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

Diversity Follies

Here's what I saw on TV last week: Good-looking, doe-eyed white youngster to his good-looking, doe-eyed sister: "It's not like I'm still in the closet. Dad already knows I'm gay." Click. Black guy in suit to white guy in suit: "This is important. I want to show the gay community that I stand out here at city hall." Click. Blue-shirted white man in restaurant, to Brad Pitt look-alike across the table: "Did you see that guy flirting with me?" Friend: "Why don't you ask him out? What, gay guys don't date?" Click. Male mayor, fondling Washington Monument paperweight, to female aide: "Is there anything about me that seems gay?" Laughter. Click. High school football player in full makeup under his helmet, surrounded by other football players in full makeup under their helmets, to player on the opposing team: "Try to find the homo now !" Click. It's certainly not hard to find the homo, which is a great relief if you've previously been mostly invisible at the center of American culture, but...

Other People's Money

It is not without significance that the title of the hit TV show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire contains no question mark. It's not so much a challenge as a chipper invitation, as in, "Who wants candy." Not only does the show correctly assume that everybody wants to be a millionaire--what's not to want?--but, more importantly, it suggests that anybody can be. This well-lit re-enactment of the American dream is especially dramatic in a time of such enormous disparity between the obscenely rich and everybody else. The people on the bottom end no doubt know exactly how entertaining that fact is, but a large number of reasonably comfortable people are ready to dream without question marks. It's an extraordinarily profitable dream for ABC and the Disney Corporation, of course, which since importing Millionaire from England with modest expectations have watched it consistently take top-10 slots in Nielsen's prime-time ratings--five or six of them, some weeks. No TV...

The Culture Wars

By far the most sensational moment of the Brooklyn Museum of Art's "Sensation" exhibit--more exciting than the shark in a tank, the mutant mannequin girls with penises coming out of their foreheads, or the stinky, bloody, maggot-infested cow's head; more thrilling than Mayor Giuliani's scripted obscenity attack or the museum's scripted First Amendment defense--was provided by Dennis Heiner, a 72-year-old retired teacher and devout Catholic. Heiner smuggled white latex paint into the museum in an empty hand-lotion container, slipped behind the plexiglass protecting Chris Ofili's elephant-dung-adorned The Holy Virgin Mary , squirted the painting, and smeared the paint around with his hands. Never mind that I actually found the piece quite beautiful, or that I mostly disapprove of defacing other people's creations; I found the act itself more stirring, disturbing, and passionate than either the exhibit or the choreographed battle of self-righteousness that spun around it. Dennis Heiner...

Psychic Friends Network

A liens are still poking around on television, though by now you'd think they'd have found what they were looking for, and God has certainly been holding His own on TV lately, what with angels and miracles and the like. But now, finally, dead people are making something of a play--or, rather, the people that dead people talk to and appear in front of and otherwise generally pester. On Saturday nights, they have their own network show, and with excellent patrons: X-Files producers, the directors of Gods and Monsters , The Shining , and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre , and even Steven Spielberg, whose DreamWorks Television is their home. The Others , a Sixth Sense knockoff/homage-- they see dead people! --debuted in February as NBC's highest-rated Saturday night premiere since 1996. The Others are a motley, Scooby-Doo -ish crew of New England psychics, each with his or her own particular skill, who band together to "help troubled souls see the light." There is Marian, a wide-eyed college...

First Person Singular

I 've always thought of my portraits as my own version of the Museum of Natural History," Errol Morris said a few years ago, "these very odd dioramas where you're trying to create some foreign exotic environment and put it on display." Those portraits--in nonfiction films such as Gates of Heaven , The Thin Blue Line , A Brief History of Time , Fast, Cheap & Out of Control , and the recent Mr. Death --have also put on display the brilliant, deadpan Morris sensibility: the bespectacled egghead happily marooned on Tabloid Island. This is a man, after all, who unsuccessfully proposed to the Department of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was once a graduate student, a thesis on the insanity plea, a group of Wisconsin serial killers, and monster movies. He has described his films as being about "epistemic concerns: how do we come by certain kinds of knowledge," while his first filmed interview question elicited the wonderful statement, "Trooper was the kind...

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