Publication Details

Davidson, G. R. "‘Just a couple of fags’: Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, and celebrity feud." Celebrity Studies 7 .3 (2016): 293-308


This article argues that the long-running feud between the two celebrity authors Truman Capote and Gore Vidal indicates a crucial shift in the nature of literary celebrity from the 1940s to the 1970s. At its commencement, the feud was about competition for literary fame and the respective literary talent of the two authors. It thus indicated the seriousness and the prestige that American culture accorded literature and how American literary celebrity differed from other forms of celebrity in its emphasis on what Loren Glass calls 'individual authorial consciousness'. But as the decades passed, literary achievement was increasingly sidelined by entertaining one-liners issued by one writer against the other on TV talk shows and in the press, indicating the diminution of literary seriousness that is concomitant with the absorption of literary celebrity into postmodern media culture. I contend that Capote and Vidal's divergent embodiments of homosexual identity were inextricably related to this shift. The two writers embodied contrasting versions of celebrity homosexuality in a period before it was common for public figures to acknowledge queer identification, with Capote's defiant effeminacy offsetting Vidal's patrician masculinity. Vidal's attacks on Capote are not only about literary talent but also about the way Capote's effeminate homosexuality affronted the normatively masculine homosexuality that Vidal strove to promote. Yet the two writers adopted similar camp performative strategies to prosecute the feud - above all, the arch putdown. The campness of the feud, I argue, fed into the decreased authority of literary celebrity in postmodern culture.

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