Please explain Camp to me.

This is bullshit.

What is camp? Why is Elinor Glyn in It camp?

How is All About Eve camp?

What is it?

Gee, Ilsa, but maybe you might want to go into a little more detail about why that considerably elaborate definition with numerous examples (running 58 separate points at over 6000 words) is “bullshit” before any of the Dopers feel inclined to expend any more energy explaining it to you.

Well, the masturbatory and overprosaic style of pseudo-semi-intellectual explication really grates on my nerves. The art of using way too many words to say very little is quite bothersome. In the English classes I had to take, we reveled in that style and I recoil from it instantly.

I am a science student/ist, and I write and read things written in a concise and clear manner. 6,000 words doesn’t really have much meaning; Twain was paid by the word, hence the excesses of his early and middle works.
So; a clear and concise definition of camp in cinema would be appreciated.

Sontag’s essay - and what is it doing up there in full on that website, BTW - was the essay that brought camp to public attention, all the way back in 1964. It defined the subject and the way the subject was talked about. Not wanting to bother to read it and saying that it’s too long when it is a listing of items indicates that you don’t really want to learn anything, you just want to gripe.

Not going to help you there.

I read the whole goddamn thing twice.

The use of prose to mask a dearth of content was what I took from it.

Excerpted from your own “BS” link:

Justice Potter Stewart once said (about obscenity), “I know it when I see it.” Those who revel in camp often say the same thing (whereas to others, it can just be “bad”). I think, though, that having an open mind and a generous disinclination to judge help. Eve can be considered campy because of the outsize emotions and the arch, heavily theatrical dialogue (which manages to live large on its own while still being true to the band of eccentrics saying it). Eve (in the It thread) explained about Glyn, though one can imagine what it would’ve been like if Margaret Dumont had starred in more dramas and fewer comedies. Tallulah Bankhead and Laird Cregar tended to overwhelm the screen with these amazing personalities that transcended the question of whether they were “acting” or not.

Oh, I read it. It isn’t the content; to the extent that Camp can be defined, it appears; Sontag did. It is the style. The pretentious impenetrability.

To the extent that camp is defined as “I know it when I see it,” I suppose that I can’t really be helped with words.

So, as far as Elinor Glyn goes in It, her appearance was the extreme of artifice, to “quote” Sontag, but is in reality supremely enjoyable due entirely to the fact that is absurd while Glyn held to it as though it were Shakespeare? Is all camp funny, as one must find Glyn?

What one calls camp, th other calls silly? Is the idea of camp that Glyn did not mar It, but actually was played upon a joke by the film?

If I read Sontag’s article right (and I probably didn’t, given that I don’t have a lot of time right now), camp boils down to life writ insanely large. Every small pockmark on the face becomes World War II, every small foible a glaring tragedy, every tasteful piece of gilt an insane mess of sequins that a deranged magpie would be happy to own. Its humor is in the fact that even the person shrieking about it knows deep down that life’s not actually that serious. In essence, camp is lifetheater.

Back in 1965 when the Batman TV show debuted, Sontag’s “camp” was a newly fashionable idea. The critics immediately seized on Batman as a show that deliberately took advantage of the “camp” craze spawned by Sontag, a show that was made as outrageously “campy” as possible.

I was a six year old kid then; I had no idea what “camp” was supposed to mean or what it had to do with the Dynamic Duo. All I knew was that (to my six year old brain) Batman rocked. The arch spoofing of Western civilization that the show indulged in was lost on me.

Now, I have both an appreciation of what “camp” means, and an appreciation of how much the Batman show actually sucked. It wasn’t even any good as “camp,” and when something tries so hard to be “camp” and fails, you know it must really, really suck.


Why did Sontag use the word “camp” anyway? Was it her memories of being a New York Jewish kid packed off to summer camp in the Catskills where kids were forced to sing corny songs, make cheezy handicrafts, and live an artificially naturalized existence?

Hello mudda, hello fadda

Camp is either the tragically comic, or the comically tragic. Like when a clown dies.


