Incongruous Entertainment

Camp, Cultural Value, and the MGM Musical

Incongruous Entertainment

Book Pages: 384 Illustrations: 103 b&w photos Published: October 2005

Author: Steven Cohan

Cultural Studies, Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies, Media Studies > Film

With their lavish costumes and sets, ebullient song and dance numbers, and iconic movie stars, the musicals that mgm produced in the 1940s seem today to epitomize camp. Yet they were originally made to appeal to broad, mainstream audiences. In this lively, nuanced, and provocative reassessment of the mgm musical, Steven Cohan argues that this seeming incongruity—between the camp value and popular appreciation of these musicals—is not as contradictory as it seems. He demonstrates that the films’ extravagance and queerness were deliberate elements and keys to their popular success.

In addition to examining the spectatorship of the mgm musical, Cohan investigates the genre’s production and marketing, paying particular attention to the studio’s employment of a largely gay workforce of artists and craftspeople. He reflects on the role of the female stars—including Judy Garland, Debbie Reynolds, Esther Williams, and Lena Horne—and he explores the complex relationship between Gene Kelley’s dancing and his masculine persona. Cohan looks at how, in the decades since the 1950s, the marketing and reception of the mgm musical have negotiated the more publicly recognized camp value attached to the films. He considers the status of Singin’ in the Rain as perhaps the first film to be widely embraced as camp; the repackaging of the musicals as nostalgia and camp in the That’s Entertainment! series as well as on home video and cable; and the debates about Garland’s legendary gay appeal among her fans on the Internet. By establishing camp as central to the genre, Incongruous Entertainment provides a new way of looking at the musical.


“[S]hould delight film fans who feel that for too long, they too have viewed from the margins.” — Jaime S. Ong, Screening the Past

“The arrival of Cohan’s book is not just welcome but necessary. At a time when films like De-Lovely, the odious film adaptation of the musical version of The Producers, and the cretinously overrated Once signal the return of the musical but not a return of queer signification to camp, Incongruous Entertainment can take many cultural laborers to school.” — Kevin John Bozelka, Velvet Light Trap

“[T]his is a worthy book: the author provides insightful analyses of the star texts and of such films as Singin' in the Rain. In his final chapter, Cohan provides a fascinating history of the Web sites dedicated to Garland and the reactions on those sites to the various television biographies of the star, who is a gay icon. Recommended.” — W. A. Vincent, Choice

“Cohan meticulously supports his argument with detailed examples while eloquently and often humorously bringing the musicals and their stars to life. Both fans and novices are invited to rethink the political import of the MGM musicals from the studio era through the present. . . . Because of Cohan's revisionist scholarship, this book is also an essential read for anyone who studies camp and musicals.” — Leah Perry, Journal of Popular Culture

“For as ‘entertainment’ is not exactly the word one would typically use to describe academic writing, Cohan proves to be an exception, as his scholarship, like any good musical, smoothly blends theory and fandom, camp and culture, into a fascinating, elegant composition.” — Tiffany Gilbert, Virginia Quarterly Review

“The book’s strength is [Cohan’s] take on the essence of gay camp, via a careful analysis of scenes from the musicals. . . .” — Jennifer Judkins, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism

“What makes Cohan’s arguments all the more convincing is the way he has been able to contrast the cultural knowledge, and therefore interpretations, of the historical periods in question, with the cultural productivity of later periods, which acted to re-interpret and re-invent the meaning of the MGM musical.” — Evelyn Hartogh, M/C Reviews

"Steve Cohan . . . presents his readers with more insights, theory, facts, figures, and just odd common sense than could even fit on a back-lot sound stage in the old MGM studios. . . . [T]here's . . . enough here for the common reader and any queen who loves these films. . . . Cohan makes these movies more entertaining and meaningful than ever before. Incongruous Entertainment is smart, fun, and unique." — Michael Bronski, The Guide

“Steven Cohan’s scholarship is impeccable and his writing elegant and witty. He pulls together all the previous approaches to camp and uses them to explore the mgm musical and its stars from every angle I could think of—and a few I would never have thought of.” — Alexander Doty, author of Flaming Classics: Queering the Film Canon

“Steven Cohan’s Incongruous Entertainment brings together two fascinating subjects—camp and the musical—that are often casually linked but have never been explored as carefully and usefully as they are here.” — Pamela Robertson Wojcik, author of Guilty Pleasures: Feminist Camp from Mae West to Madonna


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Price: $29.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Steven Cohan is Professor of English at Syracuse University. He is the author of Masked Men: Masculinity and the Movies in the Fifties; the editor of Hollywood Musicals: The Film Reader; and a coeditor of The Road Movie Book and Screening the Male: Exploring Masculinities in Hollywood Cinema.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction 1

1. Improbable Stuff: Camp and the MGM House Style 41

2. The Lady is a Camp: Glamour, Star Turns, and the Boys in the Chorus 88

3. Dancing with Balls: Sissies, Sailors, and the Camp Masculinity of Gene Kelly 149

4. What a Glorious Classic: Singin’ in the Rain and Mass-Camp Recycling 200

5. Hollywood’s Most Precious Jewels: The MGM Musical’s Return As a Camp Commodity 246

6. Judy on the Net: Garland, Camp, and Contemporary Fandom 287

Conclusion 337

Notes 343

Works Cited 353

Index 361
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3595-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3557-3
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