Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Yes - but is it CAMP?



And so, the annual fundraiser fashion parade that is the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) Gala chose as its theme Camp: Notes on Fashion this year?! This deserves closer examination, methinks...

Is a cynical attempt by anodyne individuals to appear "over-the-top" really camp? Is a parade of privileged people wearing unaffordable-to-the-masses designer-label clothing really camp?

Some of the outfits certainly fitted the bill of "inversion of taste", to which Miss Susan Sontag referred in her Notes on Camp [which was the "set text" for the Gala's participants] - Michael Urie's 1920s-style half-and-half drag pastiche being one such example:



...as was Janelle Monae's surrealist number:



However this "inversion" - as argued by Katrin Horn in her book Women, Camp, and Popular Culture: Serious Excess - was historically conducted with a more meaningful intent:
"At its core, camp is defined as a parodic device that uses irony, exaggeration, theatricality, incongruity and humour to question the pretext's status as 'original' or 'natural'...[it is] the inversion of taste in favour of the neglected, the other, the marginalised. From this playful shift in aesthetic judgements camp derives its broader potential 'as a way of making cultural, social and sexual critique under the guise of harmless humour'...the inversion of insider and outsider by way of recoding 'who's in on the joke'."
So was there actually a "joke" to be "in on" demonstrated at the Met?

I suppose one could point to theatre owner Jordan Roth arriving on the catwalk as...a theatre:



...or "gangsta-rapper" Cardi B - who made her name with records about deprived urban street life and gang fights - wearing a frock that apparently took more than 2,000 hours to create and needed a team of five men to lift the train:



It would appear, however, that it was another of Ms Sontag's definitions of camp - “the sensibility of failed seriousness, of the theatricalization of experience” - which proved the most widely popular of themes, as ably demonstrated by Mr Billy Porter:



...and RuPaul:



One of the main tenets, however, that truly "defines" camp - if any such "definition" were so readily agreed upon - is irony. Thus, in its truest sense, if anything summed up the most camp occurrence of the entire occasion it was not Gaga showing-off with a triple-layer frock and an entourage of performers, it was not rich heterosexual males thinking they could get away with looking a "bit sissy" for an evening, nor was it the cavalcade of voluptuous and vacuous starlets squeezing themselves into lurid-yet-flattering frou-frou gowns.

No! The campest moment was Dame Joan Collins, turning up as herself portraying her most famous [and ultimately most camp] on-screen character Alexis Morell Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan...



Now that, laydeez'n'genlmen, is how it is done.

22 comments:

  1. I had a similar reaction to these outfits: over-the-top, yes. Campy, not so much. It's all just too mainstream and self-aggrandizing.

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    1. Self-aggrandisement is all that seems to matter to anyone nowadays. I only caught the photos, rather than any footage of the occasion, but this "gala" did appear to be all sparkle and glitter and "look-at-me-and-how-clever-my-designer-is", and not much in the way of actual camp. Jx

      PS wtf Jared Leto's "two heads" or Ezra Miller's "multiple eyes" looks had to do with camp, rather than surrealism, beats me; and the Kardashians (of course) just seemed to come as hookers.

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    2. I also feared this would happen. Only a hand full of camp. A event where sky is the limit to go real campy and outrageous and its fitting...and some show up in upscale evening attire. Tsk tsk.....

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    3. Invite a load of thickies who are famous-for-no-apparent-reason, and that is exactly what you are going to get. The Emperor's New Clothes. Jx

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  2. You are correct, Joan Collins was the only camp one in the bunch.

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    1. 'Tis funny how Dame Joan's presence has been so woefully overlooked by mainstream commentators, who seem to be labouring under the misconception that scrawny would-be-singer-turned-feather-duster Slimy Dion somehow "looked the part". I thought she looked even more like a bloke than usual, tbh... Jx

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  3. Well dear, I have already got my tickets for the exhibition...I cant wait to go. Of course Cardi B looked incredible. Go big or go home I say!!! Course it resembles my sleeping gown. And Queen Anna looked stunning.

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    1. Cardi B looked like some kind of giant fungus.

      Miss Wintour, on the other hand, would look stylish if she turned up in a dog blanket.

      Jx

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  4. I'm ready, really disappointed nobody came as a tent.

    I think I would have had a dress printed covered with huge pictures of Kenneth Williams, John Inman, Larry Grayson, Julian Clary, Charles Hawtry etc, I don't think a lot of people would know what camp was without them. Plus I like the idea of standing there covered in pictures of British standups and character actors most people in the room wouldn't have heard of.

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    1. Most people in that room wouldn't know who Mae West was, nor Busby Berkeley, let alone any our our own camp cultural icons (including Noel Coward)... Jj

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  5. joan collins is sophisticated; the rest look like shit.

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    1. Many may argue about the "sophisticated" bit where dear Dame Joan is concerned, but what she indubitably is, and always will be, is the epitome of "knowingness" - that "nod and a wink" that is indelibly camp - and, with all that innate sensibility behind her, she merely had to turn up to reduce the rest of them to mediocrity... Jx

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  6. I've got it! It came to me last night. Skin tight PVC bustier printed with pictures of Alan Bennett.

    Although the campest thing would have been if all the designers had secretly got together and agreed to give everyone the exact same outfit

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  7. Thank you! I was looking forward to your take on this and you didn't fail me!
    Sx

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    1. The moment they announced the theme I was champing at the bit to see how far off-the-mark the guests would be in their interpretation - and here were some shockingly bad examples on show. 'Bad taste' or 'kitsch' are not necessarily camp in themselves, after all. Jx

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  8. Joan is camp what ever she wears.
    The only bit of class in the whole event

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  9. "Michael Urie's 1920s-style half-and-half drag pastiche"

    I don't know if it qualifies as camp, but that kind of thing would have been popular in American side shows in the first half of the 20th century, though they would have tried to sell you on the idea that it was an actual hermaphrodite (what we would today call an intersex person) you were looking at.

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    1. I don't know about the circus sideshow element, but it was certainly a popular cabaret "turn" in the 1920s - in Paris, Weimar Berlin, and all over the place during that brief period of decadence - as was later portrayed in Victor Victoria [although I can't find a clip of that particular scene, unfortunately]. Jx

      PS Here's a much later drag queen doing an act based on the half-and-half concept.

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  10. How did any the women go to the toilet?

    Anyway if you were really camp you'd go to the dentist dressed like that

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