[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-Florida]: Nooe on Watkins III, 'Queering the Redneck Riviera: Sexuality and the Rise of Florida Tourism'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Sat Feb 29 18:01:15 MST 2020

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Andrew Stewart 
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Begin forwarded message:

> From: H-Net Staff via H-REVIEW <h-review at lists.h-net.org>
> Date: February 29, 2020 at 7:37:10 PM EST
> To: h-review at lists.h-net.org
> Cc: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.org>
> Subject: H-Net Review [H-Florida]:  Nooe on Watkins III, 'Queering the Redneck Riviera: Sexuality and the Rise of Florida Tourism'
> Reply-To: h-review at lists.h-net.org
> Jerry T. Watkins III.  Queering the Redneck Riviera: Sexuality and 
> the Rise of Florida Tourism.  Gainesville  University Press of 
> Florida, 2018.  Illustrations. 202 pp.  $79.95 (cloth), ISBN 
> 978-0-8130-5691-3.
> Reviewed by F. Evan Nooe (University of North Carolina, Charlotte)
> Published on H-Florida (February, 2020)
> Commissioned by Jeanine A. Clark Bremer
> Queer Networks in Florida's Panhandle Tourist Economy
> Modern Florida and tourism are likely synonymous in the minds of many 
> Americans. For more than a century, state leaders and entrepreneurial 
> boosters have presented the state to potential visitors as an exotic 
> recreational paradise with no need of a passport. South Florida 
> quickly became a destination for the rich bolstered by business 
> tycoons and railways rushing down the Atlantic coast of the state. By 
> the second half of the twentieth century, modernizing forces expanded 
> the accessibility of Florida as a tourist destination for the average 
> American. State and federal governments improved roadways across the 
> nation. Americans had a greater potential to own their own 
> automobile. The rising prosperity of the middle class meant that more 
> families had discretionary income to spend on recreational services 
> and experiences relative to any prior point in the century. While 
> long-established tourist destinations in Florida such as St. 
> Augustine and South Florida benefited from post-World War II 
> affluence, new vacation areas of the state aimed to capitalize on the 
> broadening class of tourist. The Florida Panhandle, while certainly 
> appealing to visitors as early as the late 1890s, experienced a 
> marked surge as a tourist destination during the mid-twentieth 
> century. Middle-class families from predominately southern states 
> traveled by personal automobile across newly built interstate 
> highways to reach such beach towns as Pensacola and Panama City. Due 
> to the region's popularity among white southern tourists and a 
> general association with the area as Florida's backwaters, the 
> Florida Panhandle became colloquially known as "The Redneck Riviera." 
> Author of _Queering the Redneck Riviera: Sexuality and the Rise of 
> Florida Tourism_ Jerry T. Watkins III aims to provide a corrective to 
> current scholarship on tourism in the Florida Panhandle by recovering 
> the concealed and erased past of a queer presence and the importance 
> of queer geographies (both specific places and movement) in the 
> region's touristic pursuits. Watkins argues that gay men, lesbians, 
> and otherwise queer locals and visitors to the Florida Panhandle used 
> the burgeoning tourist economy to their own benefit and ultimately 
> led to the creation of "a very queer Redneck Riviera." Through their 
> leisure spending, Watkins argues, LGBTQ people established their 
> communities and social networks as an essential part of the region, 
> and acknowledging their past and impact offers a more complete 
> account of the region and the area's developing tourist economy. 
> Watkins sums up his point concisely stating that "placing the queer 
> at the center of this story exposes the unique interactions of 
> capitalism, tourism, sexuality, and space" (p. 9). 
> In demonstrating the importance of a queer community to tourism in 
> the Florida Panhandle, Watkins takes a roughly chronological approach 
> focused on the second half of the twentieth century by examining the 
> cities of Panama City, Pensacola, and Tallahassee. Chapter 1 has the 
> broadest conceptual breadth by looking at the crafting of Florida 
> tourism as a commercialized commodity through the branding of the 
> Sunshine State. Watkins builds on the well-known argument that the 
> image of the Sunshine State was deliberately crafted through 
> promotion to outsiders and advice for residents' display of 
> hospitality by adding that there was a "selective enforcement of 
> morality" in the Florida Panhandle by local and state authorities (p. 
> 17). For tourism boosters, a "family-friendly" Sunshine State had no 
> room for openly gay or lesbian residents or visitors and the state 
> actively persecuted perceived deviants. Chapter 2 is perhaps the 
> strongest part of Watkins's work and the most tightly focused section 
> resembling a microhistory. Here, Watkins evaluates the "unqueering" 
> of public space by investigating the arrest of twenty-six men in 
> October 1961 at a public restroom in Panama City and the fallout as 
> municipal officials sought to "crackdown on the most obvious site of 
> queer socialization" (p. 34). Not only did law enforcement arrest the 
> men, but the local newspapers also publicly shamed them in an effort 
> to demonstrate the community's efforts to clean up the city's 
> "homosexual problem" (p. 39). The following two chapters look more 
> broadly by shifting significant focus to Tallahassee to uncover the 
