Thursday, April 10, 2008

Camp It Up

Ien Ang’s “In the realm of uncertainty: the global village and capitalist postmodernity” eviscerates “liberal pluralist” notions that the infinite possibilities presented by semiotic decoding represent a kind of freedom. Divergence, she suggests, has become just another market strategy.

In processing this, I began to think about the idea of “camp.” It’s been a long time since I’ve read Sontag’s text on this issue, so I can’t claim to be some kind of camp scholar, but this concept has always seemed to me to be a kind of resistance. Camp, as I would define it, is the ironic appreciation of failed art, the “so bad, it’s good” paradox. On its surface, camp (sometimes conflated with “kitsch”) seems to subvert dominant ideologies in its fetishization of media that fall outside the mainstream of acceptability, and was therefore adopted as a kind of subtle cultural activism, particular by marginalized queer groups.

As Ang would doubtless point out, camp itself has become mainstream. Think of William Shatner camping himself in all of those commercials for, or the show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, which makes camp homey and domestic, rather than radical and vicious. Meanwhile, the queer culture that advocated camp has dried up and assimilated. The acceptance (generally) of gay identity is certainly a positive thing, but camp itself no longer references the culture that produced it.

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