March 17

Week 10- CAMP

FOR 3/14 WATCH: But I’m a Cheerleader (dir. Jamie Babbit, 1999, 85 min) or Hairspray if you missed it)

– RJ: Using Sontag’s definition, and citing the other readings,—how are these film camp? Compare But I’m a Cheerleader with the original Hairspray.

– READ:  “Notes on Camp” by Susan Sontag, “Camp and the Gay Sensibility” Jack Babuscio, Reclaiming the Discourse of Camp, Moe Meyer

– Screening after class of Hairspray (Adam Shankman, 2007, 117 min) remake (optional)

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12 Responses to March 17

  1. Kaneja Muganda says:

    The word “Camp” similarly defined by Sontag and Babuscio is the love or lust for the unnatural. In our class we are regarding this definition towards gay sensibility. But I’m a Cheerleader can be described in many ways. It could be described as a queer cinema, a love story, as well a camp film. I appreciate Sontag’s definition of camp the most because she completely breaks it down. She talks about how camp is related to art. In cinema’s camp can be seen through the architecture of buildings or the furniture placed in various rooms. It includes all the elements of “visual decor”. This is one of the first observations I made once I began to watch the film. The institution Megan is taken to falls right under the department of visual decor. The building as well as the fences are painted light pink, and each room happens to be decorated in either blue for boys or pink for girls. The best way to describe camp is by stating that it is neither a person place or thing, rather its the assortment of things or the relationship between particular individuals. Sontag later states that camp is like being a part of a role, meaning a character in a film may not be who they really play out to be. For instance Megan is gay but then she’s not at the same time. She is called gay throughout the majority of the film but not even she identifies with this realization till later. We find similarities in our characters in hairspray. These individuals categorize themselves as women but majority of society wouldn’t call them women.
    In addition to characterizing these individuals as gay, lesbian, male or female, no one can “act” camp nor can they talk about it. It is something that is thrown onto a given person or situation if the situation calls for it. This triggers more towards Babuscio’s definition of camp. Megan and Graham’s relationship can be considered camp because they weren’t truly consistent with each other. At one moment Graham talks down on Megan, but then the next minute their out sneaking to a gay club together. They go through a few more stages towards the end of the film once Megan finally identifies with being a lesbian. At this point Graham is only trying to save her face in front of parents so she disregards her affection for Megan. This whole relationship is camp due to the fact that the two never truly speak about it nor do they truly act “gay”. They do share something in common though throughout the film. That is the need to “taste” in regards to finding themselves. Megan searches hard to figure out who she is and Graham decides to help her out. Meanwhile Graham uses this time to help herself as the two individuals seamlessly find themselves falling in love.

  2. Alyx Smagacz says:

    In Sontag’s article she creates a list explaining Camp. In this list, number two suggests that it is depoliticized, or apolitical. I think that the movie “But I’m a Cheerleader” could be taken as political on the basis that it makes a point about the way homosexuality should be seen by the public. On the other hand in number 9, Sontag explains that “Camp responds to the attenuated and the strongly exaggerated. The two movies; “Hairspray” and “But I’m a Cheerleader” both comment on the extent that people go to with this controversial topic of homosexuality which would agree with the definition of Camp. For example, in “But I’m a Cheerleader,” the kids are sent away to be straightened out and in “Hairspray” the girl gets extreme treatments for her interracial relationship. These two examples in the movies are taking reactions of the parents and exaggerating them to something that most people would find odd and inhumane .

  3. Courtney Faulstick says:

    I feel like it is easier to understand the meanings behind camp, but much harder to explain what it is using words. Once the readings clicked, I understood what they were talking about, but until the click it was really hard to follow what they were saying. From my new understanding of camp, I would say it is the using a sort of reverse psychology in portraying these camp ideas. This idea comes from Susan Sontag when she says, “It’s good because it’s awful” (p. 292). This isn’t to say the material people gain from this film is demeaning it just implies that the outward appearance of the plot may have an opposing stance on the issue at hand.

    For example in But I’m a Cheerleader, Jamie Babbit uses this idea of camp by showing a ridiculous way of dealing with the idea of gay and lesbianism. This main idea of being able to ‘cure’ queerness and make someone straight is obviously overstated and resulting in showing the ridiculousness of the proposed fix to the problem of being gay. This idea makes But I’m a Cheerleader a campy film, because the information set in the plot is so extreme in the direction of gayness being taboo that it is obvious that the writers want the audience to realize the paradox that the issue is being overemphasized and shouldn’t be understood as being this horrible disease.

