#16 Camp!

At long last, CAMP!

Kevin gets the first words on Sontag’s notes, Newton’s mothers, and Munoz’s sisters. Please also do yourself the favor of watching clips from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures, and Carmelita Tropicana.

and now here’s Kevin!

Generally speaking, Camp is a sensibility involving excessive style (think feather boas, theatricality); a lack of moral preoccupation; and a sarcastic, overbearingly fun, sense of humor. Famous actors can be campy, a lamp can be campy, but according to Newton no person or object is inherently campy. It all depends on the tension between the person or thing and it’s context. Whether that be a man-female tension or a profane-sacred tension.
With that said, LGBTQ culture is deeply linked with Camp through gender, role-playing, and moral ambiguity. Sontag only mentions this briefly (which Newton notices), but it adds another dimension to the work that Camp does. For example, in reviewing two Cuban-American queer performers of Camp (Ela Troyano and Carmelita Tropicana), Munoz says that, “The notion of camp I mine in this chapter is one in which ‘camp’ is understood not only as a strategy of representation, but also as a mode of enacting self against the pressures of the dominant culture’s identity-denying protocols” (Munoz 120). Newton writes on similar ideas of resistance, remarking how role-playing and the idea of ‘life as theater’ (prominent fixtures of Camp) are based on queer people having to pass for straight in the public sphere. And because of the stigma with being gay, Camp is inherently ambiguous when it comes to morality. Camp incorporates all these identity issues of queer culture and uses humor and an expressive style to flaunt their resistance of dominant culture.
Sontag avoids talking about queer culture for the majority of her essay, though, and speaks about the more artistic qualities of Camp. For her, Camp contains a sort of “fantasy” and “unpretentiousness,” more heartwarming than Pop Art. The authors lovingly create their work (thus heartwarming), but forego the usual binaries of good/bad and offer other binaries. With stylization of the utmost importance and no moral binaries to account for, Sontag says that Camp lacks serious content, being more artificial. And it is this artificialness or stylization that makes Camp more apolitical and disengaged, according to Sontag.

Some questions to consider:

I was reminded of Nordau’s Fin-De-Siecle reading as I read Sontag’s piece. Just like Sontag, Nordau had to list examples to illustrate the idea of Fin-De-Siecle and it’s many incarnations, and just like Camp, Fin-De-Siecle is morally ambiguous, championing greed, passion, vulgarity, and decadence. Fin-De-Siecle, was heavily berated by Nordau, and seen as a depraved sort of mindset… so my question is, what is Camp trying to do and is it succeeding? Can people just see Camp as an over-the-top excess of aesthetics? Sontag even says that Camp tends to be bad: “The ultimate Camp statement: it’s good because it’s awful” (Sontag 13). But what does Camp do with that awfulness?

Kitsch and Camp? Munoz talks about this for a while, how both Kitsch and Camp recycle a past cultural construct, taking the discarded trashy ‘street rubbish,’ and turning it into a new symbol. I’m wondering, how far do the similarities go between Kitsch and Camp, and what’s the significance in their similarities?


3 thoughts on “#16 Camp!

  1. I think Caryl Flinn raises some really good questions at the end of her article, surrounding the use of gender in camp: “does the re-abjectification of the maternal body or the body of the movie star glamour in conventional camp practices essentialize heterosexual women as grotesque, bad objects? How does it articulate an anxiety of lesbian and other non-heterosexual forms of motherhood?” (Page 451). While camp makes frivolous our seriousness and plays with constructed gender norms, Flinn suggests that it does so at the expense of women, whose bodies are portrayed as over-sexed, aging and laughable. Her argument raises interesting points about the gendered nature of camp, and what the implications are for women and also for the queer community. Mainly, is the campy portrayal problematic?

  2. I think Maddie brings up an interesting point. Camp is supposed to be humorous and fun but it does seem as though that fun is used to cover up real issues. Newton says, “Camp humor is a system of laughing at one’s incongruous position instead of crying” (109). Campy humor is not innocent fun so much as it is humor in the face of seriousness. It can be used to laugh away what would make you cry but as Maddie says it could be doing so at the expense of real issues, and end up doing more harm than good.

  3. I think the big difference between camp and fin-de-siecle is the degree of intentionality. If I recall correctly, Nordau portrayed fin-de-siecle people and cultures as being completely unaware of their own bad taste and unoriginality. Because of this, I see a stronger connection between fin-de-siecle and poshlost, because they both lack a certain kind of self-awareness which I think is essential to camp. Like fin-de-siecle, camp is defined by artifice, but camp fully embraces it, whereas fin-de-siecle itself comes from actively trying to avoid it.

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