The Wizard of Oz tells the story of a young girl, Dorothy, who is whisked away from her drab, boring, black and white town to the elaborate and extravagant land of Oz. In her anthem, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, Dorothy sings about wanting more than the life she has and asks “If happy little bluebirds fly, beyond the rainbow why, oh, why can’t I?”
What was thought to be a song of a young girl dreaming for a bigger life became an anthem for an entire community looking for someone to guide their way out of the shadows. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” became “an anthem of pain for homosexuals who perceived themselves as belonging to a despised minority.” (Brantley, 1994) Gay men everywhere began identifying with not only the song, but Dorothy herself, calling themselves “Friends of Dorothy.” Dorothy accepted people for being different hence her friendships with the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man. And following her character from the film, Judy in real life accepted people who were different. Judy Garland, the woman who played Dorothy, became an idol for the gay community. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, Judy Garland became the ultimate gay icon. She was relatable, she was human, and most of all she was camp. Camp, as defined by Babuscio, are the “elements in a person, situation, or activity that express, or are created by, a gay sensibility.” Camp was in every essence Garland. She was larger than life, over the top, and extravagant. Towards the end of her career, Judy began to fall apart, the drugs and alcohol become too much. But after all of that, her fans still loved her. In some way, her falling apart and displaying her struggles to the entire showed how human she was and that she knew how it felt to be the victim. To this day, Judy Garland is not an example of camp, Judy Garland is camp.
Judy Garland died on June 22, 1969, one week prior to the riots at Stonewall. Some state that there is a common factor between the two; that Garland’s death lead to high emotions and rage but no truth behind that facts have ever been proven. For those who believe this to be true, Garland’s death leading to Stonewall riots shows a critical turning point in the gay rights movement.
After Garland’s death, her legacy continued on through her song that started it all, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” The community continued identifying with the song and making their own renditions to keep it alive.
The song gives them power. Identifying with something bigger than themselves. After all, isn’t that what Judy was? She was bigger than life!
I think all of this, identifying with the song and “Friends of Judy” exemplifies a sense of world-making, a notion brought forth by Berlant & Warner (1998). To them, world-making is more than what is just evident in the public. It’s what you make of intimacies; it highlight that inventiveness of the queer world, as well as the fragility of it. World-making is building a community where you feel at home, and in an essence Judy gave that to the gay community. She showed that it’s okay to be human and makes mistakes. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” continues to be an anthem for the gay community, and I believe it always will. It will always be a sense of hope. Judy will be a sense of hope.
On a final side note, I believe that it is not a coincidence that the flag for the gay community happens to be a rainbow flag. Even Gilbert Baker, the creator of the LGBT flag, gives some credit to Judy. No matter what, Judy will always be “over the rainbow.” (corny I know, but I couldn’t not put it.)