POM 308 GENDER, SEXUALITY AND POPULAR MUSIC
QUESTION ‘Camp’ is involved in articulating and subverting the “image making process” (ROBERTSON, 1996).
Discuss, evaluate and illustrate this idea with reference to one performer who
you can situate as ‘camp’. THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK Paula Robertson - Guilty Pleasures Susan Sontag - Notes On Camp Richard Dyer - The Culture of Queers Mirra Komarovsky - Dilemmas of Masculinity Moe Mulvey - The Politics and Poetics of Camp INTRODUCTION The association with the capital letter in Camp will be used when seeking to address any cultural texts confronting the social domination of white, heterosexual, male culture through a perception of its inconsistencies. Camp is predominantly seen as a homosexual male subculture, caught between camp-ness and being compounded to the preconception of a deliberate and exaggerated, theatrical style. For example, Graham Norton’s notoriously Camp affiliations are widely recognized due to his use of double entendres and the excessive ironic twist to his humour during the display of a parodic past.1 Using the attached link (see footnote 1) we can read into Norton’s Camp-ness through his open display of amazement when watching the guest of his show (Heath Ledger) assertively jumping on top of a galloping horse during a scene in The Four Feathers (directed by Shekhar Kapur). The act of mounting the horse is worth mentioning due to the excessive display of masculinity, what with Ledger initially running alongside the horse (the horse unintelligibly out of control) yet returning to his saddle of domination through an athletic act of determination, precision and control (in conjunction with the 1
horse stabilizing itself and returning to controlled normality). Norton describes the process of Ledger’s masculinity through his performance in the film to his audience.
(Norton appearing unbearably amazed) Norton: Now that is just, is that you? Ledger: mm-hm Norton: So that’s not a stunt man? Ledger: no Norton: So that is really you? Well let’s watch it again, look look, it’s just amazing (Norton watches clip again but this time chooses to narrate over the top) Norton: Didn’t make it…and then…phwoar! (A round of applause from audience whilst Norton continues with his questions)
Norton re-establishes Ledger’s ostentatious display of masculinity whilst he resides comfortably in his Camp-ness (Yet being overtly impressed by Ledger’s masculinity, Norton subjugates himself to being unable to make sense of the event, “is that really you? My god”.). Shortly after the clip is played however, Norton reinstates his power of presenter over guest (camp over masculinity) by exposing an embarrassing aspect of Ledger’s past. Norton explains to his audience Ledger’s role in the Australian soap Home and Away (Here we could also argue that Ledger’s association with a soap opera relates his past to Sontag’s definition of Camp as a “failed seriousness’
and ‘celebrating, in fact – the gap between surface and content’ 2), regurgitating Ledger’s past and compounding his excessive display of masculinity with Ledger’s effeminate role of a lust-hungry teenager in Home and Away. Therefore exposing Ledger’s masculinity as a masquerade and making us see that Gender identities presented in the arts and the media should be interpreted not as the ‘Truth or Reality but fabrications, particular ways of talking about the world, particular understandings and feelings of the way life is.’3. In other words, the expressions of gender identities and sexuality within the media should never be treated as reified displays of reality when ‘There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender’ 4, there only appears to be a patriarchal domination of gender.
Through textual analysis we will configure the ‘type’ of Camp associated with the performer James St James and combine discourses available within the theoretical framework to reach a conclusive decision on the effectiveness of Camp as a tool for articulating or subverting the image making process.
