Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Fierce: Performance, Creativity, and the Theory of the Fabulous Class
by Moore, Madison, Ph.D., Yale University, 2012, 339; 3535383
Abstract (Summary)

What does it mean to be fabulous? My dissertation seeks to answer this question by examining performances of fabulousness – performances that occur in everyday life as well as across other mediated forms – in America during the second half of the 20th century. Moving beyond studies that consistently describe an interest in the surface of fashion and self-styling as rooted in pointless vanity, deception, and the search for status, studies which also insist on the emptiness of appearances, I argue that fabulousness is an enabling type of performance that allows marginalized groups, among others, to assert themselves through radical self-styling. Fabulous presentations of self in everyday life are activated by the specific rejection of normative ways of looking. My term for the aesthetic rejection of these normative patterns is "fierceness." Exemplified by the explosive stage presence of Tina Turner as well as by the way voguers in the queer black and Latino house ball community work the dance floor, fierceness is a disruptive strategy of self-presentation that demands to be acknowledged the second it is experienced. The importance of fierceness is key in light of the fact that bodies at the margins – any margins – are regularly invisible. My dissertation discovers instances of both fierceness and fabulousness and mines their implications in nightclub settings, on stage, on the sidewalk, and in the store, all large scale social spaces built for the reciprocal exchange of the gaze.

By theorizing fabulousness as an enabling, disruptive mode of performance rooted in the expression of creativity, a type of performance that can be located across time and social contexts, "Fierce" thus intervenes in the debates about how art and beauty are created in states of duress that have long dominated cultural studies. But it expands the scope of this debate by challenging an approach that has largely overlooked the importance of creativity within these communities, even if the aesthetic does not or cannot wholly alleviate that duress. By combining close-readings of fashion with theories of appearance, I analyze how appearance has innate creative, liberating potential. Performers of fabulousness reveal the pleasure of making the self, and of using the body as a mode of expression. To combine the interdisciplinary methodologies of performance studies and American studies in an examination of fabulous appearances in the latter half of the 20th century is not only to raise new questions about queerness, art, and self-making; it is also to realize that appearance emerges out of a creative, expressive need.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Roach, Joseph
Commitee: Brooks, Daphne, McGinley, Paige
School: Yale University
Department: American Studies
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 74/05(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American studies, LGBTQ studies, Performing Arts
Keywords: Creativity, Fabulousness, Fierceness, Nightclubs, Performances, Self-atyling
Publication Number: 3535383
ISBN: 978-1-267-85663-0
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