    Much like in But I’m a Cheerleader, Hairspray also falls into the category of camp. This idea spans mostly to the subject of race. The issue of race is brought up as such a strong subject that it is almost ridiculous to watch and agree with any part of it. The black individuals in Hairspray are so far discriminated against it is hard to agree with the ideas that come across in the film, and therefore the audience can then understand that it is used in a campy way. This in a way we can think of as the actual film plot should be looked as the opposite of what the director believes. They give such a vivid, amplified view on the negative image of society in hopes that the audience will understand the negativity and be able to move past it. They show one thing to help explain the significance of the opposite.

  4. João Pedro says:

    Susan Sontag defines Camp as the “love for the unnatural” emphasizing its peculiar sensibility. She characterizes it as an artifice and exaggeration of reality. She accentuates Camp’s extravagance and establishes it as an antithesis of reality and seriousness. As she notes, “Camp introduces a new standard: artifice as an ideal…. The whole point of Camp is to dethrone the serious” (288). The author stresses Camp’s exuberance and demonstrates its innate enjoyment and comic vision. Sontag also draws parallelisms between homosexuality and Camp’s sensitivity by considering “a peculiar affinity and overlap” (291). Sontag’s definition is contested by the scholar Moe Meyer, who intercepts queerness and Camp. Meyer notes that by “minimizing the connotations of homosexuality, Sontag killed off the binding reference of Camp – homosexual” (141). Unlike Sontag, Meyer establishes Camp as intrinsically connected with homosexuality: “there is only one kind [of Camp] and it is queer” (140).

    “But I am Not a Cheerleader” does indeed follow both Meyer and Sontag’s definitions. The extravagance of the characters and the mise-en-scene explicitly introduce a Camp sensibility. Sexual orientation, gender roles and performativity are extremely exaggerated as a mockery of heterosexual coherence. The director attempts to refute stereotypes introducing a blond and feminine protagonist, who denies her homosexuality : “[she] get good grades, [she] go to church, [she is] a cheerleader.” The theatricality of the film also emphasizes its Camp sensitivity. In particular, the kisses between Megan and her boyfriend are disgustingly exaggerated. The excessive use of tongue and saliva is demonstrated by middle shots and close-ups, underscoring Megan’s lesbianism. Concurrently, the mise-en-scene is saturated with Camp by considering the use of colors, set, costumes and props. As Sontag notes, “Clothes, furniture, all the elements of visual décor…make up a large part of Camp” (278). Specifically, True Direction’s set and the various costumes explicitly mocks traditional heterosexual values through the use of color. The house is blue and pink ironically reiterating gender identities. Humorously, boys dress blue to achieve their manhood, while girls pink. Hence, the extravagance and exaggeration of “But I am Not a Cheerleader” demonstrates its Camp’s sensibility.

    John Waters’ “Pink Flamingo” and “Hairspray” are two queer films inundated with Camp. The various characters and plots are extremely extravagant, and “propose a comic vision of the world” (Sontag 288). Hairspray presents a hilariously Camp sensibility regarding hair bombs, special education classes and shock therapies. Relationships are also queerly over-the-top. For instance, Tracy Turnblad and her mother frequently dress similar clothes and the relationship between her parents is clearly Camp, considering the couple’s power relationship and the evident cross-gender performance by Divine. “Hairspray” presents a irreverent and energetic attitude, parodying America’s racial and gender scenario through Camp sensitivity.

  5. Caroline Tibbetts says:

    According to Sontag’s definition “But I’m a Cheerleader” is the epitome of a “camp” film, in every sense of the complex word. The film’s exaggerated portrayal of “things-being-what-they-are-not” (Sontag, 279). All of the elements of the film’s decor, from the overly exaggerated pink room where the homosexual girls are placed at the Straight Directions Camp, the extreme costumes in order to present their proper gender role. Sontag describes the camp genre in a variety of ways charactierzed through various meanings, deeming it more as a lifestyle than an action and or instance. In her notes on camp the greatest correlation with Cheerleader and camp is her description of camp as “being-as-Playing-a-role… the metaphor of life as theatre” I find this film to be playing a real life role-such that they “straight camps” this way of thinking to turn oneself straight actually exist. Cheerleader presents this is way of life in a more exaggerated manor. Although I don’t believe the film is trying to present a deeper meaning and exemplify a great character development. The film is not desgined to alter reality, but in Sontag’s words “to corrupt innocence”. She closes with the ultimate Camp statement, “its good because its awful” which I think validates Cheerleader’s greatness and success as a film. It is intesified yet appealing and silly revealing an absurdity within our own reality.

