The Evolution Of Camp

You may be familiar with May’s annual Met Gala in New York for the news coverage that the often-elaborate celebrity costumes create. However, if you look more closely at the ever-evolving yearly theme behind this event, you will likely become a little more enamoured with fashion and its ties with society.

The theme for this year was based on the cultural earthquake that was Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay, “Notes On Camp,” and whilst the word ‘camp’ is more commonly bandied about within modern vernacular, we may not have actually given any thought to its origins and the ground-breaking piece of cultural activism that was brought about by Sontag’s composition.

The word camp actually derives from se camper, meaning ‘to strike an exaggerated pose,’ and its first noted foray into the Oxford English Dictionary was in 1909 with its citation being, “ostentatious, exaggerated, theatrical; effeminate or homosexual; characteristic of homosexuals.”

The theme of the gala this year was said to be chosen as it is considered an appropriate time for this leitmotif to have some substantial cultural resonance, and whilst Sontag did dance around choosing to directly link the ideals of ‘camp’ with homosexuality, there is no denying that the two are inextricably linked.

We now applaud personal choice, sexuality and individualism (and quite rightly so!) however there remains a delinquency in attitude surrounding the acceptability of being gay. Likewise, the use of the word camp can be used as a plaudit or a weapon, depending on its intent.

It is slightly ironic that within a matter of a few months there can be a celebration of all that is camp, a commemoration serving to help denounce any negative connotations associated with the word and yet this very week a British MP has been lambasted for her wholly archaic comments implying that science could provide an answer for being gay.

Progress, in these terms, seems to be very erratic – with humanity and our acceptance of diversity, sexuality, distinctiveness and self-expression taking two steps forward and then one step back.

What we must remember is that movement is still movement and progress can never be obtained from remaining still.

“If you can’t fly, then run.
If you can’t run, then walk.
If you can’t walk, then crawl.
But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”
Martin Luther King.