What do you understand by the term ‘performative’ and/or ‘camp’? Discuss the views of at least two authors and apply it to one or two artists/performers/designers/filmmakers whose works explore issues of gender/sexuality/feminism and identity.
What is the definition of “camp” or “being camp”? Is the term ‘Camp’ considered positive or negative? Does being camp refer to gender, sexuality, fashion sense, mannerism etc.? In today’s society the term camp seems to be commonly used when referring to men who are flamboyantly gay or heterosexual men who act gay. When one hears the word camp used to refer to a person one automatically pictures over the top, theatrical effeminate behavior and although camp has been used to refer to both men and women it has become a term predominantly used to refer to men. How do we define the term camp? Camp is “a man behaving and dressing in a way that some think is a typical gay man”. (Cambridge Dictionary,2017). The original use of the term camp referred to men who had embraced their inner feminine side which was not necessarily affiliated with being gay. This essay will discuss the term camp focusing mainly on Richard Dyer’s theory on the terminology of the term camp and the views of writer Susan Sontag, who in her essay Notes on ‘Camp’ explores the evolution of the term camp.We understand from the words of Richard Dyer that camp is to be “one thing that expresses and confirms being a gay man.
Camp is not masculine nor is it butch, camp is a way of being witty and vital, without confirming to drabness of the hetero male role” (Dyer 2002:49) The theory of being camp according to Richard Dyer is a lifestyle that makes the gay man stand out from straight men, allowing them to be themselves through the way they act, dress or talk. The theory also explains that camp has kept and keeps men going by being able to self-express. This shows that some men are comfortable in skin having and have no problem identifying their sexuality while some men might not be as confident and feel uncomfortable with their sexuality. The theory of James Dawson states that “stereotypes suggest that a group, or at least a majority of that group behaves in a certain way, and that kills the idea or individuality.”(Dawson 2014:49).This quote from James Dawson relates back to the question of whether the term camp is classed as negative or positive.
Richard Dyer’s theory touches on the subject of the negative meaning of stereotypes which can make some men do not want to be referred as camp if camp becomes a term synonymous with being gay.The theory of John D’Emilio, Capitalism and gay identity explains that “our movement may have begun as a struggle of a minority but what we should be trying to “liberate” is an aspect of the personal lives of all people sexual expression” (D’Emilio 1983:474). John D’Emilio mentions the struggle for gay men in his own words. He uses a powerful word liberate which is “to free a group or individual from social or economic constraints or discrimination, especially arising from traditional role expectations or bias” (Dictionary,2017).
This sums up John D’Emilio’s opinion on how he thinks that LBGT community should all just be set free from other opinions and be able to embrace their sexuality. Manuel Castells is almost like a reply back to the John D’Emilio’s quote as he mentions that “San Francisco is arguably one of the most powerful and visible communities/movements in the world”(Castells 1997:203).This shows how although homosexuals may be judge and discriminated they all stick together making their community stronger. There will now be a discussion on how artist and performers embrace their sexuality with all the negatives and positive from an understanding of the term camp. Lady Gaga, a very successful pop artist is a strong supporter of the gay community and expresses her sexuality through her music, outrageous costumes, and her everyday lifestyle. Lady Gaga has quite a large following of gay fans who look up to her as a ‘gay icon’.
In her acceptance speech in 2009 at the MuchMusic award show, she said ‘Thank God and the gays” (Muchmusic Awards,2009: Youtube). In 2011 Lady Gaga released a song called ‘Born This Way’. “The song was about love and equality” (Songfacts,2017). sending out a message that not everyone is the same and no matter what we are all beautiful regardless of appearance, colour, race, gender or sexuality. One of the lines in the song is “don’t be a drag just be a queen”.
Richard Dyer also mentions queens in his book stating that some camp men like to be referred to as queens. “The very tight togetherness that makes it so good to be one of the queens is just the thing that makes it so good to be one of the queens is just the thing that makes a lot of other gay men feel left out. “(Dyer 2002:50). A brief definition of the word queen is to be able to express yourself and be comfortable doing so.
To be a queen you must hold your head high letting your inner feminine side out, for example men that vogue could easily be referred to as camp or queens. Voguing “is to dance to music in such a way as to imitate the characteristic poses struck by a model on a catwalk” (Google Dictionary,2017). To be able to Vouge is to bring out your inner queen battling against one another. Here is an image of Madonna and her male backup dancers, vouging to Madonna’s hit song ‘Vouge’. Madonna is another inspirational artist in the gay community. Madonna has been in the music industry longer but shares a lot of similarities with Lady GaGa when it comes to their music, style and fan base.
On the 28th August 2013, Lady Gaga made an appearance at the VMA show dressed as a butch looking man. This butch masculine look is like the reverse of men acting feminine and how it can be stereotyped. Lady Gaga was making a statement dressing like a man showing that she can embrace her inner masculine side just like men can embrace their inner camp. To summarize Lady Gaga as artist/performer she is a perfect example of understanding the word camp as women and also as a performer. She expresses her “campness” through her music, dress sense and personal opinions. This alone shows how the term camp can be used as a positive.Two British comedians, Alan Carr and David Williams are examples of being camp “Alan Carr interviews personalities in the world of entertainment in his own inimitable style”(Alan Carr,2017). Alan Carr could be referred to as very camp due to the fact that he is openly gay, flamboyant, theatrical and effeminate.
