The announcement came last week from the Metropolitan Museum of Art that the theme for next year’s Met Gala in May would be (drum roll please) ‘Camp: Notes on Fashion’. Inspired by Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay ‘Notes on Camp’, which first popularised the term, we can expect lots of glitter, colour, sparkle and very daring clothing, right?
The curator of the Costume Institute, Andrew Bolton, seems to want to empower the definition of camp which may have been lost since 1964. Mr Bolton claims that camp is a “reaction to something”, that it holds a kind of political power. Instead of looking at Ru Paul’s Drag Race as giving camp a frivolous meaning embellished with rhinestones and sequins see the camp fashions of the show as a reaction against the oppression and inequalities the LGBTQ+ community face.
Take, for example, Netflix’s new show ‘Dancing Queen’ which centres around the fabulous Queen, Alyssa Edwards a.k.a. Justin Johnson. In the first episode we can see camp at its best as Alyssa officiates the same sex marriage of two of her close friends. Alyssa can be seen wearing a bedazzled cross leotard; the grooms wear their glitter beards with pride, topped off with cowboy hats and bright pink and blue sequinned fringed tuxedo jackets; and the guests wear glitter and smiles on their faces. It is not merely camp that the clothes are over the top and bedazzled within an inch of their lives, but that the exaggeration of the clothes stands for something. They are a reaction to the heteronormative institution of marriage and to the church’s view of same sex marriage; as Alyssa points out “This really is a real wedding by the way.”
The co-chairs for next year’s Met Gala exhibition were also announced and they include the likes of Anna Wintour, Lady Gaga (can there be a discussion on camp without her?), Alessandro Michele, Harry Styles and Serena Williams. Some journalists, such as Vanessa Friedman in her article in the New York Times, seems confused at Serena Williams’ place amongst this group of supposedly camp aficionados. Sontag writes in her ‘Notes’ that ‘the essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration’. Can we not see in Serena Williams’ recent response to her cat suit tennis kit ban that she has exaggerated the “feminine” features of her kit (by wearing a tutu, no less) in order to make a political stand on the limits put on women and their bodies. If this kind of exaggeration does not warrant Serena Williams a place to co-chair the exhibition then Andrew Bolton’s attempt at refreshing the purpose and power of camp has surely failed at the first hurdle?
If Serena can make such statements on a tennis court and Gaga can wear an embellished Elizabethan inspired gown to the London premiere of ‘A Star Is Born’ I cannot wait to see what they deem camp for the Met Gala’s red-carpet next year.