To answer the above question entails a problematic process of having to determine to what context the word ‘performer’ relates to the term ‘Camp’. Our problem is that by having to choose a ‘performer’, Robertson’s interpretation of Camp as a ‘critical political form for gay men…a form of resistance’ 5 becomes marginalized over Sontag’s use of the word ‘performer’ in her apolitical discourse on Camp studies. ‘The whole point of Camp is to dethrone 2
Simpson, M (1996) It’s a Queer World: Vintage, Great Britain Dyer, R (2002) The Culture of Queers: Routledge, Great Britain 4 Butler, Judith (1999), Gender Trouble - Feminism and the Subversion of Identity: Routledge, New York and London 5 Robertson, P (1996) Guilty Pleasures: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, London and New York 3
the serious. Camp is playful, anti-serious. More precisely, Camp involves a new, more complex relation to "the serious."…One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious.’6 The essay seems to reify a coalescent leniency towards associating Camp as a naïve performance, perhaps to be understood as a play on our social preconceptions of gender identities and not to be taken seriously. The question and its problematic dichotomy dissolve in a solution of textual analysis on our chosen performer. Unveiling the image making process to be a differentiated struggle between the hierarchy of high and low camp relative to Sontag’s low camp (as an act not to be ‘taken altogether seriously’ 7) and Robertson’s ‘serious high camp’8, thus displaying Camp to mean ‘a way of ‘being human, witty and vital, without conforming to the drabness and rigidity of the hetero male role’ 9
– James St James James St James was a former member of the ‘Club Kids’ (a group of clubgoers who became internationally well known and heavily influential on the club scene through their excessively flamboyant style and unique outlook on partying). Led by Michael Alig and his mentor James, the ‘Club Kids’ story has gained notoriety through the publication of James’s book Disco Bloodbath: A Fabulous But True Tale of Murder in Clubland and the consequential adaptation into a film titled Party Monster (Directed By Fenton Bailey) and released to critical acclaim in 2003. By analyzing the Camp image within culture we can determine what is 6 7 8 9
Sontag, S (1966) Against Interpretation and Other Essays: Picador USA, United States ibid. Robertson, P (1996) Guilty Pleasures: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, London and New York Dyer, R (2002) The Culture of Queers: Routledge, Great Britain
articulated and subverted in the image making process. Norton has been used as an example (see appendix 1) of Camp’s subversive mannerisms of heterosexual ideals, yet to learn more we must turn to the parodic display within Camp culture and how James creates his own image within the culture making process.
JAMES ST JAMES’S ARTICULATIVE SUBVERSION
James appears as the presenter of his own online Television channel on WOW TV. In the clip attached he is seen interviewing and greeting guests to his Party Monster party at ‘Shits & Giggles’ in downtown LA. There are two specific occurrences worth mentioning. Firstly we see James utilizing the power of his Camp ironic-tongue when interviewing a club-goer in episode 53James Hosts Shits & Giggles and in Episode 52-James Checks Out L.A. Outsider Art we can see how James doesn’t allow the political content of "L.A. Outsider Art" to deter his flamboyant mannerisms. In this process, James helps us (the viewer) produce an understanding of his imagery, relative to Dyer’s analysis of Camp being utilized as ‘a weapon against the mystique surrounding art, royalty and masculinity’ in this sense Camp ‘demystifies by playing up the artifice…as these retain their hold on the majority of the population.’10. Therefore signifies the productive image making process of James’s Camp mannerisms creating a means of helping us (society) to see through the artifice of art.
