a really short blog post about camp
[Beginning in] the 1970s, the real is the impossible, most frequently manifesting in Lacan’s axiomatic declaration of the impossibility of a sexual relationship [...] Men and women swerve away from the impossibility of their relationship.
-Reinhard, Zizek, Santner. The Neighbor. (I sometimes call it “a pretty amazing series of arguments, considering I know at least two of them to be married.”)
So, erstwhile delinquent and talented journalist Dan D’Addario recently wrote this article, predicting quite insightfully that Smash would be both classy and dreary at the same time. (I still watch it, but it’s starting to give me The Vague Sads.)
D’Addario’s point is that in an era of greater visibility and equality for gay individuals — progress, albeit progress under considerable threat — the fundamental method of camp, which was the daring implication of queer love or identity, no longer exerts the same force. When a “gay aesthetic” is completely mainstream, thanks to Smash, Glee, and a million other bits and pieces (e.g. Modern Family, Lady Gaga), what’s left to wink about?
Then this sentence caught my eye: “Camp is borne [sic] of passion, but it’s generally misplaced passion. The creators of camp spectacles are generally the last ones in on the joke.”
If you’re like me, there’s one person whom that describes better than anyone else in the universe: Tommy Wiseau, director of The Room. The Room is still the campiest thing around, and it’s homoerotic at many points, but it’s also absurdly heteronormative (or, at least, it really tries to be). There are sex scenes that go on for what seems like 20 minutes, including significant amounts of recycled footage, which Wiseau seems to believe no-one will ever notice.
We’re talking utterly gratuitous nudity, gestures done seemingly in slow-motion, terrifying pseudo-porn humping, deflowered roses, a rainstorm that hurries over from Saturn, Wiseau’s vampire-white skin and steroidal muscles, and even a scene of inexplicable implied voyeurism. It has to be seen to be believed.
I won’t go on at length here, because it’s a great movie that’s already gotten tons of press during its second life as a “cult classic.” (Wiseau hosts screenings regularly, still as if totally unaware of the reason why his film is so popular.) The point is this: the new epicenter of camp is not queer desire but hetero desire, carried out in a perfectly conventional way, with utter earnestness. On top of all of Wiseau’s scenes, there’s another couple who have sex in Wiseau’s house, and then have to retrieve their underwear in front of his mother. The other things that I’d call campy in The Room are football, friendship, coffee, and mobsters. There’s no apple pie in the film, but you could probably argue that apple pie had already turned campy with the premiere of the first American Pie movie. (If you won’t…I will!) In fact, American Pie even made camp itself campy by introducing all of us to Allyson Hannigan’s “band camp” story.
Camp used to be about the possibility of openly queer love, a possibility that never completely goes away or gutters out: maybe if we were in a different room, a different neighborhood or nation; maybe if we had been born at a later date; maybe if we had met each other a few years earlier or later; maybe if nobody finds out, or if the cover story’s good enough. Now, in 2012, the formal features of camp are the same, but the poles are reversed. It’s no longer about the possibility of a “shameful” love. Modern camp is Zizek doing Sondheim. It is about the impossibility of “normal” passion. We find ourselves laughing at the vacuum that befalls love when it is bereft of shame.