    Hairspray could be related in the same way. The play with gender roles as well as the exaggeration of racial relations in the United States. The films do not necessarily exaggerate the situation but rather intensify the decor, characters and plot to present the true light of the situation. An example being the intensity of the Penny’s mother’s security over her.
    Meyer describes camp in a different way from Sontag, bringing the queer aspect of camp to light. Deeming camp solely queer, as a phenomenon for queer individuals to differentiate themselves, labeling their lifestyle, but also as an opposition to middle class gay society. He calls Sontag’s interpretation as Pop Camp. Babuscio defines camp differently, not as something that has emerged but rather something that has also existed but remianed secret- comparing the genre to the life of gay people also- something that has been secret. Although he does not think of camp as something only homosexual people can identify with.

  6. Elyse Brey says:

    Elyse Brey
    March 17, 2011
    Queer Cinema
    Weekly Response Journal 7
    From what I have collected in my viewings of But I’m a Cheerleader and Hairspray, and in readings our assigned articles on the topic of “Camp” my idea of “camp” is that is means exaggeration. Not exaggerating for the purpose of being ridiculous, but allowing the audience to see the underlying point of the film through the ridiculousness of the reality the film or really any form of media presents. It is an effort to make ideas that sometimes make us uncomfortable, or objects that we don’t typically pay any attention to, seem larger than life and allow us as a viewer to appreciate said idea or object in a different light. “Indeed the essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: the artifice and exaggeration. And Camp is esoteric—something of a private code, a badge of identity even…” (275, Sontag)
    In both of the “camp” films we have watched for class, they depict an emphasized world that discriminates against the identity of the lead character, or someone that the lead character is closely connected to in the film. In Hairspray, the Baltimore community is against integration, which the lead character, Tracy, fights against while also dealing with comments and rude interactions due to her weight. All of the costumes and characters are larger than life depictions of typical characters, but that is what allows us as viewers to see how ridiculous segregation and discrimination is through the ridiculousness on the screen. In But I’m a Cheerleader, Megan is sent away to a program called “True Directions” which is supposed to teach her how to not be a lesbian anymore and be able to fit into straight society. They are taught their “correct” gender roles and are expected to be able to pass as straight by the end of their 2 month program. And again, the costumes, the art and the situations that the kids at “True Directions” have to be subjected to are exaggerated to highlight the point that being a homosexual is a part of who a person is and gayness is not something to discriminate against.
    The thing about “camp” is, to know about and appreciate camp, is to not talk about it and just let it to be; “camp” can only be recognized by those who can see it on their own and can appreciate the message that the camp media has presented. “In other words, camp, its sources and associations, have remained a secret in their most fundamental aspects, just as inner life of gays remained secret in their most fundamental aspects, just as the inner life of gays remains a secret, still, in the arts, throughout media, and in the consciousness of non-gays generally.” (117, Babuscio) The way of camp is to exaggerate an idea so much that those who embody the negative idea are seemed to be ridiculous. It is those of us who understand and appreciate the idea that is being pushed for in the film that are able to see those who are against the idea as negative and as the most ridiculous characters of the films. “ If pleasure is generated by [camp’s] bad taste presents a challenge to the mechanisms of control and containment that operate in the name of good taste, it is often to be enjoyed only at the expense of others…” (147, Meyer) Camp’s ability to explain how insane an idea may be at the expense of those characters in the film, or piece of the artwork, is what makes it camp. The point is to exaggerate the truth behind those ideas that are holding back society so that those who support those ideas are able to witness the ridiculousness of those ideas; which is depicted extremely well in the films But I’m a Cheerleader and Hairspray.

