The Pequod Review:
Richard Dyer's Heavenly Bodies explores the concepts of stardom, ideology and identity using three case studies — Marilyn Monroe, Paul Robeson, and Judy Garland. Dyer's prose is quite dry and academic, but he has some occasionally unique insights:
Guiltless, natural, not prurient — these were precisely part of the attitude towards sexuality that Playboy was pushing. Playboy's "philosophy" — not formally articulated as such until 1962 — combined two reigning ideas of the twentieth century concerning sexuality. The first is what Michel Foucault has called the "repressive hypothesis," namely the idea that sexuality has "been rigorously subjugated... during the age of the hypocritical, bustling and responsible bourgeoisie." The second has been termed by John Gagnon and John Simon a "drive reduction model" of sexuality, positing the sex drive as a "basic biological mandate" seeking "expression" or "release." It is common enough to see this "biological mandate" as a fierce and disruptive drive which really needs repression, but Playboy's view of it was benign — only repression itself turns the sex drive malignant, and left to its own devices it will bring nothing but beauty and happiness.
Stars articulate these ideas of personhood, in large measure shoring up the notion of the individual but also at times registering the doubts and anxieties attendant on it.
Appearances are a kind of reality, just as manufacture and individual persons are. However, manufacture and the person (a certain notion of the person, as I’ll discuss) are generally thought to be more real than appearance in this culture. Stars are obviously a case of appearance — all we know of them is what we see and hear before us. Yet the whole media construction of stars encourages us to think in· terms of "really" — what is Crawford really like? which biography, which word-of-mouth story, which moment in which film discloses her as she really was? The star phenomenon gathers these aspects of contemporary human existence together, laced up with the question of "really."
An especially good section discusses why so many gay men loved Judy Garland — "a star image with strong elements of difference within ordinariness, androgyny and camp, and a way of interpreting homosexual identity that is widely available in both dominant and subcultural discourses."
All of these are fascinating subjects, and ones that someone should update for the modern era of social media.