Guilty Pleasures

Feminist Camp from Mae West to Madonna

Guilty Pleasures

Book Pages: 208 Illustrations: 10 b&w photographs Published: March 1996

Cultural Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Media Studies > Film

“Camp,” Mae West told Playboy, “is the kinda comedy where they imitate me.” But what was West doing, if not camp itself? Guilty Pleasures puts women back into the history of camp, a story long confined to gay male practice. Emphasizing the distinctive roles women have played as producers and consumers of camp, Pamela Robertson links her subject to feminist discussions of gender parody, performance, and spectatorship. Her book offers a heady tour of social and cultural criticism at its most interesting, and American culture at its most flamboyant.
Robertson grounds her theoretical discussion of female performance and spectatorship in detailed studies of figures such as Mae West, Joan Crawford, and Madonna. She locates these figures in turn within a tradition of feminist camp—a female form of aestheticism related to masquerade and rooted in burlesque, parallel to but different from gay male camp. Through analyses of films from Gold Diggers of 1933 to Johnny Guitar, as well as video and television, Robertson shows how the gold digger is to feminist camp what the dandy is to gay male camp—its original personification and defining voice. Set against a backdrop of social history, her analysis demonstrates that feminist camp flourishes during periods of antifeminist backlash in America, and that it reflects a working-class sensibility particularly attuned to changing attitudes toward women’s work and sexuality.
Appealing to a wide range of scholars spanning the fields of film and mass culture, feminism, gay/lesbian/queer studies, and cultural studies, Guilty Pleasures will also attract an audience of general readers interested in camp and popular culture.


“[T]he chapters stand up as solid interventions in current discussions of subversive spectator practices. Guilty Pleasures is a useful text for anyone interested in how spectators can negotiate popular texts for their own, unruly and campy ends.” — Harmony H. Wu , International Gay and Lesbian Review

Guilty Pleasures isa polished, provocative, and innovative scholarly work. Robertson addresses a timely set of topics (not only camp but also feminism, gender theory, the masquerade) from the perspective of star studies and queer theory. While theoretically sophisticated in its approach, and extremely well grounded in the scholarship on the texts and stars she analyzes, her book is written in a clear, direct, and witty style.” — Steven Cohan, author of Telling Stories

“This is one of the best film books I’ve read in years. It thoroughly situates contemporary debates in a well-established historical context. The theoretical conclusions are derived from the case studies, not imposed on them. It was fun to read and you can dance to it.” — Jane Feuer, author of Seeing Through the Eighties

“This is the most extensive—and the most subtle and complex—examination of the feminist ‘angle’ on camp I have seen.” — Alexander Doty, author of Perfectly Queer


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Pamela Robertson Wojcik is Associate Professor in the Department of Film, Television, and Theater and Director of the Gender Studies Program at the University of Notre Dame. She is the author of The Apartment Plot: Urban Living in American Film and Popular Culture, 1945-1975, also published by Duke University Press, and the editor of Movie Acting: The Film Reader.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction: What Makes the Feminist Camp? 1

1. "The Kinda Comedy Where They Imitate Me": Mae West's Identification with the Feminist Camp 13

2. What Trixie and God Know: Feminist Camp in Gold Diggers of 1933 55

3. Camping under Western Stars: Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar 85

4. Does Feminist Camp Make a Difference? or, What We Talk About When We Talk About Madonna 115

Conclusion: The Queens Are Dead, Long Live the Queens 139

Notes 155

Bibliography 175

Index 189
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-1748-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1751-7
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