Camp



Camp is often a confused and confusing term; it is sometimes said that one either "gets it" or one does not. Camp has been called a sensibility, a taste, and an aesthetic, and it is frequently associated with homosexual or queer people who use it as a means of humor, self-definition, and critique. Camp shares similarities with literary tropes such as parody, irony, satire, and black comedy, as well as aesthetically pejorative terms such as schlock or kitsch. John Waters (b. 1946), one of the most well-known camp filmmakers, defined camp (when he was a guest star on TV's The Simpsons [Fox, beginning 1989]) as the "tragically ludicrous" or the "ludicrously tragic"—something so seriously sad, bad, or inept, that the only response one can make is to laugh at it. Such a double or conflicted response is key to understanding the phenomenon of camp. Camp (as a reception paradigm) might thus be described as a negotiated reading strategy that ironically calls into question certain aspects of mainstream taste, and especially how those aspects of taste relate to issues of gender and sexuality. As a style of production, camp texts are those that encode a self-aware irony into their very fabric, assuring that audiences will find them (deliberately) "over-the-top" or "bad."

There are at least four overlapping (and possibly many more) types of camp that theorists have identified. The first is naïve camp , in which audiences decode mainstream "serious" texts as campy; thus cliché-ridden, badly acted Hollywood films like Showgirls (1995)—or any number of older melodramas from Cobra Woman (1944) to Valley of the Dolls (1967)—have been called camp.

Deliberate camp is created by the producers of the text (and not the spectators, as is the case with naïve camp). The Batman TV show (ABC, 1966–1968), Pink Flamingos (1972), and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), are all self-conscious, deliberate camp: they invite audiences to laugh at their deliberately wooden acting, bad dialogue, and cheap sets. Queer camp is camp that forthrightly calls into question dominant notions of gender and sexuality, and queer camp can be both naïve or deliberate. For example, Ed Wood Jr. (1924–1978) made the sex-change exploitation film Glen or Glenda (1953) in all seriousness, yet it is extremely queer and thus might best be classified as naive queer camp.

Pop camp is the mainstream appropriation of camp into styles or texts less challenging to dominant notions of gender and sexuality. Pop camp often verges on simple parody, in that it wants audiences to laugh at its stylistic or textual excess, without necessarily thinking about issues related to normative gender and sexuality. For example, the movie Barbarella (1968) might be best understood as deliberate pop camp: it is trying to be "cheesy" and "over-the-top"—but not to the point of deconstructing traditional concepts of gender and sexuality (as does the deliberate queer camp of Rocky Horror ). Nonetheless, some theorists have suggested that all camp should be considered queer-at-heart, as it always skews or distorts mainstream film practice (if not always gender and sexuality) in provocative ways.



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