When your friend and mine Susie Sontag wrote her canonical essay Notes on Camp she was (for the most part) discussing the stylistic devotions of a certain subset of society, i.e. the gays. Camp was, for Sontag, taking delight in failure and excess, a sort of repurposed bathos if you will forgive the paraphrasing. Old movie queens become camp when they over emote to the point at which any semblance of passion is trampled beneath heaving bosoms and hysterical dialogue, and high art becomes high camp when there is just one too many cheeky cherubs garlanding nymphs with rose petals. (You get the picture, right, you know what camp is - I mean obviously you know what camp is, you’re reading this). Susie’s reading was by no means definitive however, for starters it it overlooked the role of lesbians in the creation of the aesthetic - though with a concerted effort, the likes of Holly Hughes’ lesbian camp performances and the @butchcamp IG account have brought the girls into the fold. And yet to these mascara’d eyes the largest proponents of this gaudy sensibility are as yet left out in the cold - for surely the true masters of contemporary camp are heterosexuals.
Look at the current UK government, dominated as it is by a cast of personalities so spectacularly short on credibility, so overblown in verbiage there’s hardly any other way of thinking of them but as camp. From the Home Secretary’s turn as a pound shop Cruella DeVille, to Liz Truss as International Trade Secretary positively fuming on the podium over the amount of cheese the UK imports, via Michael Gove’s mortifying session on an Aberdeen dance floor a few weeks ago, all the way to the Prime Minister’s durational P.G. Woodhouse drag act. Who is there amongst them who does not serve to prove the accuracy of the central sentiment of camp correct? It's good because it's awful.
For goodness sake the Spring newscycle was monopolised by backbenchers and former ministers arguing over the suitability of John Lewis home furnishings for number 10, in a scandal the press referred to as “Cash for curtains.” (You couldn’t make up a story more camp if you were Zsa Zsa Gabor’s hairdresser!) And, allegations of corruption, and fraudulent charity donations aside, I ask you, have you seen the work of the designer they chose to tart the place up? Gold wallpaper??? My dear…it’s ungodly.
Yes, it seems that camp has well and truly gone over to the dark side, as evidenced by the Trump Presidency, Vladimir Putin’s sinsational shirtless bear-wrestling photo albums, and the whole anti-vax moment. You don’t have to watch more than 30 seconds of Kate Shemiran on her buttercup yellow sofa (complete with chintzy cat cushions thank yew) declaring that there is no pandemic, to see what a great job Jennifer Coolidge would do of playing her in a Christoper Guest flick. Likewise the anti-vax-adjacent Evangelical Christian movement; with all those laughably explicit placards, cowboy hats and wraparound shades, they could yet be the basis of a Jeremy Scott for Moschino collection. See also the parents-to-be who keep on torching whole swathes of forest with their bloody gender reveal parties, and it’s clear that heterosexuality is now the main (dare I say defining?) element of contemporary camp.
And let me tell you, in case you were under any illusions, these people are not using it to bring glamour and wit into the world, though sometimes the outcome is accidentally impossibly hilarious. This is nowhere more obvious than in the case of the aesthetic choices of fanatical right wing political crusades. The English Defence League’s flimsy cardboard “England Love it or Leave it” signs set the bar pretty high (especially when flaunted in combo with gothic font tattoos and George Cross face paint) but nothing really compares to the frothy tom-foolery of the Trans-widows and their frilly knickers flag. To quote c.84% of Twitter, “I CANNOT!!!”
Sontag herself said that knowing-camp is less satisfying than the naive, pure-camp which doesn’t realise itself to be camp, and which she rated much more highly. On these terms (if on no other) I guess our heterosexual usurpers have really outdone themselves.
So what’s next? Now that the sly queer mockery of good taste has been mainlined into the heart of culture? A gay minimalism maybe, a sort of homosexual asceticism? But where’s the fun in that? Are we to watch this particular era of heterosexuality bloom, ever riper for parody and never make a single remark? Well maybe. Thanks to Dr*g Ra*e, our greatest weapon has already been delivered to the infidels, so maybe it really is time to down tools, admit defeat, and go goth (again). Truly though, what’s really perplexing is that they don’t even seem to know what they are doing - it’s like Columbus “discovering” the Americas on his way to India. Heterosexuality just eats up everything it encounters, and spits out the bones! That’s how we get a Westfield full of straight girls who’ve all gone to the aesthetician for the kind of work previously only favoured by a certain kind of woman, and remaining blissfully unaware of that history.
Inevitably I suppose it will all come around. Camp will be restored to the gays and the thrice-divorced doyennes who love them - but in the meantime? I guess we can all hunker down with Mae West montages on Youtube, and fond memories of Footballer’s Wives. I know that, one day in the not too distant future, a hero will come. Some plucky gender fluid twink will get onstage at their local gay bar and there will be pound shop make-up, and terrible personal hygiene, and a stab at some sort of political metaphor - perhaps by way of a clip of Thatcher’s Section 28 speech mashed up with Cliff Richard’s Devil Woman. Yes, there will be cheap vodka, and yes it will be camp again.
Until such a time may I suggest a trip to Naples to visit the chapel of the miraculous hair of Maradona (NB: Maradona) Truly heterosexuals have no shame!!!