Most of Y’all Have Never Read Susan Sontag and It Shows

May 7, 2019

… to the friends of Dorothy who never wore a watch… this one is for you.

 

I knew when the theme for the 2019 Met gala was announced that I’d be writing this piece. I swear to God, I just knew it. Because I know what the Internet is and I know how y’all act. More importantly, I know how fashion reduces and insists upon itself in search of validation and potency rather than intellect. So it came as no surprise to me when I got on Twitter last night, that people were showing their ignorance and their ass. That being said, there were some who attended the Met Gala last night who were pure and enchanted and for that... I thank you. But overall this is just not what we asked for. But it’s not your fault. Anna Wintour and the cis-straight-white-women over at Vogue fucked this up when they put Keiynan Lonsdale and Ezra Miller in dresses and called it “Camp”. THAT’S NOT CAMP. That’s gender-bending, gender fluid, cross-dressing if you’re nasty… but it’s not camp.

 

The common misconception is that CAMP is flamboyant but that’s not it. Camp isn’t about being loud, it’s about being coy. It’s all a tease, a dance if you will - and you better. It’s a flare. Pizzaz. Nuance. And there is nothing nuanced or coy about a man in a frou-frou dress. Nothing wrong with it, but nothing a bit shy. It would have been more camp if it was Ellen De Generous in a top-hat and bow-tie. Hell, Frank Ocean in his little Prada security guard hoodie was more meta than that. But I digress…

 

Note 1: Camp is a certain mode of aestheticism. It is one way of seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon. That way, the way of Camp, is not in terms of beauty, but in terms of the degree of artifice, of stylization.

 

Camp isn’t meant to scream. It’s meant to text you an emoji that makes you think. And while Notes on Camp couldn’t have been more clear, it seems that the museum and her guest forgot to check their emails for Sontag’s manifesto and went straight to the cliff notes, and it shows. To help and to read, I will take you through a few of the more important points and hopefully perspective will follow. The library is open:

 

In 1964, Susan Santog wrote an essay in which she defined and explored Camp. 58 proverbs and 2 footnotes dedicated to her who shall not be named (paragraph 2). But before there was camp… there was kitsch. Kitsch – a German word used to describe art that is either hopelessly simple or gloriously melodramatic. Milan Kundera’s explanation of kitsch in The Unbearable Lightness of Being describes kitsch as an incident "in which shit is denied and everyone acts as though it did not exist". Think that through. Kitsch is both a denial and an acceptance of shit. We accept that there is “shit”, so much so that we also accept it- as a whole- that it does not affect us, therefore it does not exist. In other words, if everyone smells “shit” then no one does.  

   

Think of it like WASP culture. Kitsch implies perfection or “normalcy” by the denying of things that are other. Camp on the other hand - and as a natural progression - is all about the stylization. Just as reading is fundamental, presentation is key.

 

Note 2: To emphasize style is to slight content or to introduce an attitude which is neutral with respect to content.

 

The trick to camp – much like kitsch and all humor, is that it insists upon itself. If you have to explain your jokes to people… it’s not funny.
 

Note 44: Camp proposes a comic vision of the world. But not a bitter or polemical comedy. If tragedy is an experience of hyper-involvement, comedy is an experience of under-involvement, of detachment.

 

So before we start with the Morning Talk Show fashion police and the YouTube Best/Worst dressed from uneducated influencers who wear Fashion Nova and have never even heard of Charles Fredrik Worth... remember, if it was campy you’d know it and we wouldn't have to ask. Second of all, please remember that the MET Gala is NOT a costume party. It’s a black tie affair with a heavy emphasis on fashion. So while the world is asking you to be daring, no one asked you to be a clown. A few of y’all – Zendaya included – wore actual costumes and tried to pass it off as fashion but unfortunately for you, we know the difference. Truth be told, you would’ve been better off wearing a dress reminiscent of a Cinderella gown and perhaps some Fenty body lava rather than showing up looking like an extra in a Todrick Hall video, wearing what you were wearing. Someone needs to check on Law Roach. Back to Camp:

 

One of the most profound ideas made by Sontag is the notion of detachment - “dethroning the serious”. Camp exists as a barrier. 5 feet in any direction that all willing participants – the wearer and the observer - can use for wiggle room. The same energy that tells you “I’m not late, you bitches is just early” is the same energy we should’ve kept when we were pulling LEWKS for this event. It’s really quite sad because truth-be-told, this could have all been great. I mean, this is where Couture lives! Too much for dinner and not enough for Halloween… that’s your sweet spot! The world should have seen vintage Schiaparelli. Galliano for Dior. Christian LaCroix. Remember him? More importantly, they should have pulled out 1960’s Karl Lagerfeld for Jean Patou and we could have gotten weird. But they didn’t. They gave us shoulders and trains and all the usual suspects. But even amongst fools, royalty appears.  A few of those who did it well?

