Aspirational circus glamour: rethinking the circus grotesque through female aerialists of the interwar period
Early Popular Visual Culture
Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
© 2017 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/ licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited
In this article, the author challenges the designation of circus and circus disciplines, including aerial performance, as grotesque (Bakhtin 1984; Russo 1994). The term ‘glamour’ was used in interwar newspaper reports and more accurately describes circus in this period. The fundamental difference between the two concepts relies on the experience generated in the audience: glamour is aspirational whereas the grotesque provokes derision. It is likely they have been confused by scholars because both rely on transformation, excess and transgression. The author discusses these three principles to conclude how circus glamour works differently from the grotesque, including how glamour pushes at the boundaries of what is acceptable within the dominant culture rather than upturning the established order. The most aspirational of circus stars of the 1920s was the female aerialist whose aerial movement inspired a positive fantasy within audience members. By analysing aerial action alongside newspaper reports, memoirs, and publicity images that glorified aerialists Lillian Leitzel and Luisita Leers, the author argues that aerialists generated and were protected by affluent circus glamour.
Doctoral research was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council [grant number 1357957] and was supported by the STR’s Anthony Denning Award 2015.
This is the accepted author manuscript. The final version is available from Taylor & Francis via the DOI in this record.
Vol. 15 (3), pp. 299-314