Tonight's Met Gala has people scurrying to try and figure out exactly what the theme means. That's not a new thing. With past themes like "Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination" and "Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age Of Technology," the artistic direction sometimes confuses even style-savants.
But this year's "Camp: Notes on Fashion" has really thrown people for a loop. Camp, in its purest form, is exaggerated exaggeration. Camp is all around us—it's the television shows and movies and memes that become bigger than their intention, and you likely just don't realise it's camp.
While the title references Susan Sontag's influential essay "Notes on 'Camp'," the best way for beginners to understand what the hell "camp" is might be to look at it through pop culture.
A look from the Gucci fall/winter 2019 fashion show. If there’s one fashion house that has unabashedly embrace camp, it’s Gucci. | Getty Images
Being Camp Versus Identifying Camp
To break it down in the simplest way possible, camp has two necessary parts: the thing that is camp and the way you see it. Before getting into what is and isn't camp, you need to figure out how to view it when it's right in front of you.
Identifying camp is a bit of an inside joke—while "campy" things often embody the same ideas of extravagance and excess, what makes it camp is how it's interpreted. There's a fascination with the exaggeration, but also what it's exaggerating.
A good example is drag queens: Most drag queens aren't trying to look like women as much as they're attempting to look like an intensified idea of a woman. To understand the camp aspect of that—the over-the-top nature of it and how we see it—is to also understand how camp comes to be.
The Best Examples
Director John Waters: Master of Camp. | Neville Elder/Getty Images
In addition to drag, think of these cultural staples as a camp crash course. John Waters films? Almost always camp. The concepts are insane and over the top, to the point of not even making sense. Camp musicians? Performers like Cher and Nicki Minaj and Lady Gaga (who is a co-chair for this year's gala) come to mind because of their over-the-top performances and costumes.
The ’60s Batman TV show? Definitely camp. | ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images
In terms of television, the Batman series of the '60s starring Adam West is a perfect example. Even for a superhero series, the situations and relationships in Batman were turned up so much that the show is undeniably campy. In more recent years, Amy Sedaris' work on Strangers with Candy and At Home with Amy Sedaris is perfect modern-day camp.
Sontag notes that, “Camp is esoteric—something of a private code, a badge of identity even, among small urban cliques.” Since the beginning, it has flourished in queer and feminine enclaves, but that’s not to say there aren’t examples of camp in mainstream popular culture as well.
Camp in the Mainstream
Scream brought the camp mentality to mainstream horror movies. | Dimension Films
A wider-known example of camp is the Scream series of the mid-to-late '90s. It's the camp iteration of horror, playing off the genre's most exaggerated tropes, yet doing so in a serious enough way that it doesn't come across as satire.
The differentiator between satire and camp is, partially, intention. While satire is driven by intention, camp is a bit more flexible. There's a sincerity that comes along with camp that doesn't exactly exist in satire. If you've ever seen This Is Us, think of Mandy Moore's old woman makeup and wig. Camp, perfected. It's so terrible that it's wonderful.
In the 2000s, reality television ushered in its own brand of camp, but none more notable than Tiffany "New York" Pollard, who made her debut on the first season of VH1's Flavor of Love. She's bawdy and exaggerated and it's not quite clear whether this character she's created is sincere or a genius reimagining of what reality television craves.
As Sontag believed, "Pure Camp is always naive. Camp which knows itself to be Camp ('camping') is usually less satisfying." The most satisfying reality show characters are those who exist to be a concentrated version of stereotypes—and it's even better when that character comes from a place of sincerity.
How Does That Translate to Fashion?
That's a great (and complicated!) question. The theme of the Met Gala circumvents the rules of camp, in a way. The camp you'll see on the red carpet requires intention, but that's not to say that it will be a wash. Expect a number of cultural references, but ultimately think of exaggerated exaggeration. More than that, think of the exaggeration of concepts and taking an idea too far.
Camp fails when it doesn't try hard enough. There's no place for subtlety in camp, so if someone only goes 100 percent, they're probably going to come across as having bad taste as opposed to encompassing true camp.
This year's co-chairs are Alessandro Michele, Harry Styles, Lady Gaga, Serena Williams, and Vogue’s Anna Wintour. While Williams may be a bit more of a surprise choice, Gaga and Styles's sensibilities are perfect for the camp aesthetic. So when the gala's attendees start making their way down the red carpet, be on the lookout for the sickeningly extravagant, the sincere extreme, and excess to the nth degree. If it's anything less than too much, then you're doing it wrong.
From: Esquire US