Notes on “Camp”: Susan Sontag Puts a Sensibility Definition on “Camp”
I have chosen atopic-focused analysis. I will analyze the essay “Notes on “Camp” by Susan Sontag. The essay is about the imposition of meaning to a “Camp” rather than the surface meaning people are already familiar with. According to Sontag, a “Camp” is more than just the beauty of the world but the deeper view of the artifice and aestheticism. “Camp” is just the definition of an extraordinary occurrence which is enveloped in perfection beyond believability. As per her indications, she relates “Camp” with homosexuality claiming that “Camp” taste may be perceived as homosexuality taste. She describes “Camp” as being playful, elegant and private, factors which seem shared with the homosexuals. Further, she claims that “Camp” is love and the feeling of being fulfilled in unique representation.
My topic of focus is on “Camp” defined in varied terms, especially as a fashion. I will summarize the article by Sontag then provide the analysis in relation to the content after which I will relate the topic “Fashion” to the work of other artists supporting the same ideology. I will analyze “Notes on “Camp”” against “The Rise of Male Scrunchie” by Jacob Gallagher and “The Hidden Meaning behind Women’s Voluminous Fashion” by Nancy MacDonell of The Wall Street Journal (2019). My main point will be on using fashion to define elegance, beauty and as a “Camp” in relation to defining the ultimate aestheticism of the world. Sontag already classified fashion as a “Camp” implying that the connection already exists.
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Immediately at the commence of her essay, “Notes on “Camp””, Susan Sontag introduces a term which is not, in any way, a vocabulary to many as it is used quite often, then tags a sensibility meaning onto it making it an ambiguous term from her intuitive perspective. She defines the word, just like any other words that have been defined before, in a more figurative, authentic and original way deviating from the common knowledge a reader had as per the title of the piece. From the readers’ perspectives, “Notes on “Camp” was to define “Camp” in common terms but not to change the entire aspect of the default meaning as per the original understanding of the word. To be more precise, the reader expected only a few notes on the word “Camp” only to their disbelief, the word “Camp” is not even the “Camp” they thought they knew. What a turn of events!
In her essay “Notes on “Camp”,” Sontag defines “Camp” as the love for the unnatural, the love of artifice and exaggeration. Generally, according to Sontag, a “Camp” is a sensibility that reveals exaggeration, playfulness, artifice, stylization and the aestheticism of the world. Extensively, she has referred to “Camp” as being apolitical and disengaged in most parts of her introduction. However, some queer theorists have tried linking her work with the political conditions in those days of which she has noted some. Other postmodernists and feminists have also had also explored “Camp” with the ideology of relating it to gender non-conformity thus working against the heteronormativity.
According to Sontag, “Camp” is a way of viewing the earth as an aesthetic phenomenon, not in terms of just beauty but the deeper in terms of the highest degree of stylization and artifice. She emphasized on style as it portrays the “Camp” sensibility as disengaged, apolitical and depoliticized. A “Camp” is not only on the way one visualizes the aesthetics, but also the way people view things in totality ranging from behaviors to qualities in an object. “Camp” can be found in furniture, clothes, buildings, people and novels.
Sontag claims that “Camp” taste has a higher affinity for specific types of arts than others. For example, clothes and furniture and the general appearance of décor form the larger part of the “Camp”. It is therefore correct to say a piece is too good to be “Camp”. Some of the examples of the works she gave include those by Jean Cocteau whom she believes his work is a “Camp” but not those of Andre Gide. She also claims that nothing natural can be “Camp”y. Everything “Camp”y has to be an artifice.
Sontag explains that “Camp” enables people to view the world in style, an exaggerated style which may not seem real from a realism point of view. “Camp” also sees a thing in quotation marks. A “Camp” is always intentional and deadly serious. It is always harmful, innocent, not strictly and part of a failed seriousness. However, when something is just bad, it is not considered a “Camp”. “Camp” is a work of art that portrays itself seriously but cannot be taken too seriously because it is an exaggeration. “Camp” is also an attempt to do something extraordinary. It is the glorification of a character.