 

1. Kacey Musgraves – who presented the feminist icon-slash-misogynist symbol of the 20th century, Barbie.
 

 


2. Lady Gaga – who wore more traditionally fashionable looks and performed them... lavishly.

 

3. And, the Jenner sisters – who (by complete accident) served us cinematic-meme vibes. Trés Chic!

 

 

That being said, for every swing, there is a miss.

 

1. Lena Waite. I’m sorry dearest – I am a true ally and friend of the cause – but this jacket is just not true. Besides the fact that Oscar Wilde was sashaying and winking way before Paris way Burning, CAMP IS NOT POLITICAL.
 

Note. 2 It goes without saying that the Camp sensibility is disengaged, depoliticized -- or at least apolitical. I’m sorry, that was just bugging me.

 

 

 

2. Diana von Furstenberg…. What did I just say?
 

 

3. Ezra Miller…….you look beautiful, but seriously? No. 
 

 

When you step outside the major celebrity moments and look over the entire cast, there are a few common themes that Ms. Wintour obviously pre-approved and that on any ordinary occasion would be considered the average Joe’s version of camp: Ruffles, Shimmer/Glitter, Feathers and Neons. These are things that lean camp. They are obnoxious, outrageous and mostly unnatural while still being approachable and unassuming. Like, I don’t have to explain these things to you. Pink feathers are beautiful because they look beautiful on me. Ruffles are romantic because that’s what people wore at some point when they are getting engaged. THESE ARE FACTS. Just because you can’t pull off a feathered cape and bejeweled column dress doesn’t mean I have to suffer. Moving on. 

 

The true winner of the night is research and dedication, and as luck would have it, we have A TIE! Between Kim Kardashian and Katy Perry. Hold for applause. Two queens stand before you, guilty of appropriation (at times), too much bronzer and a whole lot of help. But when it came to the carpet, the girls showed up and show out. Why you mad?


 

 

 

 

How could two women who were the most controversial of the night win the night? Well, let us go to the text:

 

Note 8: Camp is a vision of the world in terms of style -- but a particular kind of style. It is the love of the exaggerated, the "off," of things-being-what-they-are-not. The best example is in Art Nouveau, the most typical and fully developed Camp style. Art Nouveau objects, typically, convert one thing into something else: the lighting fixtures in the form of flowering plants, the living room which is really a grotto. A remarkable example: the Paris Métro entrances designed by Hector Guimard in the late 1890s in the shape of cast-iron orchid stalks.

 

Despite what Twitter may tell you, what these two ladies did was find the glamour in the mundane. They did not put on a costume or assume a role, they became an animated, inanimate object. As each one walked the carpet, it was as if  – even if only for a second – we were watching a Disney movie where Katy Perry was the first light turned on in an empty house after the owners returned home from a long vacation and Kim Kardashian was the first drop of hot water in the shower coming to set the mood and fuck shit up.

 

And while it’s fun to write articles late at night while watching rich people have fun without you, it’s important to remember the most important rule of Camp.

There are no rules, dear, just witty observations.

Notes on Camp came at a time where gay men were being thrown in jail and tortured for daring to be seen and be loved. Camp protected us. It embraced us. And yes for a time, it defined us. But not for who we were but for who we proclaimed to be. Camp – like God- can come in a whisper or in a belt and she never judges.

 

NOTE 58: Camp taste is a kind of love, love for human nature. It relishes, rather than judges, the little triumphs and awkward intensities of "character." . . . Camp taste identifies with what it is enjoying. People who share this sensibility are not laughing at the thing they label as "a camp," they're enjoying it. Camp is a tender feeling.


***Letter from the Editor: This piece was only half serious. Meant to provide context and comedy. Do not tweet me with your thoughts. Everything I said was either true or hilarious. 

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