Saturday, March 17, 2012

Required Reading: Susan Sontag's "Notes On Camp"

"I am strongly drawn to Camp, and almost strongly offended by it" -- Susan Sontag

I spent a good chunk of my adulthood knowing of Susan Sontag's "Notes On Camp," from her collection of  essays, Against Interpretation  (and being a fan of quite a few campy things myself) before I actually read it. Consider this my notes on "Notes on Camp."

Unlike a lot of individual essays, it's aged pretty well, though what most people would consider camp these days (Ab Fab, John Waters movies, etc.) obviously didn't exist when it was originally published in 1964, and the examples Sontag gives (Wilde, Genet) seem too canonical to be considered camp now.

It's impossible to talk about camp without talking about taste, and who gets to define it. She says, "Camp taste us by its nature possible only is affluent societies, in societies or circles capable of experiencing the psychopathology of affluence." Think of the cult surrounding the documentary on Jackie Kennedy's reclusive aunt and cousin, Grey Gardens -- a movie that does nothing but turn me into a humorless feminist ranting about the romanticization of mental illness, particularly mental illness in women, but it's a criticism that isn't without merit. Camp often deals in appropriation.

She goes on to say, "The experiences of Camp are based on the great discovery that the sensibility of high culture has no monopoly upon refinement. Camp asserts that good taste is not simply good taste; that there exists, indeed a good taste or a bad taste. The discovery of the good taste of bad taste can be very liberating." I once had an online acquaintance whose "bad taste" seemed so entirely crafted and curated that there was nothing charming about it. I wonder what Sontag would have thought of today's hipsters and their ironic (though not in the dictionary sense) "bad" taste?

No comments:

Post a Comment