Twilight of the Demimonde: Queer and Bohemian Radicalism and the “Liberation” of the Black Market Economy in Greenwich Village

Saturday, January 7, 2012: 9:00 AM
Michigan Room A (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Christopher Adam Mitchell, Rutgers University-Newark
Greenwich Village has occupied the geographic and cultural crossroads of U.S. bohemian and queer culture throughout the twentieth century. With their laissez-faire approach to art and pleasure, not to mention a strong preference for aesthetics over affluence, Villagers responded to rising instances of Lavender and Red Scare censorship and police intrusion with strategies of collusion with corrupt police officers, organized crime, and a general if discreet disregard for the law.  These tactics transformed the Village into a black market culture of “deviants” and “subversives” that, by the end of the sixties, had fallen deeply into crisis. This paper examines the links between bohemian and queer social networks in the context of the demise of a black-market culture of illicit bars, shops, theaters, and street trade in the late sixties. Prominent images of this world include Joe Cino’s illegal theater on Cornelia Street, sex worker cum revolutionary artist Valerie Solanas in Washington Square Park, and the iconic Stonewall Inn operated by the Genovese crime syndicate. I will explore how radical queer activism politicized Greenwich Village’s artistic networks, prompted the exodus of organized crime, and initiated reform in local policing and planning policies. Although the late sixties heralded queer and artistic liberation, these strategies also weakened the black market on which bohemian and queer cultures depended. Ironically, the politicization of artistic and queer networks inaugurated an (on-going) era of gentrification in Greenwich Village in which significant portions of both the queer and bohemian communities resettled east of Broadway and north of 14th Street. By examining first-hand, contemporary accounts of artists, activists, and police, I will account for the costs and benefits of an ostensible “liberation” that has fundamentally altered the cultural and economic make-up of the Village––particularly along lines of race, class, and gender––and inspired numerous other queer community liberations.
Previous Presentation | Next Presentation >>