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Susan Sontag's "Notes on Camp" Explains Why Gay Men Are Such Delightful Party Guests (Autumn 1964)

Susan_sontagWriter/essayist Susan Sontag (1933-2004) made a name for herself, mostly in intellectual circles, in the autumn of 1964 when she penned an essay in the quarterly Partisan Review titled "Notes on Camp".  In it she articulated for the first time the concept of "camp", a way of seeing the world that seems to be innate in many gay men and somewhat of a "secret code" among them.  Basically, it is the ability to find delight in the unintentionally inane, often created in all seriousness. 

 

Sontag's essay was comprised of 58 numbered "notes" about camp (notes 51-53 address homosexuals' affinity for it).  Double click here to read the essay.  A myriad of examples are cited throughout; for those not motivated to click on the link, here are some examples of camp I've selected:

 

  • Ethel Merman's 1979 disco album (released two weeks shy of her 71st birthday).

 

Ethel_merman_disco

 

  • Carol Channing's and "Up With People's" halftime performances at some early Super Bowls (which didn't take on the sheen of Camp until some 20-25 years later).
  • The Liberace Museum in Las Vegas (closed in 2011).

 

Liberace_musuem

 

  • Movies such as The Women (below), All About Eve, Auntie Mame and Valley of the Dolls

 

The_women_1939

 

  • Liberace's appearance on stage at a Labor Day performance in Minneapolis wearing red, white & blue sequined hot pants.
  • Pee Wee's Playhouse, which aired on CBS's Saturday AM lineup of kids shows.

 

Peewee_playhouse

 

  • Choreographer Busby Berkeley's mesmerizing creations of chorus girls forming geometric patterns in movies such as 42nd Street, Ziegfeld Follies, and Dames.

 

Busby_berkeley

 

  • Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest, an over-the-top performance that some think ended her career as a serious actress 
  • Ethel Merman's guest appearance on ABC's Batman as "Lola Lasagne".

 

Peggy_lee 

 

  • Andy Warhol's guest appearance on an episode of The Love Boat.
  • Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford as pathetic, brawling, spinster sisters.

 

Whatever_happened_baby_jane

 

  • Carol Burnett's portrayal on her variety show of a curtain-wearing Scarlet O'Hara in a parody of Gone With the Wind called Went With the Wind!
  • Katharine Hepburn's only Broadway role, as Coco Chanel, in the show Coco.

 

Katharine_hepburn_coco2

 

 

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