  7. Brittney DeBo says:

    Sontag describes “camp” in various ways throughout her reading. She says that camp is the love or lust for the unnatural (p.275). To love the unnatural is in terms of homosexuality or queers. It is unnatural to society, but not necessarily to the individual experiencing it. For these individuals as Sontag describes it, camp is a lifestyle. Much like other topics we have discussed like gender identity. It’s not that they are choosing to love the unnatural, that’s just who they are.
    In But I’m a Cheerleader, the main focus is the love of the unnatural. The reason we see it as unnatural is because these individuals are sent to a camp where they are supposed to fall in love with the “natural”. In a way they are in rehab for homosexuals. The way that we can understand camp as a lifestyle for these individuals can be seen in Megan specifically, when she’s coming to a realization of her feelings and she says, “I thought everyone looked at girls like that”. For her she thought what she was feeling and what she was doing during cheerleading practice was completely normal. Also the fact that even during this rehab for the individuals that were sent there by their parents, and that they are being told these feelings are not natural, they still cannot control them, they are found sneaking around to be with one another, and having an extremely difficult time coming to realize and trying to be what society is telling them to be.
    In Hairspray, the love of the unnatural is seen in the “homoracial” relationship. Here, when Penny starts her interracial relationship, and her parents find out, she is locked in her room, in another rehab situation, where they are trying to convince here that it is unnatural for a white person to love a black person.
    In both of these examples, these unnatural loves, and the ways of “curing” them are extremely exaggerated. To send your son or daughter to homosexual anonymous is a bit extreme, or to lock your daughter in her room because she has feelings for someone of a different race is way outside of reality. These movies put such strong exaggeration to show us that these are very controversial topics in society, and at the same time do their best to show us that this is a lifestyle and not a choice.

  8. Sam Herron says:

    Camp is defined by Susan Sontag as “one way of seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon” (Sontag, 277). Camp can be looked at through the emphasis on stylization. Camp can take something that can be seen as serious or even a social norm and make a joke out of it to try and prove a point (Sontag, 277). In the movie, But I’m a Cheerleader, being homosexual is compared to something like alcoholism where it can be treated through therapy like Alcoholics Anonymous and interventions. It is important to highlight the idea Sontag brings about when she says the visual décor is a large part of the camp scene (Sontag, 278). This can be seen in the different houses in the movie, such as the gay house and the house where the homosexuals go to get therapy to try to turn to heterosexuals. In the heterosexual house, the girls wear pink and the boys wear blue. Mary, the head of the house, tries to make them do different tasks that would stereotypically be associated with women and men. But then this is saying that if women vacuum and do these different household tasks, that they are heterosexual. So through camp it is making the joke that if women do these tasks associated with women, and men do tasks usually associated with men, that their sexuality is related to this and they will be heterosexual. Babuscio claims that camp is a secret just like the lives of homosexual individuals and that critics on the outside do not look at camp in the right way (Babuscio, 117). The attitudes that contributed to the formation of camp came from the social situation we are in are needed to understand the meaning of camp (Babuscio, 118). Pink Flamingos can be seen as camp because it looks at different things such as heterosexuals selling babies to homosexuals and exaggerates the problems of being heterosexual as well. Hairspray can be seen as camp because it exaggerates the problems in society of being somewhat overweight. The props and colors in the movie are also important, but the movie tries to exaggerate how queer is looked at as being wrong, or deviating from the social norm. Although, in But I’m a Cheerleader, the director makes a joke of homosexuality being seen as something that can be cured, which is why it can be defined as camp.

  9. Syndhia Javier says:

    In her essay “Notes on camp”, Susan Sontag offers her audience a way of understanding and relating to the world of camp, and its purpose. “Indeed, the essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural; f artifice and exaggeration” (275). Its goal is to depict something not so much intellectually stimulating, but aesthetically pleasing, and she goes on to say that to state that to give Camp a definition past the aesthetic, is to defeat the purpose of Camp itself. “One must distinguish between naïve and deliberate Camp. Pure Camp is always naïve. Camp which knows itself to be Camp (‘camping’) is usually less satisfying” (282).
    In the films But I’m a cheerleader and Hairspray, we witness these two different approaches play out. In But I’m a cheerleader, we see this naïve approach to sexuality being taken by director Jamie Babbit, where the heavy topic of “coming out” and sexuality is not as heavy but approachable funny. The film lacks a politicized charge to what its depicting, instead going for a more subversive approach to the topic. We see the reinforcing of gender roles, the tension and the sterotypicalness of the coming out process, without the depth of emotional and intellectual understanding. That approach is what makes this film Camp; it does not try to set out with an agenda blatantly in your face, but instead is somehow toned down. Even though the issues of heteronormativity and of being able to change gays back to straights, is controversial and in the very center of the film, it does not dominate the tone of the film as a whole.
    This is very distinct from John Waters’ Hairspray, where the issue of race relations and integration is also at the forefront, but somehow it is more conscious of this message and it is evident in the film. Sontag writes “Camp is a woman walking around in a dress made of three million feathers” (283), it is a perfected narrow edge of extreme naiveness, where the unnatural is highlighted, but does not play out as unnatural. In Hairspray, that unnaturalness is clear, for example in Tracy’s Roach dress. The message of wanting to be disgusting and extreme is too blatant to meet the criteria of Camp, at least in the way Sontag defines it. In Moe Meyer’s essay “Reclaiming the discourse of Camp”, we are presented an argument for camp that would be more in line with John Water’s model in Hairspray. “Camp is both political and critical…I suggest that camp is not simply a ‘style’ or ‘sensibility’ as is conventionally accepted. Rather, what emerges is a suppressed and denied oppositional critique embodied in the signifying practices that processually constitute queer identities”( Meyer 137). However, this definition to me is also a forced model, like Hairspray. It is possible that Meyer and Water’s address a new type of Camp that now exists, and I doubt that an accurate assessment on the style of film can be made from two films and a couple of reading, but the essence and impression of Camp to me is more along the lines of what we see in But I’m a cheerleader in its naiveness of the stakes than in Hairspray’s obviousness.