EPISODE 53-JAMES HOSTS SHITS & GIGGLES 11 10 11
Dyer, R (2002) The Culture of Queers: Routledge, Great Britain http://www.dailyfreakshow.tv/episodes/53-james-hosts-shits-giggles
In an erratic montage of clips, James wonders through the club, interviewing his guests. We see him approach a young male in a brightly lit, red corridor. St James: let me see what’s happening, what’s happening? Guest: err I gotta go pee SJ: do you pee through there? G: yeah, I don’t have time to undo my buttons SJ: so you just whip it out through the pants? G: yeah SJ: so you just flop your big old floppy dick out of your shorts, right? G: (in an accepting, yet bewildered tone)…yeah SJ: Alright baby there you go... carry on soldier! With that big old floppy dick of yours (this is spoken in a spiteful tone whilst appearing uninterested with the interviewee and preoccupied with his drink) Incorporating Freud’s psychoanalytical concept of our unconscious desire towards the phallus can be interpreted as a way of James empowering himself by belittling social preconceptions of the phallic symbol as a form of heterosexual masculinity, otherwise known as ‘phallogocentrism’. Patriarchal conventions lead us to naturally believe the penis is ‘the best representational equivalent of the Idea of sex’ 12, therefore when the guest admits to ‘just’ flopping out of his short’s, James uses this as an opportunity to dissimulate the phallus and his lack of a heterosexual desire towards the guest. In addition, James subsequently subverts connotations of the phallus relative to the power of patriarchy (masculinity) as being a sign of weakness when associated to the image making process of Camp culture. ‘Straight camp
Irigaray, I (1985) Speculum of the Other Woman: Cornell University Press, United States
allows images of butchness to retain their hold even while they are apparently being rejected’13, enabling James to strip the straight appropriation of Campness, thus exposing his Camp mannerisms and in the process, helping us see ‘what art and the media give us are not the Truth or Reality but fabrications…’14. As the guest finally leaves our vision within the frame of the camera angle, James shouts across the room that the guest is a ‘soldier’ (symbolic of regimental strength and heterosexual power- being required by their regiment to be fully prepared through exercise and practice for a precise and synchronized battle against the enemy). From James’s use of the word ‘soldier’ we can determine that the guest and James would appear ‘unafraid of the mashed fingers, faces and scuffed nail-polish’ 15, in the scenario of war yet still appropriate the connotations of ‘soldier’ to subjugate social preconceptions of heterosexuality and the regimental power of the military.
EPISODE 52-JAMES CHECKS OUT L.A. OUTSIDER ART 16
13 14 15 16
Dyer, R (2002) The Culture of Queers: Routledge, Great Britain ibid Simpson, M (1996) It’s a Queer World: Vintage, Great Britain http://www.dailyfreakshow.tv/episodes/52-james-checks-out-l-a-outsider-art
QuickTime™ and a decompressor are needed to see this picture.
Banksy has a worldwide reputation built upon the signification of his graffiti by including wittily juxtaposed, iconic images, creating a powerfully embodied, political statement. James strips the graffiti of content and apolitically defines the graffiti in such a tone as to break down the political content of the piece and its aesthetic appearance. So what we have here is a Banksy. Banksy of course is the mysterious masked graffiti artist, I think that he’s actually a collective I believe that he’s more than one artist. Even though the Independent in London just unmasked him as being a sort of a preppy twot. Oh look she’s got like a little basket full of eggs, it’s just, it’s really adorable and over here we have, I don’t know if you can see but she’s watering, a television antennae. James precedes his critique of the graffiti with a substantial amount of background information on Banksy and the political content of the piece, yet his Camp-ness becomes reinstated through James’s opinion in opposition to the socio-political background of Banksy’s graffiti, reinstating Dyer’s theory
that Camp ‘stops us thinking that those who create the landscape of culture know more about life than we do ourselves’ 17. By subverting the political content of the graffiti, James strips the piece of its context and instead chooses to admire the aesthetic elements, apolitically fulfilling Sontag’s notion of Camp interpretation as a display of ‘style at the expense of content.’ 18. In a similar way, James disparages the socio-political content as an artificial statement in relation to Sontag’s explanation of Camp as being ‘playful and anti-serious, but ‘more precisely, Camp involves a new, more complex relation to "the serious."’19. Yet can one can be serious about the frivolousness of Camp, whilst appearing frivolous about the serious. James’s subversion of patriarchal control helps expose the ‘erosion of this rationale’ that ‘would make it difficult for modern men to defend the differentiation in the social roles of the sexes’20. In relation to Meyer’s analysis of Camp as a type of masquerade and ‘as a particular activity or strategy that signaled the material form of a twentieth-century “gay sensibility”’ 21, we can interpret James’s triumphant Camp masquerade to be ‘a sensibility, a certain taste in the arts and entertainment,’22, thus an articulation of his own distinction between a ‘high’ and ‘low’ form of artistic credit.
