How The Homosexuals Saved Civilization Hardcover – Dec 12 2012
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From Publishers Weekly
In this "work of love from a fag-hag author," humor writer Crimmins (Where Is the Mango Princess? etc.) considers gay men's multifarious contributions to society and celebrates the "golden age of 'Global Queering.' " (Lesbians, she finds, have been too domestic to influence much.) In 10 brief chapters, she reflects on the culture of camp, the popularity of "gay expressions" ("butch," "breeder"), gay restaurants (they have "exotic ingredients and flamboyant presentations"), fashion designers, sex practices, Judy Garland musicals and 1960s game shows (with gay pioneers like Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly) and more. As Crimmins has it, gay men are responsible for the popularity of barbecue (James Beard, who was gay, popularized outdoor grilling) and Abercrombie & Fitch (fraternity boys sporting that brand are aping a gay lifestyle—without knowing it—by buying into photographer Bruce Weber's vision of male beauty). Friends, Frasier and Sex and the City had gay roots and gay writers, she says, and flaunted a code of gay allusion. Few would argue with the thesis that gay men have had a profound and positive cultural impact, but this volume may not be anyone's chosen proof. Crimmins's casual use of words like "fairy," "faggot," "homo" and "nelly" may prove a stumbling block to her readers, as might her persistent stereotyping.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Good thing I read it first- I don't need to give my dad this book if I'm the one who is skeptical about most of what she has to say. Not to mention- this isn't about how Homosexuals saved civilization- it's about how Homosexuals created and fascinated America with a lot of the terrible celebrity worship and popculture phenomenon that destroy the value of mainstream media.
She should re-title this book immediately. Something like "Gay people are super super fun novelties."
Crimmins says with the growing (and more explicitly stated) influence that gays have on American life and pop culture, more straight people will comsume those products, which will in turn make straight people more aware of gay issues and more open to gay rights. Actually it doesn't always work that way. One can consume gay-influenced culture and still be biased towards heterosexism; take for example the recent case of Miss Califonia, who obviously let a queen or two do her hair, makeup, and outfit, and yet she speaks out against gay marriage. Another example is Camille Paglia (okay a lesbian herslf, but still...), who credits gay men with creating culture and yet she dismisses them when they talk about politics, gay rights in particular. And then there's Nancy Reagan, who had a gaggle of gays to style her, and yet her husband president Ronald Reagan let AIDS spread unchecked because it was seen as a "gay" disease. Crimmins herself occasionally reveals the reality on how much can gay culture can (or cannot) influence straights to be more gay-positive; she writes about young men wearing Abercrombie & Fitch, which is shaped by a gay aesthetic, yet those same teenage guys were not afraid to use the word "gay" as a put-down. She also refers to Harvey Fierstein, who played in drag Mrs. Claus in the New York City Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2003, and then wrote an op-ed in The New York Times saying that Mrs. Claus was part of a same-sex marriage. Controversy ensued and Macy's felt the need to spin this by stressing that Mrs. Claus was not really being played by a gay man, but rather by Harvey's female character, Edna Turnblad, the star of the Broadway show "Hairspray" with enough twisting to make any pretzel maker happy. But in the end Crimmins is more interested in writing about the "fabulousity" of gay men rather than the struggles and discrimination that they face.
In the end I'd say that this book has some value if you need some "Gay 101." Otherwise it's fluff with occasionally condesending (if postive) sterotypes that makes some good toilet seat reading anyway.
"How the Homosexuals Saved Civilization" is no scholarly treatise, but a light and breezy overview of the seeming omnipresence of gays in American cultural life. Crimmins chronicles her own childhood awakening to the existence of gay elements in culture, explaining why she was attracted to the typically campy and over-the-top work of gays. She reminds us that straight America has danced, sung and fallen in love to the work of homosexuals, usually without knowing it. Cole Porter, Cary Grant, Rock Hudson, Little Richard, Johnny Mathis and Elton John are just a few of the gay artists that Crimmins names as having a deep impact on entertainment, and hence on American experience.
Crimmins covers the "Liberace Effect," in which gays and others deny the gayness of their work; the gay adoration of female divas like Garland, Streisand and Cher; the pre-gay-lib gay sensibility of Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly. Crimmins also describes gay influence on more recent media creations like "Sex and the City," in which gay writers put their own boy-to-boy frank conversations into the mouths of heterosexual women. Even shows like John Stewart's "The Daily Show" flaunt their edginess with references to gay culture and preoccupations. Crimmins also shows how certain trends (earrings and disco, flaunting or shaving of body hair, etc.) originate in the gay or black worlds before moving into the straight world -- usually unbeknownst to its latest practitioners.
While Crimmins celebrates the glitzy, campy, colorful and fabulous side of the gay life, she somewhat glosses over its downside -- AIDS, homophobia, its obsession with sexual experimentation and its not infrequent shallowness and nastiness. While some people are instinctively attracted to gay expressiveness, others are turned off by it. In New England, straights loathed the disco era, to some degree because of its gay-born exuberance. Still, "How Homosexuals Saved Civilization" proves its thesis that gays have enormously affected and benefited American life, saving it from blandness, teaching it to love, to appreciate irony, and giving it something to sing about.
While most of the book is in PG-13 range, the sections on gay sexuality are very frank and deserve a strong R rating.