Jackie Curtis Subverts Pop Culture

Jackie Curtis Subverts Pop Culture

“Jackie [Curtis] wanted to write something that was a comedic takeoff on all those Hollywood stars of the thirties,” said Glamour, Glory, and Gold star Melba LaRose. “We were trying to make those movies our own.” Living through the chaos of the Vietnam War and the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King Jr., they sought refuge in Hollywood’s dream factory. “I think we all came from very dysfunctional backgrounds, and we just sort of lived through those films,” LaRose said. “There was, of course, all the glamour and we genuinely loved all that—the makeup, the clothes, the feathers, the glitter. It was the beginning of camp. We thought we were really living out these parts onstage and in life, so we didn’t think of it as campy. It was a style that we created. Everything was larger than life, but still had reality in it, and it still had something in it that we really believed. It wasn’t just clowning.” Curtis and her friends weren’t simply passive consumers, as mass culture critics such as Theodor Adorno and Dwight Macdonald have characterized media audiences. They knowingly appropriated and subverted the heteronormative products of the culture industry, liberating them from their ideological constraints. “Jackie was a natural satirist,” Lily Tomlin observed, “because he was an outsider and an artist. All the notions he had about living and being made him really able to see the absurdity of the culture.”

From Chapter 17 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


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