SURFACE STYLE, EXPRESSIVE PHILOSOPHY
Dyer, R (2002) The Culture of Queers: Routledge, Great Britain Sontag, S (1966) Against Interpretation and Other Essays: Picador USA, United States 19 Ibid 20 Komarovsky, M (2004) Dilemmas of Masculinity: A Study of College Youth: Rowman Altamira, United States 21 Myer, M (1994) The Politics and Poetics of Camp: Routledge, United Kingdom 22 Dyer, R (2002) The Culture of Queers: Routledge, Great Britain 18
On the left James is wearing a crossover of hierarchal appearances distinguishable by the androgynous style of the Tudor Monarchy (jewelencrusted crown could be fit for King or Queen, the oversized ruff and white make up) and an Elizabethan Jester (the patterns of yellow and red around the face, cheaper materials used to make the suit in juxtaposition to the royal expenses). Stylistically, James creates a revitalized, parodic image through replicating an already well renowned artefact of the past. In addition to this, Robertson suggests in her discourse on feminist camp that ‘women are camp but do not even have access to a camp sensibility. Women, by this logic, are objects of camp and subject to it but are no camp subjects’ 23. To digress briefly, we can determine the genealogy of James’s name to a similar period of British history, to the aforementioned image, thus re-writing his Camp-ness into a historical context of style. Saint James’s palace was built between 1530 23
Robertson, P (1996) Guilty Pleasures: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, London and New York
and 1540 by King Henry VIII in the area of Westminster, subsequently ‘In the 1660s, Charles II gave the right to develop the area to Henry Jermyn, 1st Earl of St Albans, who proceeded to develop it as a predominantly aristocratic residential area with a grid of streets centred on St James's Square.’ 24. With this factor highlighted, James’s parodic intervention on cultural processes of history proves to establish few boundaries when raiding the domination of our perception on history. Furthermore, through disentangling social preconceptions of style and class, James re-writes the mythologies of Britannic Royalty and superimposes his Camp heritage (an image of the ‘Queer Diva’), subverting the Macro-political power of the Monarchy with the Micro-political construction of the self on the politics of style. James St James permeates between the two; his Camp appearance masquerades as a philosophy to understanding his dress through an excessive parody of style. Through all the subversive articulation of culture, the question of James St James being a performer of Camp becomes a reified ideal.
We just have so much more fun expressing ourselves and it makes the club so much more colourful...there are so many gorgeous people and everybody has to stand out, you just have to be...fabulous25
Here James defies existing conventions of Camp as being apolitically unaffected by socio-cultural artefacts. We can interpret the above quote to portray James’s act of repossessing his own masculinity in relation to Foucault’s theory of social bodies being held under control by the ‘effects of 24 25
power, produced in social relations by discourses of sexuality, medicine, education and so on’26. Therefore, James forms a masculinity unrelated to heterosexual preconceptions and outside of a heterosexual reading of Campness. In other words, through an expression of open Camp-ness James and the Club Kids constitute queer identities through a ‘suppressed and denied oppositional critique embodied in the signifying practices’ 27 of patriarchy within culture. Therefore James’s articulated image of the past creates a cultural text upon the performers body via subverting the image and displaying its lack of content. ‘Camp’ (or James) therefore can be understood as a vehicle of parody upon the body, symbolically suggestive of itself as harmless yet subjugating the ineptitude of our understanding towards social preconceptions and gender roles.
