From Josephine Baker to Judy Garland to Elton John, the figure of the diva occupies a fascinating place in American culture. This special issue of Camera Obscura
explores the impact of divas (and divos) in film and popular culture and considers their fraught psychic and social positioning. Contributors examine how divas are frequently portrayed as both victims and villains and how they can be figures of worship as well as of ridicule for their attempts to confront, transcend, or carve a new space within the patriarchal dominant culture. This collection looks at how divas cause “category trouble” by refusing to stay in their proper culturally assigned roles—gender, race, and class—in order to live life on their own terms, making them important figures for other groups at the margins of the dominant culture.
The contributors to Fabulous! Divas I (the first in a two-part series) address how Baker’s dual image as sexualized black woman and multicultural mother has been used to question and invert stereotypes, how the diva witches in the Broadway musical Wicked have developed a cult following among adolescent girls, and how fans mix irony and sincerity in their admiration of daytime soap divas. One contributor explores the cultural work of camp, while another considers hair as a fetish item for diva devotees. Among the diva appreciations are a look at the life of the cross-dressing black disco diva Sylvester, a reading of Garland as a lesbian diva par excellence, an examination of Courtney Love as a martyr diva, and a consideration of how loving Julie Andrews can make people queer.
Contributors. Alexander Doty, Brett Farmer, Joshua Gamson, Chuck Jackson, Ramon Lobato, Edward R. O’Neill, Ann Pellegrini, Julie Levine Russo, Nick Salvato, Jeanne Scheper, Edward Baron Turk, Stacy Wolf