December 10, 2010

Over the Rainbow

Welcome to the first (and hopefully not last!) installment of Over the Rainbow, a serial blog aimed at highlighting hallmarks of LGBT culture throughout history. Here you'll find celebrities, artists, writers, painters, musicians known for either their sexuality (or questioned for it), or their material as it speaks out towards a community of individuals seeking identity and union. These individuals will stretch throughout history, so no, this is not merely a cover of the most current and rising gay icons (though Gaga and Britney will get their dues, I promise!) Think of this as a history lesson that sheds light on LGBT issues at various points in time.

To begin this series let us look to the film that made the title of this blog famous: The Wizard of Oz. Released in the summer of 1939, the film is an adaptation of L. Frank Baum's work The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that covers the fantastical and often dangerous adventures of Dorothy Gale as she wanders through the Land of Oz to find her way back home to Kansas. The film is noted for its cinematography, which places a very distinct contrast between Dorothy's dreary home in Kansas (shot in Sepia tone), and the vibrant and brilliant Land of Oz (shot in Technicolor). Another directing choice that separates the film from the novel is the use of parallel characters, as Dorothy encounters individuals in Oz that mirror those back home, who are in fact played by the same actors.

This combination dualism and juxtaposition of color has itself been seen as a commentary of LGBT societal pressures to play two separate characters: that which satisfies and conforms the reserved and strained heteronormative culture of the time, and the freer, more vibrant Land of Oz that celebrates individuality and creativity. This vivacity and otherworldliness is itself the epitome of camp, that over-the-top theatricality and performance that sheds all inhibitions and worries over the eyes of judgmental observers. Judy Garland, herself, is considered an example of camp personified, lending to her labeling as one of the most famous gay icons in the 20th century, her personal struggles during her later career garnering identification and support from the gay community and culminating in a cult following of impersonators and adoring fans. In fact, Garland's portrayal of the young farm girl was so adored that a common covert conventionality (alliteration much?) of the time was to refer to a member of the LGBT community as a "friend of Dorothy." Like the companions that Dorothy meets along the yellow brick road, these individuals were also different, awkward, or socially unacceptable by society for going against the grain.

Looking closer at the title song, it is clear that the singer longs for somewhere where they can fully express themselves, where "the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true," free of repressing naysayers. How can individuals struggling to either identify or express their sexuality not relate to this desire to be treated with full merit to have all their troubles "melt like lemon drops" and make the bold claim that they too are a person with feelings and rights to exist and be heard among the masses. The rainbow, too, is both the manner in which to achieve this acceptance as well as the most prevalent example iconography in the LGBT, a banner and symbol of unification for all those that dare to stray from the status quo. Even the last line of the song, repeated for emphasis, is a call for change:

If happy little blue birds fly
beyond the rainbow,
why, oh why cant I?

The singer's pathos can either be of indignation at those who repress or irony, for who is anyone to deny a person their right to reach their full potential and seek out their own happiness? Unfortunately, for manner this lyric may also resonate as a futile attempt to break free of the ties that, for now at least, continue to weigh them down and leave them room only to dream. I now leave you all with a clip from another famous Judy Garland film, Meet Me in St. Louis, as my personal wish for you to find joy and happiness this Holiday Season, regardless of your religious affiliations. Maybe next year, our troubles, too, will be miles away:


  1. ROBERT!! I feel like it's been forever since I've seen you around :(

    I loved your post and I learned a ton! I never knew Judy Garland was gay and I never viewed Wizard of Oz through this lens. Thanks for sharing and teaching me (and others) so much!

  2. @risa:

    Judy Garland was a gay icon, as in an icon *for* gays not an icon who *was* gay. She was not gay. She was connected to the gay community, but not because she was gay.

    Maybe a follow-up post on Liza? :)

  3. yeah, sorry about that confusion! many sources just state her "own struggles" but that's probably just my failure to look into the research more. forgive me, but yes, definitely Liza in the future!

  4. Another interesting fact: The Stonewall Riots of 1969, which was arguably the start of the Gay Rights Movement in America, happened on the evening of Judy Garland's death. The "Friends of Dorothy" weren't in such a great mood that night...

  5. I LOVE Judy Garland! My mother was absolutely obsessed with the Wizard of Oz, and this definitely rubbed on off on me. "Meet me in Saint Louis", "Judgment in Nuremberg", "Wizard of Oz" and her solo career as a musician ("Dear. Mr. Gable", anyone?)...I could keep going!

    When I found out on Wikipedia a few years ago that Garland was a gay icon, I actually wasn't surprised at all. Has anyone else ever seen the film biography of her life? It's called "Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows" (2001), and it's really amazing and poignant; it won 5 Emmy Awards. The movie really outlines her struggles with being exploited in Hollywood, her drug abuse, as well as her difficult childhood and MGM's rigorous demands on her and her physical appearance. It's also sort of a unique insight into the life of being a film actor/actress.

    Robert, thanks so much for doing this! I completely see the LGBTQ parallels of overcoming adversity and struggles (from outside demands), even in her own life. And I can't wait to hear about Liza Minelli's gay icon status as well. =)