So maybe the question for us now is really about how to camp responsibly, since we are all already camping, in a manner of speaking.As we approach the Met Gala and exhibition, it is worth asking: What objects or phenomena are fair game for the contemporary camp connoisseur?
To write about a sensibility is always to betray it, to sell it short.
However, camp is even trickier to discuss than your average sensibility, she suggests, because of its connection to queer communities outside of the mainstream or mass public sphere.
Since the 60s, many have built on Sontag’s work to point out—and celebrate— the way that camp’s deviation from traditional Anglo-European values can be understood as highly political, as a collective rejection of the social order that reproduces these conventions, keeps them alive. Nevertheless, a statement made by Max Hollein in suggests that the Met will present a seductive, outdated vision of camp as a radical cultural politics; he laments that “camp’s disruptive nature and subversion of modern aesthetic values has often been trivialized.” Upon first glance, Hollein’s position seems reasonable enough; words like “disruptive” can be confusing in this context, especially when held up against “modern aesthetic values.” After all, if it is in camp’s “nature” to essentially throw a wrench in the works of the conventions underlying contemporary values, then wouldn’t that automatically make it revolutionary in some way?
When it comes to the conservative Cold War era in which Sontag was writing, I think that such assessments make a certain amount of sense. Not necessarily, for disruption and deviation has actually one of our modern aesthetic values.
Chicano critic Ramón García, for instance, has pointed out that the logic of camp, as articulated by Sontag, can potentially be used to justify appropriation and ignorance of other cultures.
The way that camp, in this formulation, moves the consumer to dismiss conventional standards of judgment and questions of content in order to pursue pleasure can also lead to questionable habits of consumption because of its emphasis on individual experience and inclination.Camp belongs to these groups; it is an “esoteric” sensibility that deviates from traditional standards.“A private code.” Sontag acknowledges that to bring this “private” phenomenon to the attention of the 60s American public, putting it into circulation in an environment structured by the oppressive social norms that prompted the emergence of camp in the first place, constitutes another betrayal.This has always been a problem within camp, and ought to continue to concern us now.A 21 century resurgence of camp may not only encourage us to believe ourselves to be more ‘woke’ than we are, but might also provide an alibi for all manner of cultural colonization.I’ve long been sustained by my sibling’s aesthetic, and specifically by the way our fashion senses overlapped even though I am emphatically queer and trans while Scott, a disillusioned but patriotic American who died in Wuhan last month, was seemingly less so.The way our clothing histories interwove, such as in the dopplegangery give-and-take of t-shirt trading, was a cauldron (a -climax cauldron) of mutually constituted expectation-defying queer gender.Six feet tall and Midwestern white, Scott cultivated a life in which the wardrobe he produced stood out.He inhabited the intersection of Qingnian Road and Jiefang Avenue for nearly a decade, having found in the crossroads of Wuhan a choice sewing district and the ideal backdrop for his bellbottoms and waistcoats featuring built-in monochromatic satin pocket triangles, which he paired with extravagantly-cuffed dress shirts in intricate, brash, and asymmetrical prints that might fit right in at this year’s Met ball. Scott invariably went to work in this signature look he sewed himself, which took a left turn away from my staging of sartorial satire.Since the Met has us all talking about camp, we might recall Susan Sontag’s admonition, in her famous essay on the subject, that “To talk about Camp is…to betray it.” Camp, she explains, is not just a set of formal qualities like extravagance and theatricality but also a sensibility, a kind of taste in things.Sontag notes that it is hard to talk about sensibilities in general, to describe the complex intersections of perception, judgment, and performance of self that we use that word to describe.