In arguably her most famous essay, Notes on ‘Camp’, Susan Sontag defines what Camp is. Sontag gives several defining factors as to what makes something Camp such as “things which, from a “serious” point of view, are either bad art or kitsch” (278) or “contain a large element of artifice” (279). Additionally, Sontag claims Camp is “the love of the exaggerated, the “off,” of things-being-what-they-are-not” (279), and, most notably, “The whole point of Camp is to dethrone the serious” (288). When I take these factors, as well as the many others Sontag describes in her writing into account, I immediately attempt to understand what Camp is by noting examples of Camp art I have seen. I remember a few years ago before the Whitney moved, the museum was having one final exhibit- a retrospective of Jeff Koons- at the old location. Seeing nearly all of Koons’ career on display- Balloon Dog, Banality, Woman in Tub, and so on- it became clear to me that he was a Camp artist. His work not only embraced the notion of artifice, but most definitely contained a lack of seriousness. When it comes to films, I always think of the original Hairspray movie by John Waters, probably the Campiest of all film directors.
Sontag continues her notion of Camp by linking it to homosexuality. She writes, “Camp taste is much more than homosexual taste. Obviously, its metaphor of life as theater is peculiarly suited as a justification and projection of a certain aspect of the situation of homosexuals.(The Camp insistence on not being “serious,” on playing, also connects with the homosexual’s desire to remain youthful.)” (290-1). To me, it seems as though Sontag is describing a particular aspect of queerness, most specifically the drag queen (such as Divine, John Waters’ muse). Drag queens, not only in their very nature embody artifice, and attempt to not just “dress the part” but greatly exaggerate femininity. Having said this, are drag queens the ultimate form of Camp?
Sontag, Susan, (2009) “Notes on ‘Camp'” from Sontag, Susan, Against interpretation and other essays pp.275-292, London: Penguin ©