> development of queer social networks and demonstrate a transition to 
> a "liberation economy," or the start of queer-centric economic 
> enterprises that began to emerge from the confines of secrecy to a 
> more public expression. Queer locals and traveling southerners used 
> touristic spaces, Watkins argues, such as highways, bus stations, 
> hotels, lounges, and bars, to publicly socialize (though not without 
> risk) outside heteronormative expectations within an interconnected 
> queer geography. Chapters 5 and 6 examine the growth of a visible gay 
> community in the Panhandle that leveraged their impact on the tourist 
> economy to carve out queer spaces. Chapter 5 examines the importance 
> of the Emma Jones Society, one of the largest gay social clubs in the 
> country, according to Watkins, during the first half of the 1970s. 
> Chapter 6 is chronologically the broadest, spanning from the 1970s to 
> 1990s. It evaluates how gay and lesbian tourists crafted "The USA's 
> Gay Riviera" by focusing on the LGBTQ market forces involved in 
> Pensacola tourism (p. 131). 
> _Queering the Redneck Riviera_ aims to intertwine the histories of a 
> queer presence in the Florida Panhandle with the locale's ascendance 
> to a renowned tourist destination. In sum, Watkins's work is 
> admirable concerning the former but may leave some readers wanting 
> regarding the latter. Watkins's work excellently demonstrates the 
> presence and utility of queer geographies in the Florida Panhandle 
> and provides a valuable contribution as a local examination to LGBTQ 
> studies in the state and the American South. The author is able to 
> put LGBTQ print media to good use, incorporates interviews from 
> locals, and uses state records from the Florida Legislative 
> Investigation Committee to demonstrate the persistence of the gay 
> community in the Florida Panhandle. While largely seeing a narrative 
> of progress in terms of public acceptance and visibility, Watkins 
> demonstrates the nuances of periodic setbacks and endurance in the 
> face of open hostility across roughly half a century. However, his 
> work is limited to an examination of gay white men throughout. The 
> work does periodically make mention of lesbian social gatherings and 
> interracial contacts, noticeably among members of the Emma Jones 
> Society; however, the author admittedly sidesteps the confounding 
> issues, noting he hopes his work "will inspire future scholars to 
> write the histories of queer African Americans and lesbians in this 
> time and place" (p. 11). While the subject matter excellently 
> examines the experience of gay men in the area, the narrow focus 
> creates limitations to his framework of queer spaces that at times 
> assumes similar conclusions for a breadth of LGBTQ people not 
> directly examined throughout the text. 
> While not detracting from the work's successes and importance to 
> LGBTQ studies, the history of tourism and the author's framework for 
> tourists and touristic spaces frequently become placed in the 
> background and raises debatable interpretations of what should be 
> considered touristic spaces or simply the consequences of modern 
> changes in society. Such challenges are most prevalent in chapters 2 
> through 4 where the author investigates a state government-instigated 
> sting at a public bathroom and the inclusion of queer geographies of 
> Tallahassee as touristic space. In the aforementioned sting for 
> instance, only three of twenty-six men could be considered travelers 
> and labeling them tourists would be ambiguous. Such circumstances 
> make it challenging to demonstrate that a police raid on a public 
> restroom was done with tourism dollars in mind rather than simply 
> overzealous moral crusaders following through on pressure from 
> legislators in the state capital. It is also challenging to evaluate 
> queer spaces in Tallahassee as intertwined with Florida's rise as a 
> tourist destination. Much of what Watkins classifies as touristic 
> space in Tallahassee--a transportation hub and the state 
> capital--appears to lack a clear connection to leisure travel or the 
> city as a leisure destination. 
> Ultimately, Watkins has provided readers with an important work that 
> recovers local LGBTQ histories in the Florida Panhandle that were 
> once intentionally obfuscated. Readers interested in a local study 
> examining the queer experience will find Watkins's work revealing and 
> insightful. He provides a concise examination at around 150 pages and 
> draws connections to queer histories in the state of Florida and the 
> American South. His work provides an excellent complement to broader 
> works on Florida tourism and the Panhandle, such as Harvey H. Jackson 
> III's _The Rise of and Decline of the Redneck Riviera: An Insider's 
> History of the Florida-Alabama Coast_ (2012), Gary R. Mormino's _Land 
> of Sunshine, State of Dreams: A Social History of Modern Florida_ 
> (2005), and Tracy J. Revels's _Sunshine Paradise: A History of 
> Florida Tourism_ (2011). Readers with an interest in Florida's social 
> history, the modern South, or LGBTQ history will find the focused 
> examination in _Queering the Redneck Riviera_ a necessary addition to 
> fully understand the region's recent past. 
> Citation: F. Evan Nooe. Review of Watkins III, Jerry T., _Queering 
> the Redneck Riviera: Sexuality and the Rise of Florida Tourism_. 
> H-Florida, H-Net Reviews. February, 2020.
> URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=53655
> This work is licensed under a Creative Commons 
> Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States 
> License.

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