“Camp TV: Trans Gender Queer Sitcom History” by Quinlan Miller— Camp Currents of TV in the 50s and 60s

Miller, Quinlan. “Camp TV: Trans Gender Queer Sitcom History”,  Duke University Press, 2019.

Camp Currents of TV in the 50s and 60s

 Amos Lassen     

Television in the 50s and 60s was very different than what it is today and looking back, many people see depictions of gender roles and attitudes toward sex as conformist but now we have a different take from Quinlan Miller who presents a new look at television history in this country and shows that camp was there and evident. He looks at the iconic shows such as “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and the more obscure sitcoms such as “The Ugliest Girl in Town”. He shows that shifts in the industry along with the coalescence of straightness and whiteness became visible when vaudevillian camp began its decline and the sitcoms of the period were full of gender nonconformity and queer representation. Characters appeared in supporting roles or as guests  and camp became highly regarded and in fact played a very important role in queerness on TV (Remember Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly who got away with a lot more than what we see on TV today—-we could laugh back then but to do so today makes us politically and behaviorally incorrect. Miller gives us new ways to see how popular media which was supposedly repressive actually used queer, genderqueer and transgender characters thus giving them representation on the small screen.

This is a valuable rethinking of the way things were both theoretically and historically. We get a more nuanced sense of the social world that was being made visible on television—”one in which trans figures were a significant element—than previous media scholarship has allowed.”

This is also a  very  corrective account of the multiple gendered and erotic sounds and images that made up the sitcom and a “powerful study of the camp currents of 1950s’ and 1960s’ American television comedy.” Quinlan Miller argues passionately for wants a corrective account of the many gendered and erotic sounds and images that made up the key evolutionary moment in the show that  we now know as the sitcom.

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