Daily BulletinDaily Bulletin


  • Written by Matthew Sini, Lecturer in Screen Media, University of the Sunshine Coast

The Met Gala is an annual fundraising event for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute where fashion and celebrity often collide. It always manages to raise eyebrows and this years’ theme, “Camp: Notes on Fashion,” has generated much debate. A common question many fashionistas and cultural critics are asking of each outfit is “ …but is it camp?”

This kind of overly analytical and far too serious commentary on a sensibility that is supposed to mock such things is intriguing but not surprising given how the concept of camp has evolved.

How camp was the Met Gala? Not very ‘Haus of Gaga’ - Lady Gaga’s take on the ‘camp’ theme. Andres Otero/WENN.com/AAP

In 1964, author Susan Sontag penned perhaps her most influential essay, Notes on Camp. It was one of the first attempts to try to pin down camp’s qualities and parameters. It’s clear why she chose to write some notes rather than a formal essay; because camp is a sensibility or a way of perceiving the world, it is quite difficult to treat systematically. In fact, Sontag would say that it often defies the very idea of systematisation.

For Sontag, camp is “the love of the exaggerated, the ‘off,’ of things-being-what-they-are-not”, and though it is not merely visual, it has often been expressed in the visual styles of décor, architecture, cinema and fashion.

Certain aspects of Art Nouveau, old Flash Gordon comics, women’s clothes of the 1920s like feather boas and fringed garments, celebrity dandies and “sissies” like Oscar Wilde and Paul Lynde, “overwrought” performances by classic Hollywood actresses such as Bette Davis and Judy Garland and so on. Key to camp is a sense of affectation, of style over substance. But equally important is the way one looks at those things, how one appreciates affectation.

Missing the point

Many of the gowns and costumes at this year’s Met Gala attempt to capture the essence of camp, and in trying to do so miss the point of camp entirely. There is nothing discernibly camp about Jared Leto carrying around a replica of his own head. Quirky and strange? Maybe. But nowhere near camp.

How camp was the Met Gala? Not very Jared Leto’s outfit: bad camp. Justin Lane/EPA/AAP

Another interesting example was Celine Dion, who wore a glittering tribute to Judy Garland and the Ziegfield Follies, designed by Oscar de la Renta. While inspired by camp figures, it is not the outfit here that is camp but rather the person wearing it. Dion is arguably a contemporary camp icon, and she would be camp regardless of what she wore. This is because her celebrity image owes more to her overly emotional songs and the way in which she performs them, her goofy persona, and the heightened emotion of some of her public statements.

People with a camp appreciation of Celine Dion enjoy her ironically, finding the style of her public personality thoroughly entertaining. Such appreciators would probably also love the fact that she apparently initially thought the theme for this year’s gala was “camping.” In nature. Bless her.

How camp was the Met Gala? Not very Celine Dion resplendent in her outfit designed by Oscar de la Renta. Andres Otero/WENN.com/AAP

Other guests such as Billy Porter approached the camp sensibility much more accurately by incorporating outrageous pomp and performance to their attendances.

Porter came dressed like some kind of Egyptian goddess, carried in on a litter by six nubile, shirtless men. While this adds a certain spectacle, it was, like every other guest’s appearance, a designed, rehearsed happening.

How camp was the Met Gala? Not very Billy Porter’s arrival at the Met Gala was an ornate spectacle. Andres Otero/Wenn.com/AAP

For Sontag and many thinkers who came after her, there really are two ways of “doing” camp. One is the “naïve camp” and the other is “conscious camp.” Naïve camp is the Judy Garland kind of camp. Garland did not intend to be a gay icon, but she became one because her earnest, overwrought performances invited a large portion of queer people to view her as a camp figure.

Gay men in particular appreciated the affectations in her performances, in a similar way to how drag queens are appreciated in the queer community. They are not appreciated for how well they perform but for how much they perform, for how much extra they put into their lip-synched song and dance.

Read more: Why Dorothy's red shoes deserve their status as gay icons, even in changing times

‘Conscious camp’

How camp was the Met Gala? Not very Amber Valletta’s costume was simple yet effective. Justin Lane/EPA/AAP

“Conscious camp” is what was on display at the Met Gala this year. Take Lady Gaga’s “Russian doll” of dresses, each layer referencing old Hollywood glamour to an over the top degree. An oversized version of Marilyn Monroe’s dress in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is removed and beneath it is a sleeker black, femme fatale number, followed by another reveal of a more realistically proportioned pink dress. Gaga is well-versed in queer and pop cultural aesthetics, and there was a fun narrative here, but its barrage of old Hollywood references don’t necessarily make it camp.

Contrast this with Amber Valletta’s rather simple, but effective costume: she looks like she is wearing a giant, green loofa, and in most of the photos looks to be taking herself way too seriously. That’s the sort of camp Sontag might enjoy.

The best kind of camp is the kind that doesn’t know it is camp. Which is just another way of saying you can’t really design and wear your way into the camp sensibility.

Authors: Matthew Sini, Lecturer in Screen Media, University of the Sunshine Coast

Read more http://theconversation.com/how-camp-was-the-met-gala-not-very-116742

How will the court deal with the Christchurch mosque killer representing himself at sentencing?


Review: Kate Grenville's A Room Made of Leaves fills the silence of the archives


Our helicopter rescue may seem a lot of effort for a plain little bird, but it was worth it


The Conversation


Prime Minister Scott Morrison Interview with Ray Hadley, 2GB

RAY HADLEY: Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, supposed to be on holidays. He's not. He's online. Prime Minister, good morning.    PRIME MINISTER: G’day Ray. Certainly staying very close to every...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Scott Morrison Covid 19 update

PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon, everyone. Today I’m joined by Professor Paul Murphy - sorry, Professor Paul Kelly. I’ve got Brendan Murphy still on the brain. You are not far from us, Brendan. B...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

FORDHAM: Thank you very much for talking to us. I know it's a difficult day for all of those Qantas workers. Look, they want to know in the short term, are you going to extend JobKeeper?   PRI...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

Fifth Dimension: Identified as one of the world’s leading strategic consultancies

Sydney based consulting company, Fifth Dimension, has been recognised for its ground breaking work, receiving a place in the GreenBook Research Industry Trends (GRIT) Top 25 Strategic Consultancie...

Tess Sanders Lazarus - avatar Tess Sanders Lazarus

Understanding Your NextGen EHR System and Features

NextGen EHR (Electronic Health Records) systems can be rather confusing. However, they can offer the most powerful features and provide some of the most powerful solutions for your business’s EHR ne...

Rebecca Stuart - avatar Rebecca Stuart

SEO In A Time of COVID-19: A Life-Saver

The coronavirus pandemic has brought about a lot of uncertainty for everyone across the world. It has had one of the most devastating impacts on the day-to-day lives of many including business o...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

News Company Media Core

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion