Homosexuality in Cold War America

Resistance and the Crisis of Masculinity

Homosexuality in Cold War America

New Americanists

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Book Pages: 256 Illustrations: Published: May 1997

American Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Queer Theory, Media Studies > Film

Challenging widely held assumptions about postwar gay male culture and politics, Homosexuality in Cold War America examines how gay men in the 1950s resisted pressures to remain in the closet. Robert J. Corber argues that a form of gay male identity emerged in the 1950s that simultaneously drew on and transcended left-wing opposition to the Cold War cultural and political consensus. Combining readings of novels, plays, and films of the period with historical research into the national security state, the growth of the suburbs, and postwar consumer culture, Corber examines how gay men resisted the "organization man" model of masculinity that rose to dominance in the wake of World War II.
By exploring the representation of gay men in film noir, Corber suggests that even as this Hollywood genre reinforced homophobic stereotypes, it legitimized the gay male "gaze." He emphasizes how film noir’s introduction of homosexual characters countered the national "project" to render gay men invisible, and marked a deep subversion of the Cold War mentality. Corber then considers the work of gay male writers Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, and James Baldwin, demonstrating how these authors declined to represent homosexuality as a discrete subculture and instead promoted a model of political solidarity rooted in the shared experience of oppression. Homosexuality in Cold War America reveals that the ideological critique of the dominant culture made by gay male authors of the 1950s laid the foundation for the gay liberation movement of the following decade.


Homosexuality in Cold War America is a book of much richness. In addition to an extended consideration of gay manhood in Vidal’s The City and the Pillar, there are two chapters on film noir. . . . There is also an excellent political-sociological reading of Willie Loman’s troubles in ‘Death of a Salesman.’”

Lambda Book Report

“[C]ompelling. . . .” — Vincent A. Lankewish, College Literature

“A deep, detailed, and meticulous study.” — Choice

“Corber’s book allows for a more nuanced and historically rigorous critique of some of the popular literary texts of the period. . . . It is in his treatments of Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, and James Baldwin that the book is most provocative and delightful. . . . [This] vitally important book . . . helps us to think about our own moment in the context of the past which gave rise to us and to our words.” — American Literature

“Intensely readable. . .” — Americas

"Homosexuality in Cold War America investigates the cultural construction of gay male subjectivity in the midst of the postwar crisis in masculinity precipitated by the ascendance of a post-Fordist economy of consumption. . . . Recognizing gay men as subjects in history without acceding to an essentialist, minoritarian model of identity, Corber seeks to recenter the dynamic contradictions and instabilities within gay cultural politics and ‘to address the political needs and aspirations underlying identity politics. . . . [I]mportant analysis." — American Studies

“Corber substantially rethinks the work of these 1950s writers and links them to recent poststructuralist interventions. Wonderfully nuanced, this marks an important contribution to the field of U. S. cultural studies.” — David Savran, Brown University

“Homosexuality in Cold War America is an important contribution to our understanding of postwar U. S. culture and a welcome step toward historicizing questions of male subjectivity.” — Jay Clayton, Vanderbilt University


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Robert Corber is an associate professor of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Trinity College. He is the author of Homosexuality in Cold War America: Resistance and the Crisis of Masculinity (1997), In the Name of National Security: Hitchcock, Homophobia, and the Political Construction of Gender in Postwar America (1993), and co-editor of Queer Studies: An Interdisciplinary Reader (2003).

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-1964-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1956-6
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