With the rush to convince straight politicians and judges we're the same as them and worthy of the same institutions and rights, anyone might believe gay people had stopped thinking about the value of difference. Queercore filmmaker Bruce LaBruce adapts his lecture from last year's Camp/Anti-Camp conference in Berlin for an essay in the new issue of Nat. Brut journal. Rictor Norton says it's "the best analysis of camp since Sontag."
LaBruce begins with fifteen lists of subcategories such as bad gay camp (Will & Grace, Adam Lambert), good straight camp (September, 3 Women), bad straight camp (Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Stanley Tucci in Prada, Hunger Games), ultra camp (Wilde), bad ultra camp (Liza in Sex & the City 2), reactionary camp (Tyler Perry, Eddie Murphy), subversive camp (Pee Wee Herman), quasi-camp (Midnight Cowboy, Cruising), intentional camp (The Shining, Casino Royale), and unintentional camp (J. Edgar, The Iron Lady), among others.
Realizing, "sadly, most of it falls under the category of 'bad straight camp,'" he traces how we got here and blames the new irony:
"...The net result was that much of the general populous (now roughly equivalent to 'pop culture') had adopted the posture as a given to the extent that people generally lost track of its meaning or purpose: there was a kind of ironic detachment from everything. People started routinely to say the opposite of what they meant, and meant it, failing to understand that their new 'sensibility' had become a betrayal of their actual former set of beliefs or tastes, which they even perhaps once held sacred. So in a sense, irony became a malaise, a kind of generalized disaffection that infected the dominant culture. I surmise that this is what opened up the floodgates for the rise of camp culture, or rather the corruption and misinterpretation of camp culture – a certain detached artificiality and forced excess..."
After a stinging critique of Britney, Gaga, Rihanna, Beyonce, and Nikki ("...hyper-referentiality, extreme hyperbole, a crudely obvious, unnuanced female sexuality, and even a vaguely pornographic sensibility which, unhappily, is post-feminist to the point of misogyny...") he laments:
"This new annexation and corruption of the camp sensibility now exists largely without the qualities of sophistication and secret signification that were developed out of necessity by the underground or outsider gay world, which originally created camp as a kind of gay signifying practice... It was developed as a secret language in order to identify oneself to like-minded or similarly closeted homosexuals, a shorthand of arcane and coded, almost kabbalistic references and practices developed in order to operate safely apart and without fear of detection from a conservative and conventional world that could be aggressively hostile towards homosexuals, particularly effeminate males and masculine females. In the contemporary world, in which gays have largely assimilated into the dominant order, such signifying practices have become somewhat obsolete, and the previous forms of camping and camp identification have long since been emptied of camp or gay significance, rendering them easily co-opted, commercialized, and trivialized."
Beyond the arts, his takedown of political camp is fierce:
"...For what are Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Bill O’Reilly, Donald Trump, and Herman Cain other than conservative camp icons enacting a kind of reactionary burlesque on the American political stage? Wholly without substance, their views exaggerated and extremely stylized, and evincing a carefully contrived posture of 'compassionate conservatism,' they function merely as a crude spectacle that mocks the unwashed masses by pretending to be one of them while simultaneously offering them policies that are directly antithetical to their authentic needs."
Building to a high point he concludes,
"The new tendency of conservative camp runs in diametrical opposition to the impulses of classic gay camp, which sought to celebrate, elevate, and even worship the qualities of deviance, difference, and eccentricity that characterized the highly aestheticized homosexual experience of past eras."