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James Baldwin and the 1980sWitnessing the Reagan Era$
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Joseph Vogel

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780252041747

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252041747.001.0001

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Freaks in the Reagan Era

Freaks in the Reagan Era

Androgyny and the American Ideal of Manhood

(p.49) 2 Freaks in the Reagan Era
James Baldwin and the 1980s

Joseph Vogel

University of Illinois Press

This chapter draws on Baldwin’s 1985 essay, “Freaks and the American Ideal of Manhood,” to examine how the Reagan-era ideal of masculinity was delineated and contested in popular culture. By the 1980s, Baldwin contends, Americans continued to cling to an ideal of masculinity “so paralytically infantile that it is virtually forbidden—as an unpatriotic act—that the American boy evolve into the complexity of manhood.” The chapter situates Baldwin’s essay in its historical moment, considering the rise and backlash to androgynous black “crossover” artists such as Michael Jackson and Prince, and the challenges they posed to the decade’s more traditional representations of American manhood (among them, Reagan, Rambo, and Bruce Springsteen).

Keywords:   James Baldwin, Androgyny, Freaks, Manhood, Masculinity, Sexuality, 1980s, Michael Jackson, Prince, Ronald Reagan

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