Making Camp: Rhetorics of Transgression in U.S. Popular Culture

Making Camp: Rhetorics of Transgression in U.S. Popular Culture

Making Camp: Rhetorics of Transgression in U.S. Popular Culture

Making Camp: Rhetorics of Transgression in U.S. Popular Culture

Excerpt

In October 2004, U.S. television audiences and critics alike noted with delight the debut of a prime-time drama sporting a distinctive aesthetic. A cross between a somewhat sanitized American Beauty and The Stepford Wives delivered with a wink, Desperate Housewives sends up suburbia in a nicely wrapped, ironic package of bucolic domesticity. The aesthetic that constitutes the key motif of the show is camp, a parodie, ironic, over-thetop, and often nostalgic sensibility that is arguably a hallmark of popular U.S. media fare today. Indeed, camp is pervasive in contemporary popular media, apparent, for instance, in the recent spate of films that pay comic tribute to television classics of yore, such as Charlie's Angels, The Brady Bunch, The Dukes of Hazzard, and Starsky and Hutch, as well as films that hearken back to a particular era and aesthetic, such as the Austin Powers trilogy and Undercover Brother. In addition to Desperate Housewives, contemporary mainstream television delivers camp to its audiences via shows like Xena: Warrior Princess, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Simpsons. Popular musicians increasingly feature camp in their songs, music videos, or even personas; arguably, Madonna is and long has been quintessentially camp, mining as she does historically popular cultural forms in ironic ways for her renowned reinventions, and Macy Gray similarly embodies and ironizes a bygone aesthetic. Musicians such as Prince, Missy Elliott, Pink, and Christina Aguilera all have periodically, to a greater or lesser extent, drawn on a camp sensibility in their careers. In short, one cannot consume popular culture today without also consuming camp.

Because mediated popular culture—that is, culture as represented and made available via electronic and print technologies—is by definition notoriously dynamic and fluid, camp's relative stability and its steadily increasing presence are intriguing. Clearly, something about this sensibility resonates . . .

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