David Williams, on the other hand, is a comedian, actor, author, and television presenter. famously known for his role in the BBC television programme ‘Little Britain’. David Walliams can also be described as camp as he is also flamboyant, theatrical and effeminate but he is heterosexual.Alan Carr is gay and has no problem expressing it and letting the world know this on his channel 4 programme ‘Chatty Man’.
Alan Carr has been quoted as saying that ‘being camp has made him a lot of money’ (Alan Carr,2017), whilst the Guardian also says that he’s been accused of being too gay giving homosexuals a bad name'(Guardian,2017). Both quotes highlight the negative and positives being camp. Alan Carr seems to be nothing but himself throughout his programme which makes him happy and also a lot of money. He has also been quoted in interviews old saying that he has spent the majority of his days trying to tone down his campish ways by making his voice deeper and doing masculine activities.
This shows that at some point in his life he wasn’t comfortable in his skin but has grown to love himself. The negative criticism from The Guardian doesn’t seem to have an effect on Mr. Carr because he still remains to be his bubbly outgoing self. Here we have an image of Alan impersonating the queen.
This image shows how much Alan Carr expresses himself by impersonating the queen of all people. The photo is a bold statement within itself. Making a statement saying that to be gay you must be seen as a Queen which ties into Richard Dyer’s theory about gay men behaving like queens. The image also shows you what Lady GaGa meant in her hit song ‘Born This Way’ where she mentions ‘don’t be a drag just be a queen’ Alan Carr literally took the term literally by impersonating the queen.
Susan Sontag, in her essay Notes On “Camp”, states that to talk about Camp is to betray it'(Sontag:1964:1) This quote can relate to Alan Carr views of being camp in that it can be assumed that he is camp because he is gay thus betraying the word Camp. In Susan Sontag’s essay, one gets the feeling that camp is more than just sexuality, camp is an artistic expression through several forms and defining it as just predominantly one thing is a betrayal. David Williams is straight but has no issue embracing his inner feminine side. David Walliams occasionally played gay roles in Little Britain and because he is already very feminine people would instantly class him as gay. Camp is not always identified through homosexual men but could possibly be very well-groomed men who are in touch with their feminine side and are not restrained in how they express themselves whether through how they dress, talk or behave. The Notes on camp by Susan Sontag mention that ‘not only is there a camp vision there’s also a camp way of looking at things, discoverable in objects and the behavior of the person, but not everything can be seen as camp'(Sontag 1964:2).
Breaking this quote down sums up how stereotypical the world can be about how a person acts and expresses themselves. Susan recognizes this and points it out in her book. David Williams is a prime example of men that can be easily stereotyped just from the way he acts. David Williams has been quoted as saying “I’ve always been effeminate, and I think people confuse effeminacy with homosexuality like they go hand-in-hand, but there are plenty of effeminate people who are straight, and plenty of butch people who are gay” (David William, The Mirror:2017).DavidWilliam makes a point by letting The Mirror know that there are also men who are very masculine that are gay so why should he be classed as gay just because of his femininity.
It has been shown that the negative associations of the term camp can be down to the fact that the term perhaps not being used correctly. The term camp seems to have two types of meaning. The first being that camp is synonymous to being gay and by men expressing their inner queen by being overly dramatic and effeminate. The sound meaning of camp is a way of expression through fashion music behavior not defined by gender. Not defining the term on gender now bring a small summary of each theory throughout this essay that argues its point to get a better understanding. The term kept dwelling down to the fact that it would just be instantly associated with being gay.
There was an understanding of how the term could be mistaken but looking at two different types of which performers/artist showed how there could be similarities between being a feminine man and being gay men. Although there may be some similarities it was still passed as stereotypical to put someone in a specific category. Being simply based on the way they express themselves. This was identified by the David Williams who was categorized as being gay when he is actually a straight man but judged just for being in touch with his feminine side. This takes us back stereotypical opinion but never stopped David Williams being feminine mentioning how some gay men can also be very butch stating a point that why should he be looked upon for being himself. The second meaning of the term could possibly be that the word camp is actually associated with being gay as society has just accepted that being its true meaning.
The theory of Richard Dyers “The Culture of Queers” highlights how the term is used as a positive in the gay community, giving several quotes to the rules of how to basically be camp is to see yourself like royalty hold your head high, love and embrace everything about yourself. Richard Dyer’s statements strongly relate back to the theory of Susan Sontag who sees it as a negative but also a positive. Susan Sontag quotes that to know the true meaning of being camp you have to embrace, and Richard Dyers speaks as if he’s speaking from his own personal experience. Throughout this essay were a few negatives but more positive which. This answers the question whether the meaning of the term is considered as negative or positive. Even with the negatives, Alan Carr was able to give a clear understanding of how being camp has made him so much money by just being himself. So although the public eye might discriminate and stereotype them in some way still support just by watching Alan Carr programme. Other artists such Lady Gaga and Madonna are also prime examples whether people disagree with their lifestyle or not they still express it in their own way as females.
This is done by these three performers and two artists through self-expression which seems to keep their buzz going making their fan base very strong especially their gay fan base. The outcome of this essay was to understand the term “camp” discussing the views on authors artist and performances which was strongly focused on making the end result is that the term is understood as a positive and a better understanding of term from different points of view.