She claims that we love art because of the seriousness, sensibilities and dignity which it achieves. The sensibilities entail morals, aestheticism, style and dethroned seriousness. It also proposes the comic vision of the world.
She later defended her ideologies related to homosexuality by saying not all homosexuals have “Camp” taste since people defined “Camp” taste as a synonym for homosexual taste brushing off the claims and terming them as propaganda. She explained that “Camp” taste is a mode of enjoyment, generosity and love for human nature. “Camp” taste nourishes itself as that love that has gone into certain objects or styles (Sontag, p.3). In her closing remarks, she says “it is good because it is awful”, but that only applies to that which she has sketched.
While Sontag was writing her essay, she included varied references to other artistic pieces done by other writers using their ideologies as a base to justify her definition of “Camp”. She argued that there was more to “Camp” than just the playful aspect of it and the pretense or the fake elegance. She portrays “Camp” as being a more serious aspect of art and one which needs researched input whenever a person wants to produce a piece. On the contrary, she also claims that those very serious artistic works which fail to impress also form an element of “Camp”. According to her, a “Camp” is a sensibility that evaluates the world on strict aesthetical terms.
In her essay, she claims that “Camp” is specifically characterized by the theatrical, exaggeration or artificial love for the unnatural converting seriousness into the frivolous. “It represents a victory of style over content, aesthetic over morality” (Sontag p.2). She later pointed out the gay people as the sole beneficiary of the “Camp” taste as the vanguard and the most articulate audience describing them as homosexual aestheticism (Sontag, p.3).
The same sentiments have also been shared by Gallagher in his fashion essay on the rise of scrunchie under the male section. He argues that males have become articulated in the fashion industry. Among the factors driving the male fashion towards adopting the scrunchie, the design is their sexual orientation. It is true that gay people like exposing their chest for an easy spot by their fellows. To orient the fashion towards meeting their requirement, they have focused on propagating the same for the straight people leading to increased demand of the fashion as the requisition of it has been normalized. Today, it has become normal to see a straight person where a scrunchie without criticism (Gallagher, p.2). The ideology of normalizing the scrunchie fashion to all males is to neutralize the stereotyping. Before the adoption of the fashion by straight people, those who were seen wearing the scrunchie were easily profiled as gay. In relation to fashion being a “Camp”, it is still propagated in the society of today.
At some point, the reader begins to suspect that the knowledge of Sontag on “Camp” is diminishing as she starts to indulge in topics not as relevant to her initial ideology as expected. For instance, she introduces the gay topic relating it to “Camp” taste. Many readers may not see sense in including homosexuality in “Camp”. She talks about homosexuality so much that a reader may be mistaken to forget the initial intent of the writer. One may conclude that she has no idea what she is talking about and experience the falling apart of the entire essay.
This same uninformed out-of-topic strategy has also been implemented by Gallagher in his essay. He has introduced the gay topic discussing possible factors influencing the adoption of the scrunchie fashion for men. The reader tends to feel that the writer has lost the initial touch of the topic since if they wanted to talk about the effects of homosexuality on scrunchie fashion that could have been the initial topic of study. The reader tends to feel the writer has minimal information about the topic they chose and are gambling to justify their intent of including an irrelevant topic thereby taking much space discussing a topic which deteriorates the value of the essay.
Through Sontag’s focus on the gays in relation to “Camp” taste, the homosexual found the essay more intriguing thus they read it intensively losing the initial intent of the essay. From their perspective, they were not concerned with the other aspects of “Camp”. They did not view “Camp” as the expression of elegance but as the “Camp” taste. With this mentality propagating the land, the essay became a point of focus for the gay rights activists. They found a base on which they could justify their practice claiming it was morally upright to be different.
