“The hallmark of Camp is the spirit of extravagance.” —Susan Sontag, “Notes on ‘Camp’”
Too much camp is bad for the soul. It’s unwholesome, lacking in spiritual nourishment—like eating only processed foods. Irony is no substitute for feeling, detachment no replacement for intellectual engagement: enough camp begins to eat away at both. After a steady diet of midcentury educational films, salacious memoirs, and Florence Foster Jenkins recordings, one begins to feel oneself morphing into a sort of soulless Lord Henry Wotton, and the only remedy is beauty, spareness, and fresh air. Part of the problem is that earnest camp is heartbreaking; in order not to cry, one needs to put up defenses, and this is in itself exhausting.
Periodically, I need to go on cleanses. In these virtuous moods, I resolve to listen to only the finest music, read the best books, watch films worthy of the term. I banish my collection of 1930s Love Story magazines. I shun the “High Gruck and Outsider Art” playlist on my Spotify account. The words “Russ Meyer” are not to be mentioned in my hearing.
The problem is that in the midst of this, your copy of Barbara Cartland: The Romance of Food arrives in the mail from England and tempts you like a rosy-hued she-devil. And then it follows you everywhere, with the promise of easy laughs and garish pictures and oddity nonpareil. You can hide it in the closet. You can stick it under the kitchen counter with the other cookbooks. Still you hear its siren song, which is sort of quavery and backed by a lot of lush strings. Read More