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Camp: Notes on the Met Gala

Camp: Notes on the Met Gala

By Emily Henderson & Jake Parker

To talk about Camp is therefore to betray it.

Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay, ‘Notes on Camp’, was the elephant/text-in-the-room at the 2019 Met Gala. The essay, chosen as the primary influence for the gala’s theme, aimed to name and describe the sensibility of ‘camp.’ Camp as an aesthetic movement is reactionary, temporal and constantly shifting. As Sontag accepts, to define camp is impossible - but, as we saw in the looks of these celebs, how possible it is for camp to simply be.

SO here’s why we think, in accordance with Sontag’s description of ‘camp’, these eight outfits succeeded where others (cough cough chandelier*) failed.

*(Really Katy?! There was too much ‘knowingness’ about it, just an empty compliance to theme that lacked ingenuity. In Sontag’s words: “Without passion, one gets pseudo-Camp”).

1) Janelle Monae

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One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.

Monae is both wearing and being an absolute work of art. The look is glamorous yet garish. It draws its roots in cubism, as Monae states, attempting to “highlight Picasso’s African Period.” (And that’s not even going into the mechanical blinking eye, a work of indisputable camp genius.)

2) Billy Porter

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The whole point of Camp is to dethrone the serious.

Literally, in this case. Porter’s regal entrance is immediately undermined as he hops off his throne and spreads those whopper wings.The look is vulgar, tacky, extravagant, and GOLDEN. Regal or ridiculous? (Both.) And according to Sontag, that’s the whole point of camp.

3)   Lady Gaga

Camp is the spirit of extravagance.

It is no secret that Gaga is camp. Gaga has been camp for years. Her look takes performativity and stuffs it into a 15-minute-long, pink-and-black box with a big fluffy bow. I could stare into those innocently surprised eyes for days as she strips to reveal look after look. Who knew that beneath the clothes we all wear are just more and more clothes?

4) Lizzo

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Camp is the glorification of ‘character.’

Lizzo’s look exudes character - the perfectly stylised hot pink hair, the crystal embellished wrap dress. and the showstopper: a pink feathered cape (no doubt at least partly inspired by Sontag’s line, “Camp is a woman walking around in a dress made of three million feathers”). Lizzo, in her complete embracing of extra, is well and truly on brief with the camp theme.

5) Darren Criss

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Camp is art that proposes itself seriously, but cannot be taken altogether seriously because it is ‘too much.’

Thank heavens for Darren Criss. Dressed in an embellished harlequin jacket and a gigantic bow, Criss takes what could have been ‘serious’ and pushes it further. The jacket itself is camp but with his winged eyes and matching blue manicure Criss fully embraces the theatricality that Sontag preached. Criss’ outfit may be going “too far” but with this theme it’s what we’re wanting to see.

6) Elle Fanning

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Camp is playful, anti-serious… [And] Pure Camp is always naive.

Controversial pick? Perhaps. But Fanning’s coral two piece outfit just screams camp to us. There’s a naivety to the outfit - with her charm-embedded manicure and necklace of bright gaudy trinkets she embodies a sense of fun that’s missing from the vast majority of the gala. There’s a lack of pretentiousness to Fanning’s look that reminds us of retro thrift store finds. Fanning’s outfit merges the extravagance of camp with its naive joy, leaving us with a look that is unequivocally playful, anti-serious and naive in its intention.

7) Ezra Miller

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Camp is the triumph of the epicene style.

Sontag defines epicene as the “convertibility” of gender, and Miller’s persona and outfit seemed to evoke this upon the pink carpet. Miller’s eye make-up alone gave us headaches, and this was streamlined into a sleek silhouette that was both pin-striped suit and bedazzled ball-gown. Miller’s regal airs and graces brought a million different artifices crashing together in cacophony. Perhaps the sleekest-yet-campiest look of the night.

8) Lena Waithe

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Camp taste is much more than homosexual taste.

Waithe had to be on this list. Arguably the biggest fault of Sontag’s essay is an erasure of the importance of Queerness and especially Queer people of colour in originating and distinguishing camp as an aesthetic movement. Waithe’s outfit is camp to its very core. From the lemon yellow shoes, to the embroidered songs lyrics from artists such as Sylvester, Ru-Paul and Gloria Gaynor, to the statement piece stitched across the back, “Black Drag Queens Invented Camp.” Waithe defies both Sontag’s essay and the theme to recognise the reality of the world in which they exist and were constructed.  Sontag writes that “Camp sensibility is disengaged, depoliticized -- or at least apolitical”, yet those that originated Camp - Queer People of Colour - live a political existence. Camp, at the core of Sontag’s essay, is about defying conventions. Waithe wasn’t afraid to defy the essay itself, delivering one of the best, most important and most camp outfits of the night.

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