A word about camp
Can I just say that I love camp stuff? I love camp people – male or female, gay or straight. I love the brazenness and the self-deprecating charm of it. The outrage and the daftness of it. I love camp music and films and books and art generally. I love it when art sets out to be that way, and also it when it fails at being serious and earnest and winds up camp instead. I love it best of all when it’s an art object that’s camp despite itself, and one little element is busily flagging up that it’s in the know. The camp element is always the great deconstructor, undermining its earnest surroundings and betraying the fakery of everything that thinks it’s natural. It’s the queer outsider’s revenge on dumb complacency. It has a long, long, honourable history of poking fun, pricking pomposity and swishing about making everyone else look dowdy.
Sometimes I think these days are a bad time for camp. Everything’s so serious and everyone is so keen to trumpet their true feelings and demonstrate their usefulness and value. Everyone’s got a stupid bloody mission statement and is intent on reducing themselves to an easy-to-follow strapline. Camp is made to seem as if it’s surplus and facetious and decadent: as if it’s a bit too rococo for an age of austerity. But I’d say it’s even more necessary. It’s like irony. It’s the same kind of thing. It’s the ability to not take yourself or others too seriously.
Recently I had the unfortunate experience of hearing a fellow author and fantasy / horror film enthusiast suddenly weigh against camp in the cinema, or in fiction, or in art. Or, indeed, in people. He said that the act of anyone or anything camping it up was just annoying – he said it was like watching a spoiled little child showing off for attention.
At the time I thought, oh – just walk away, Paul. If you say anything it’ll end up in a row. But now I think – no, what he was saying was just not very nice. They were the words of another science fiction / horror / fantasy writer and pundit getting all irate when someone says they love camp. It’s almost as if there’s an acceptable, polite way of saying queers are ok – so long as they don’t draw attention to themselves… (And actually – this particular person did say something along these lines round about the same time – Why did gay people insist on coming out publicly? Do they think such behaviour was still necessary these days? I thought – yes, that kind of betrays what he thought about queers showing off or making any kind of fuss.)
Gay people themselves can be very down on camp. Some see it as a self-loathing thing. Others make a fetish of that godawful phrase ‘Straight-acting.’
I think camp as an aesthetic mode gets a rough ride in the fields of horror / sf / fantasy fandom. For all I know, this is true of crime as well (isn’t there some sniffiness, for example, about Cosies and comic mysteries?) It seems a shame to me that niche genres and fandoms aren’t more welcoming (not least because the charm of many forms of genre fictions is an appreciation of their datedness – which is something cherished and celebrated to a parodically huge extent by the camp sensibility.)
I’ve a feeling it’s because the people involved in those genres feel that campness is intent upon sending them up or undermining them and, because they really want to be accepted by the mainstream, they want to be seen to be taking themselves very seriously. And I think that’s my problem with some genre fiction / cinema / fans / practitioners today. And, really, I haven’t found the worlds of genre fiction all that camp friendly at all. And, in many cases, not very gay-friendly either.