Southern Backwardness: Metronormativity and Regional Visual Culture
Vol. 48, No. 2: Summer 2007

How to Cite

Herring, S. (2007). Southern Backwardness: Metronormativity and Regional Visual Culture. American Studies, 48(2), 37-48.


Since the early 1980s, visual artist Michael Meads has photographed numerous white working-class males who reside in his rural hometown of Eastaboga, Alabama, and he has often displayed these images under the installation title Eastaboga. In 2002, Meads gathered many of these photos together and reprinted them on his personal website, Alabama Souvenirs. These images have sparked commentary from major urban-oriented gay newspapers, websites, and magazines that normalized Meads’ images by situating them into the ready-made sexual identity-categories of metropolitan middle-class gay males, and by placing them into an elitist canon of Western white “gay” male art. This essay looks at how Meads disrupts this standardizing project by focusing on how his anachronistic incarnations undermine the thrust of what one critic has termed urban “sexual assimilation” in the late twentieth-century United States. To do so, I first examine some of Meads’ invocations of the gay male art canon in the opening windows of his website. Second, I read Alabama Souvenirs as an appropriative dialogue with earlier gay male art icons such as Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden’s turn-of-the-century pictorials of southern Mediterranean boys. Third, I address how his appropriations distort a canon of (white) visual art that affirms the presumed artistic “heritage” of many metro-identified gay male cultures in the 1980s, the 1990s, and in the early twenty-first century.

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