“Avenge Oscar Wilde”

This might be a weird end of the semester post. Still, I think the cultural phenomenon of stickers is a fascinating way to understand the popular perception of celebrities, such as bands, writers, or characters. Stickers are a way to identify your interests, from slapping them onto your water bottle to your laptop for everyone’s viewing consumption. Professor Kinyon’s approach to modernity can be framed in the sense of stickers because they are a very modern or “Gen Z” type thing—simply walk into a classroom and spot everyone’s laptops littered with the stickers, showing off their interests to the world. One day, I looked up Oscar Wilde stickers on popular websites out of curiosity, such as Etsy and Redbubble, and an interesting phrase popped up: “Avenge Oscar Wilde” (https://www.redbubble.com/i/sticker/avenge-oscar-wilde-by-dangerdancing2/43456543.EJUG5).

            The way we talk about writers from the past now highlights the cultural shifts, from Victorian to the aesthetes to the contemporary environment we are currently living. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, avenge means: “to take vengeance, inflict retributive punishment, exact satisfaction, or retaliate, on behalf of (an injured person, violated right, etc.).” Avenge is an intriguing word in the context of Wilde’s charge for gross indecency. It implies that the charge was a wrongdoing and that Wilde was a person who was violated by the legal system and their punishment for his queer identity (and arguably his subversive views on art being put on trial). I think the frame of avenging Oscar Wilde carries on his history of prison reform, the primary topic of my paper. But at the same time, I believe this vague phrase of avenging Oscar Wilde is more in the context of his identity as a queer man, which we have talked about a lot over the past semester, and how we label him a “homosexual” when those labels did not exist at the time. The prison wronged Wilde for his queer identity. Looking into the modern future, where being queer is still subject to hate crimes, microaggressions, stereotypes, and other similar things, Wilde still would not be prosecuted for his crimes today. The sticker assumes that by continuing to fight against a largely homophobic and heteronormative society, one will “avenge Oscar Wilde.”

2 thoughts on ““Avenge Oscar Wilde””

  1. I was really interested by the phrase “avenge Oscar Wilde.” It seems clear what it means and you did a great job contextualizing it, but I wondered where that phrase originated or if we can even know something like that. In an attempt to answer that question for myself, I did some brief googling and stumbled across this article: https://www.vox.com/identities/2017/9/14/16290048/new-york-oscar-wilde-temple-lgbtq-mcdermott-mcgough. Although not the focal point of the article, it is pointed out that the phrase “Avenge Oscar Wilde” was a “mantra of LGBTQ liberation” in the 1970s. That aligns with some of what we’ve been talking about in terms of how people throughout history have taken to understanding Wilde and the way in which he became an icon for the queer liberation movement.
    Unrelated to the current discussion but related to the article, I think it’s interesting that a church in NYC would create what they call a “temple” to Oscar Wilde. It reminded me of the way that he connected himself to Christ in De Profundis. In a way, people have done the same thing by treating him like a martyr.

  2. I first read “avenge” as “average,” and I was like, “What does ‘Average Oscar Wilde’ mean?” But then I got to the second paragraph and I understood lol. I think it’s interesting that you say that fighting against a homophobic society will “avenge Oscar Wilde.” I also kind of think that what we’re doing in this class is “avenging Oscar Wilde.” For so many years, his work was studied without his queerness being discussed, and in this class, Wilde’s queerness is at the forefront. I also think this class “avenges” by looking at him in a more nuanced way. As you mention in your post, a lot of people label him as “homosexual” when the identity didn’t exist, so when we take a more nuanced look at Wilde in this class, I think that’s kind of avenging him as well. It’s cool that we can look at his work through a queer lens when queerness wasn’t accepted at the time.

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