As a result of my obsession with Marilyn Monroe, I found my way into learning about Andy Warhol because of his iconic pop print. However, I also found myself drawn to him more and more because of his queerness. So to dig more into his brilliant mind, I read Warhol by Blake Gopnik while watching “The Andy Warhol Diaries” on Netflix.
The Warhol biography was interesting to read, but was insanely lengthy. While I appreciated learning about intimate details of his life and influences, I did find myself often skimming through some fluff for sure. I definitely have some critiques about the way the author wrote, specifically in the way he acted as if he was the sole holder of all the correct information. He often phased things like, ‘Andy was described as X, Y, and Z by his closest friends, but it was actually quite the opposite!’ – which was really annoying. Andy was a complex human who can exist in spaces of contradiction and hypocrisy, and I would be reluctant to make such solid statements about him, ever.
The book also projects Andy as more gay than Netflix series indicates, even though the diaries come directly from Andy’s words. Andy was thought to have left a lot of mystery surrounding his personal life, and was clearly in the gay scene but often identified as asexual. The author definitely pushes Andy’s sexuality to a more promiscuous side and invalidates his use of the term asexual to describe himself. I disagree with this, as sexuality is full of many spectrums that I do not believe the cis/straight author understood. Just because Andy had sexual experiences and even partners does not mean he was not on the spectrum of asexuality – especially considering the lack of knowledge at the time around demisexuality.
The approach to Andy’s sexuality was one reason that I now firmly believe that gay stories should be written by gay people, but the author confirmed this more with his incorrect use of terminology. While there may have been outdated terms that Andy used freely in the 60’s and 70’s, this book was published in 2020, and a queer person would have known that we don’t use certain terms to describe members of the trans community in this day and age.
*Trigger warning*: I’m also concerned with the author’s casual approach to subjects like rape and child pornography as potential subjects in the Warhol art world. Andy often dipped into the adult film industry with his movies, and the subject matter was often problematic. There were films made where sexual assaults were acted out, which was said to have made a political statement, but I don’t agree with this type of artistic expression. He also unfortunately featured teenagers in a few of his adult films, which the author not only did not deem clearly problematic but also cannot fully understand the reason behind these actors even being in Andy’s orbit.
Young kids often found their way to New York City after being kicked out of their homes by their own parents just for being gay or trans, and these kids could be as young as 12 or 13. They found each other in underground spaces, and in their teenage years, they end up with crowds that frequent places like Andy Warhol’s Factory or Studio 54. Because they’re now with the “in” crowd, they get into clubs despite how young they are, and age goes out the window. Mature individuals were often seen scanning through the younger selections of actors and models, who go with them in hopes of making it big. This situation is of course layered and complicated, because queer spaces are so important, and kids don’t need to be on the street. But this also led to predatory behavior as well as acceptance in areas that were not actually appropriate for people of this age – like adult videos.
My last critique is that the book hardly really mentions Andy’s iconic documentary “The Queen”, where he follows a drag queen pageant that ends in dramatics when a contestant is extremely unhappy with the results of the competition. Because of how much I loved this documentary, I was disappointed to not even have it mentioned in the book by name, but rather just referenced in one quick paragraph. As lengthy as the book was, maybe this film got bumped to the side because it was released the same year that he was shot by Valarie Solanas.
The Valarie Solanas story is so wild and random that it almost seems made up, and was even created as a plot point for “American Horror Story: Cult”. While Ryan Murphy depicted Valarie Solanas as a mentally disturbed feminist extremist, he may not have been that far off. She was an obvious eccentric, obsessed with her SCUM Manifesto (Society for Cutting Up Men), and determined to get famous. She figured the best way to do this would be to shoot Andy Warhol, though he didn’t really do anything to earn her violence in his direction. Valarie was a part of The Factory scene, Andy was relatively inclusive to women, and they could have been allies to each other as members of the queer community. Instead though, Valarie changed the course of Andy’s life, as many note that he was very different after his recovery from her bullet.
The thing that I admire most about Andy Warhol was his ability to adapt to whatever way the world is changing without fear of failure. He wasn’t afraid to change his tune or image, he was unapologetic, and he was always reinventing himself in a way that still stayed within his character. His work across a dynamic range of mediums lives on as legendary, and I celebrate the influence he has had on the world.
But again, my biggest conclusion is this: gay stories should be written by gay people.
Thanks for reading!