The #MetGala & the History and Study of Camp
Yesterday (May 6th) marked the 71st Met Gala and it did not disappoint. The event, which, don't forget, is actually a fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute, opened up the Museum's 2019 fashion exhibit entitled Camp: Notes on Fashion and the theme was put to task on the
red pink carpet. Superstar pop icons from all mediums turned looks and left many of us gagged and opened up the discussion about what Camp really means.
The Met specifically cites Susan Sontag's 1964 essay "Notes on 'Camp'" as the framework of the exhibition (opening May 9th) so it is worth grabbing a few quotes from that.
"Indeed the essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration...Camp is esoteric -- something of a private code, a badge of identity even, among small urban cliques."
"...the way of Camp, is not in terms of beauty, but in terms of the degree of artifice, of stylization."
"Camp is the triumph of the epicene style. (The convertibility of "man" and "woman," "person" and "thing.") But all style, that is, artifice, is, ultimately, epicene."(Sontag)
The reintroduction of Sontag's essay over 50 years later has allowed a new set of critical eyes to consider what has changed in the past five decades and, indeed, how her attempt to define it differed from that which proceeded her by over 50 years. According to the BBC's review of the Gala, "The first English definition of the term, which appeared in a 1909 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, conformed to popular, contemporary notions of camp: “ostentatious, exaggerated, affected, theatrical; effeminate or homosexual; pertaining to, characteristic of, homosexuals…”" (BBC). Think Oscar Wilde. Sontag herself noted that the term had somewhat transcended from something so closely attributed to homosexuality. “The hallmark of Camp is the spirit of extravagance,” she wrote. She also defined it as being playful, exaggerated, and often artificial. For her, Camp could also be "a woman walking around in a dress made of three million feathers.” (Sontag).
The most notable response to Sontag's essay was that of filmmaker and artist Bruce LaBruce. In 2015, he published Notes on Camp/Anti Camp which set categories that expanding on Sontag's own expanding of the term; most notably, Straight Camp, Liberal Camp, and Conservative Camp. LaBruce's essay also made the rounds again this week and in fact, speaks directly to reactions to the Met Gala remarkably well.
Those two essays are a great entry into the study of Camp but if you're interested in diving in a little bit further, might we recommend the following resources, all provided to you by the Library:
Lindsay, Richard A. Hollywood Biblical Epics?: Camp Spectacle and Queer Style from the Silent Era to the Modern Day. Praeger, 2015. eBook Collection, https://fairfield.primo.exlibrisgroup.com/discovery/fulldisplay?docid=alma991005272392904711&context=L&vid=01FUNI_INST:MAIN&search_scope=MyInst_and_CI&tab=Everything&lang=en
Wolf, John M. “Resurrecting Camp: Rethinking the Queer Sensibility.” Communication, Culture and Critique, vol. 6, no. 2, 2013, pp. 284–97, doi:10.1111/cccr.12007.
Barounis, Cynthia. “Witches, Terrorists, and the Biopolitics of Camp.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, vol. 24, no. 2, 2018, pp. 213–38, doi:10.1215/10642684-4324789
Bekhrad, Joobin. "What Does it Mean to be Camp?". BBC Designed. 7 May, 2019. BBC.com, http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20190503-what-does-it-mean-to-be-camp.
LaBruce, Bruce. "Notes on Camp/AntiCamp". The Gay & Lesbian Review. 2014, https://glreview.org/article/notes-on-camp-and-anti-camp-2/.
Sontag, Susan. "Notes on 'Camp'". 1964. A Susan Sontag Reader. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1982.