be a significant category of gay men, in particular, who are invested in celebrities or the camp aesthetic that Garland embodies. But it’s also important to recognise that they aren’t the totality of gay men.” The camp that Bengry mentions is significant to Garland’s gay icon status. Queer film historian Jack Babuscio defines camp as “irony, aestheticism, theatricality and humour” – four pillars that form the foundation of Garland’s public persona. In fact, her life story is practically a blueprint for our modern understanding of what makes a gay icon. Analysing her story, from upbringing to death, helps us understand how and why some gay men look to famous women to help them navigate the world.

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