CONCLUSION We have analyzed the Camp performer James St James by drawing on a wide theoretical framework to help us establish James’s Camp style is predominantly more distinguishable as a white, homosexual subculture. Dyer suggests this form of Camp seeks to process it’s own cultural impression on society through the ‘mastery of style and wit’ 28 and goes on to explain that gay men have had to ‘hide what we really felt (gayness) for so much of the time, we had to master the façade of whatever social set-up we found ourselves in…So we have developed an eye and an ear for surfaces, appearances, forms: style’. Due to James’s propensity of surface style over content within 26
Ramazanoglu (1993) Up Against Foucault: Exploration of some tensions between Foucault and Feminism: Routledge, Great Britain 27 Myer, M (1994) The Politics and Poetics of Camp: Routledge, United Kingdom 28 Dyer, R (2002) The Culture of Queers: Routledge, Great Britain
his production of Camp-ness, James’s definition of style and culture can be interpreted as a white, homosexual act that happens to contain effeminate processes in helping to produce a subcultural ideal, free from the oppression of white, heterosexuality and producing the capability of an image making process free from patriarchal control. It becomes clear that due to Camps inherent association with style professions (such as ‘hairdressing, interior decoration, dress design, ballet, musicals’), an image is created in style for style’s sake and appears to lack any ‘serious’ content…the actual forms taken accentuate artifice’29. With this in mind we could argue the masquerade of Camp-ness inconspicuously strengthens patriarchal control over the oppression of women and its effect of displacing gender roles in society creates only a certain amount of legitimacy. ‘The very luxuriousness and ‘uselessness’ of these professions have tended to reinforce the image of gay men as decadent, marginal, frivolous – above all, not involved in the real production of wealth (on the shop floor or in the management offices) in society’30. We can interpret Dyer to mean gay Camp’s production of culture lacks the ability to free the oppressive nature of masculine control, and instead becomes an image of reclaiming their disempowered masculinity.
The Camp style of James St James can be compared to a genderless inversion on the Feminist Existentialist writings of Simone De Beauvoir. In her book The Second Sex Beauvoir writes ‘one is not born a woman, but becomes one’31 and from this we can interpret Beauvoir as meaning that one is not born with the characteristics of being a woman, only the physical body 29
Ibid ibid 31 De Beauvoir, S (1989) The Second Sex: Vintage Books, United Kingdom 30
of one, and that as a woman you create the rest of yourself in accordance to what you think a woman should be. Therefore, if we were to re-write the statement to read ‘One is not born a gender, but can only be identified as neither’, we can begin to form a salutary cohesion on the studies of Camp culture outside of the control of a heterosexual or feminist reading. In addition to this, the pleasures in Camp-ing (taking control of; Making masculine) the female form through the symbolic order of the male body, becomes a masquerade of power relations over femininity. Camp becomes a way of ‘prising the form of something away from its content, of reveling in the style while dismissing the content as trivial.’32, exposing the dominant style as trivial.
This is due to its heterosexual connotations of power over the marginalization of ‘Others’ within our society (any other form of culture outside of white, masculine formation). Camp calls into question the legitimacy of heterosexual style and it’s ‘straight-ness’, creating a re-embellished image of the culture making process through raiding on the cultural images of the past. In other words, Camp displays the disempowered elements of cultural-historical artefacts to affront their initial lack of power and truth. By using these images (as James does in the picture above) in a trivial sense, ‘Camp can make us see that what art and the media give us are not the Truth or Reality but fabrications, particular ways of talking about the world.’ 33. Yet we can deliberate this point by including Butler’s debate of gender as two free-floating forms. James challenges the patriarchal preconceptions of a masculine and 32 33
Dyer, R (2002) The Culture of Queers: Routledge, Great Britain ibid
feminine form, a process Butler foresaw with the statement that ‘there is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender’34, yet to fully contend Camp or Queer studies as a question of sexuality, we must realize the conception of a third symbolic order of bodies outside of Butlers proposition, the body of the Camp masquerade acting as the deceptive strings attached to the puppets of Gender. In conclusion, James’s imagery of Camp becomes an embodied order of the only free floating forms between the two (masculine and feminine). As we read from the aforementioned, it becomes clear to the reader that Camp doesn’t seem to benefit from one or the other, but only it’s true masquerade of deception between the two. Therefore, what the Camp image articulates becomes a differentiation of masculine and feminine forms, subversively acting upon the two symbolic orders of gender to create an image making process outside of heterosexual ideologies: femininity and masculinity. ‘One always begins by deceiving one’s self, and one always ends by deceiving others. That is what the world calls a romance’35
Butler, Judith (1999), Gender Trouble - Feminism and the Subversion of Identity: Routledge, New York and London 35 Wilde, O (1891) The Picture of Dorian Gray: Oneworld Classics Limited, Great Britain