  10. Sean Biggs says:

    There are many aspects of But, I’m a Cheerleader and Hairspray that make them “camp”. In But I’m a Cheerleader, there is a consistent theme of being someone that one is not. Although, interestingly enough the act of being someone that one is led to the fact that the characters were placed in “True Directions” to learn to become someone that they are not. This construct of fakeness was represented in True Directions in its aestheticism and practices. Its aesthetics consisted of colors that were matched to both sexes, pink to women and blue to men. Such is a relation to the color of nurseries in society, the belief that a boy’s room should not be painted pink but blue, green or other colors. The room of the women looks like a Barbie dollhouse on steroids, and it nearly infantilizes them. This idea of colors and art can be applied to hairspray as the outfits of the era, clothing, colors and music can all be camp because even though the characters are wearing clothing that stresses a particular gender role they may not identify with it.

    In addition to this camp idea of representing something that it is not are the practices of the camp, which try to reinforce gender roles. The scenes of the men cutting wood and playing football are cynical of societies expectation of what it is to be a “natural” male and ends up being communicated in a comical manner. Sontag’s quote “To be natural is such a very difficult pose to keep up” made me think of these scenes. This idea is represented with the girls, only these scenes are related to Sontag’s reference to the dress of the 20s and the gender expectations of women. The women are asked to clean the house, and take care of their man like one would be expected to in the beaver cleaver era.

    Susan Sontag’s definition defines the potential for “camp” to act as a device of social cynicism. The social cynicism evident in But I’m a Cheerleader is making fun of the stereotypes, and ridiculousness of trying to convert a gay person into a straight person. Similarly in Hairspray, it comments on racism and how ridiculous the beliefs of whites towards another race were.

  11. Emily Weber says:

    Sontag describes the essence of camp for “its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration” (275). We can certainly see this heightened exaggeration in both But I’m a Cheerleader and Hairspray. An important aspect of camp that I would like to focus on for this response is aestheticism and the detailed style choices that go into these movies. In But I’m a Cheerleader, so much is being said behind the actual dialogue. The pink houses, the pink and blue outfits of the “tortured” kids, the white and pink contrast at graduation; clearly there is a significance to this and what it does to the viewer. We see this in Hairspray as well. All of the dancing boys and girls have extreme hair dos and makeup and dresses. All of this is to accentuate the style of the film. Overdramaticising these elements is essential to Camp films.

    Babuscio offers camp as a product of gay sensibility. This sensibility is “a consciousness that is different from the mainstream; a heightened awareness…that spring from the fact of social oppression; in short a perception of the world which is coloured, shaped, directed, and defined by one’s gayness” (118). Babuscio obviously aligns camp with gay but from his definition of this alternative sensibility we can apply the messages received by the audience in Hairspray as well. The unique experience and perception of life as it pertains to both of these minority populations is magnified and portrayed in each of these films respectively. Penny’s mom shielding her from Seaweed by putting bars on her room and being hypnotized and Megan’s mom sending her to reeducation camp are gross exaggerations that poke fun at these issues in hopes to evoke a certain sentiment within the audience.

  12. Alicia Fischer says:

    But I’m a Cheerleader is camp because deconstructs gender roles in an ironic way. One of the elements of camp is that it is a love of the unnatural. This film is camp in that it glorifies what is not heteronormative by portraying traditional gender roles and heteronormativity as ridiculous. For instance, Babbit forces viewers to associate pink with feminine and blue with masculine by having the female characters and everything associated with them be pink and so on. The bright colors and setting resemble Barbie and Ken’s lifestyle. Babbit did this because Barbie is seen as a heterosexual icon. However, Babbit’s ironic portrayal of gender roles and sexuality criticize Barbie and her lifestyle.

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