For this reason, feminists and the postmodernists found a loophole through which they scrutinized Sontag’s article as that causing imbalance in the gender norms. Being that Sontag defined “Camp” as the love for the unnatural, the homosexuals adopted the ideology to justify their actions. “While it’s not true that “Camp” taste is homosexuality taste, there is no doubt a peculiar affinity and overlap” (Sontag, paragraph. 51). They claimed conformity to gender is not elegance; it is the non-conformity that makes an individual a “Camp”.
In his seminal essay, Gallagher has also used the same gay right activist strategy to gain market for his work. He has legitimized gay people’s actions as a way of gaining market value for his products. In turn, the essay seems to be read overly by many readers who want to understand the basics of relating the scrunchie fashion to homosexuality. Legitimizing homosexuality is one way of promoting the otherwise not normal act to a societal norm (Gallagher, p.2). The gays switched attention from other aspects of the essay such as the factors affecting scrunchie design adoption, why scrunchie has a unisex design and different relative scrunchie jackets to the subsection documenting homosexuality deviating from the initial topic of discussion.
In her essay, Sontag also describes “Camp” as being elegant and beauty-associated. She insists that a “Camp” is not a fake elegance but a surreal occurrence of the beauty of the world. The elegance aspect of a “Camp” was displayed by Sontag using fashion and other forms of art. “Camp” can be found in movies, novels, buildings, people and furniture” (Sontag, p.1). From this statement, it is evident that when a person seems “Campy”, a building or a movie, it is their elegancy that is portrayed out loud. Being elegant makes a product look extraordinary just as the same definition she used in a “Camp”.
To share the same sentiments on elegance through expression, MacDonell has written an essay on women’s voluminous fashion. In her publication, she stresses on elegance, a factor that makes the woman look elegant through voluminous apparels (MacDonell, p.2). She tries to influence women to embrace voluminous cloths as many have ventured in tight ones. It is as expected that women tend to admire fashion; thus such an essay will probably have an intensive influence on their choices of clothing. Elegance as a “Camp” is portrayed all over her article as the main theme. However, this was not the main theme in Sontag’s essay as she expressed different kinds. Other themes displayed in her work include the effects of fashion on the economy and environment.
In her final statements, Sontag defined “Camp” as a sense of enjoyment, not being judged and lots of appreciations. In the same perspective, she claims that “Camp” is love, the love for human nature, the love that has gone into things, objects and personal styles. She further states that “Camp” is an expression of a private ideology (Sontag, p.3). I will analyze each of these claims about the work done by MacDonell and Gallagher. First, in her appreciation for “Camp”, Sontag claims it is an act of enjoyment which I concur with. For one to adopt a certain fashion, they must intend to enjoy the same. The same ideology of enjoyment has been shared by both MacDonell and Gallagher in their essays. Gallagher claim men enjoy the scrunchies fashion while the voluminous female fashion is also adopted due to the sense of being unique.
Other factors such as “Camp” being love, love for human nature and love for objects are also displayed in the seminal essays by Gallagher and MacDonell. Gallagher describes love as the feeling one has towards a fashion of interest (Gallagher, p.3). Men have fallen in love with the scrunchie fashion and with time, it has been adopted by the straight too. As for MacDonell, her ideology is to reintroduce the love for a voluminous outfit for women in the fashion industry as women have gone the tight fashion way.
- Gallagher, Jacob. The Rise of Male Scrunchie., 2019. https://www.wsj.com/articles/do-real-men-wear-scrunchies-11554736991
- MacDonell, Nancy. The Hidden Meaning behind Women’s Voluminous Fashion. 2019. https://www.wsj.com/articles/do-real-men-wear-scrunchies-11554736991
- Susan Sontag. “Camp”: Notes on “Camp”. , 2019. Print. https://faculty.georgetown.edu/irvinem/theory/Sontag-NotesOn”Camp”-1964.html