Joshua Gamson

Joshua Gamson is a professor of sociology at University of San Fransisco and author of Freaks Talk Back and Claims to Fame.

Recent Articles

Performance Art: The Gods of Shopping

I t is no secret that shopping and religion are close relatives in America -- money is God, God is heavily marketed, and then there's "Christian rock" -- but it sure does help to be reminded sometimes. Not surprisingly, neither advertiser-driven media nor religious leaders like to make the connection. But every once in a while, out along the edges, someone else does to great effect, usually by satirizing self-appointed spiritual leaders whose God keeps telling them to solicit our cash and buy themselves a really fancy house. One of the latest such entries, Mrs. Betty Bowers (the creation of one Paul Bradley), touts herself as America's Best Christian, "so close to Jesus" that she knows His AOL password, shares His Delta SkyMiles, and has convinced Him to delay the Rapture until her hair grows out. He has blessed her with riches, social status, and excellent fashion sense. As she puts it, "If God created me in His image, I have more than returned the compliment." Betty also generously...

Tabloids: Elvis is Dead

O ne depends upon a tabloid like The National Enquirer , whether surreptitiously in the supermarket checkout line, or luxuriantly and unapologetically over a nice bowl of soup, to be sleazy in its journalistic style, juicy in its revelations, skewering in its attitudes toward celebrities' privileges, and worshipful toward their diets, addictions, recoveries, charitable activities, and alien visitations. It is therefore disappointing to find that The National Enquirer: Thirty Years of Unforgettable Images , the photograph collection recently published by Disney-owned Talk Miramax books, has been considerably sanitized for its appearance on coffee tables. Aside from the book's inside covers, the screaming, lovable headlines of the Enquirer ("Miss America in Weird Cult -- Brainwashed Members Even 'Baa' Like Sheep," "Dolly's Breasts are Killing Her," "Madonna Stole My Lesbian Lover") have been banished, replaced by straightforward, fact-riddled captions and congratulatory, curatorial...

The Web of Celebrity

I n August, Cindy Margolis kicked off The Cindy Margolis Show , a variety show taped in Miami's South Beach for Eyemark Entertainment, CBS's syndication wing. Margolis is a thirty-something former Cal State Northridge business student- turned-model who distinguished herself from other former business students-turned-models in the mid-1990s not so much through her appearances on greeting cards or as a "Barker's Beauty" on The Price is Right or a nipple-gunning "fembot" in Austin Powers as by launching an Internet site, CindyMargolis.com, featuring photos of her friendly, curvy self. She became, according to Guinness World Records 2000 , the Most Downloaded Woman in the world. She has her own calendar, has made guest appearances on sitcoms and Hollywood Squares and Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher , has chatted with David Letterman and Roseanne, and has hosted a series of specials on cable's E! channel; she was one of People magazine's 50...

Folktales

"I t's amazing how you always manage to work anal intercourse into the conversation," Debbie, the colorful waitress-with-a-heart-of-gold and suffocatingly supportive mother of one of the central characters on Showtime's Queer as Folk (premiering December 3), says to her son and his friends. Indeed, the first few of the 22 episodes of the show--an American adaptation of last year's controversial hit British series--feature references not just to anal intercourse, but also to rimming, nipple play, "dykes going down on each other," the protein content of semen, a porn movie called Schindler's Fist , Internet strippers, "a guy with Brazilian beach parasites in his ass," tops and bottoms, erections, and butt plugs. It features simulations of backroom sex, steam room sex, bathroom stall sex, shower sex, hospital sex, locker room sex, and bedroom sex; male-male hand jobs and blow jobs abound, and there's even some lesbian sex. Queer is clearly Showtime's "shocking-er than...

Double Agents

I n 1996 the Central Intelligence Agency, having taken many well-deserved public-relations hits over the years, hired a full-time "entertainment liaison officer"--a veteran paramilitary operative with the movie-hero name of Chase Brandon. Until September 11, the strategy seemed to be paying off. The CIA was set to star in three new network series: ABC's Alias would center on a gorgeous, kickboxing grad student/secret agent who would give the agency's image girl-power oomph. The Agency, on CBS, would offer a big, earnest salute to American spies, inviting viewers to "step inside the secret world of the CIA." And Fox's 24 would take an entire TV season to depict a single day in the lives of a team of CIA agents trying to thwart an assassination attempt. The CIA was very cooperative, allowing some filming in its Virginia headquarters, providing agency seals for interior sets, even looking over a rough draft of the CBS pilot. "The popular image of us is of some kind of rogue organization...

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