“And lodged somewhere within all this tortured choreography, I’m told, is fun.” In a postmodernity defined by depression memes, curated vintage (as seen here on Grailed), and all-lowercase ‘gram captions, it’s hard not to see Sontag’s–and Lowder’s—point. Yet, despite the eeriness of her half-century predictions (can we talk about the “everything in quotes” line?!
) if there’s anything to take away from “Notes On ‘Camp’,” it is the essay’s ending.
Thus, things are campy, not when they become old—but when we become less involved in them, and can enjoy, instead of be frustrated by, the failure of the attempt.” From press surrounding Gucci’s Fall/Winter 2017 collection: “It would certainly liven up the workplace—and put corporate dress codes to the test—if men started showing up at the office dressed like those who moved down the Balenciaga runway, in voluminous greatcoats worn over thigh-high stockings.”“As Mr Porter buyer Mr Daniel Todd points out, it’s all a lot of fun.
‘The 1950s was a time of celebration and optimism and the clothes that people wore reflected this,’ he says.
In hindsight, the 1960’s seem burdened with purpose.
For America and the West, this was the decade of protest, of Civil Rights, of Vietnam, of righteous cause made mass culture. During this moment of “air quotes” and anti-fashion, it’s a text that also appears uncomfortably prophetic.
Despite publishing more than 50 years ago, Susan Sontag’s “Notes on ‘Camp’” predicted the trappings of today’s fashion scene–from Balenciaga Crocs to the itself.
“Camp” opens by describing the tension between phenomena that have been named and those that go unnamed: “One of these [the unnamed] is the sensibility—unmistakably modern, a variant of sophistication but identical with it–that goes by the cult name of ‘Camp.’” “Camp”—the phenomenon, not the essay—is described throughout the piece as a smattering of descriptors, since, in Sontag’s own words, “a sensibility (as distinct from an idea) is one of the hardest things to talk about.” Its first solid description is this: “The essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration.” Sontag continues: “Camp is a vision of the world in terms of style—but a particular kind of style.
Polari blended many linguistic influences, and etymologists believe that the word , critic Moe Meyer accused Sontag’s essay of “removing, or at least minimizing, the connotations of homosexuality” from camp, and defined camp as “strategies and tactics of queer parody.” Sontag does mention the influence of queer culture on camp, but not until near the end of her essay, when she notes, "one feels that if homosexuals hadn’t more or less invented Camp, someone else would." In a 2018 essay on camp, linguist Chi Luu responds to Sontag with, "Would they have? What other subculture would have the drive and the expressive urgency to develop something as frivolously influential as camp?
" Sontag's essay doesn't discuss race, either, though some believe that camp's origins are in the Black community.