(Everything I need to know these days is somewhere on “The Simpsons”)


  1. An affectation or appreciation of manners and tastes commonly thought to be artificial, vulgar, or banal.
    2.Banality, vulgarity, or artificiality when deliberately affected or when appreciated for its humor: “Camp is popularity plus vulgarity plus innocence” (Indra Jahalani).

Having deliberately artificial, vulgar, banal, or affectedly humorous qualities or style: played up the silliness of their roles for camp effect.

v. camped, camp·ing, camps
v. intr.
To act in a deliberately artificial, vulgar, or banal way.

v. tr.
To give a deliberately artificial, vulgar, or banal quality to: camped up their cowboy costumes with chaps, tin stars, and ten-gallon hats.

[Origin unknown.]

campy adj.

Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Sontag wasn’t a New York Jewish kid. She grew up in Tucson and Los Angeles. Surprise.

I’ve always thought of it as “something banal, appreciated for its unintentional humorous value.”

If it actually manages to make a statement – and is INTENTIONALLY “banal” – yet witty – it could be considered “High Camp.”

What, we gonna pit Susan Sonntag just because you think she’s pretentious? I figured she just couldn’t find the words, is all…

Camp is overdoing it, often in a melodramatic or funny way. Although, some of its practitioners may not realize it’s camp.

The super cool chic of The Maltese Falcon and the over the top drama of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? are examples of camp. The trailer park denizen decorating their dream home with plastic pink flamingoes, thinking that they add class or add an air of nature to their unnatural domicile is camp.

Camping is getting into something that is camp in a self-conscious ironic way. It is full of irony and often exceeds the excesses of the camp it is idealizing. Thus, Bette Davis is camp because of her overacting vampiness, and drag queens emulating her is camping (or a type of camp itself if they take it seriously). Collecting pink flamingoes is camping.

Another hallmark of camp is that a certain variety of camp is usually only practiced by a particular segment (or ‘camp’) of society. It takes an outsider to notice the extravagance of the camp and to be mesmerized by it (or, to simply laugh at it). And then, it takes a small group (or ‘camp’) to assimilate the camp in an ironic way as an in-joke.

IOW, camp is “I can’t believe what I’m seein’, but I love it!”


Since you’ve already mentioned the Adam West/Burt Ward series, I’ll have to settle for a nitpick.

The series premiered on 12 January 1966.

It’s hard to explain camp, except that it’s been around for hundreds of years and has been used primarily as a means of communication, humor and self-protection primarily by gay men. let’s try some examples:

Camp: Barbie dolls
*Not Camp: Cabbage-Patch dolls

Camp: Mickey Rooney
*Not Camp: Jackie Cooper

Camp: The Chrysler Building
*Not Camp: The Empire State Building

Camp: French poodles
*Not Camp: Corgis

Camp: Schiaparelli
*Not Camp: Chanel

Camp: Bette Davis and Joan Crawford
*Not Camp: The Gish sisters

Camp: Diamonds
*Not Camp: Pearls

You might check out the web site of Lypsinka, one of the reining Queens of Camp.

Not Camp: Screwing up your coding . . .

So Glyn was camp in Iy because her appearance was a joke to the filmmakers and the audience, but not to her?

Camp, IMHO, was the first inkling of postmodernism, long before postmodernism. It’s an acknowledgment of the context, and not just of the content, of a piece of art (“art” defined as broadly as possible here). Camp is an acknowledgment that HOW you say something is just as significant as WHAT you’re saying; that one can have good intentions, and even good content, but shoddy presentation. Camp is those instances when the content and the context are at odds, or when the artistic intention and the artistic result are at odds. Specifically, when those odds create a dissonance that lends itself to ironic interpretation.

Pure camp (making this up as I go along) is Ed Wood: he doesn’t know he’s camp. Pure camp, i.e., is in the eye of the beholder: when you watch Ed Wood you supply your own palimpsest of irony, as Wood had no ironic intentions while he was creating his art.

Applied camp (still making this up) is Lypsinka or Peewee Herman or Verhoeven’s Showgirls: camp intentionally lent an ironic tone by the artist. The audience receives rather than supplies the irony: the artist examines the artistic dissonance of other artists, and shares that external perspective with the audience.

Any value in any of that? Anyone?