Bruce LaBruce and his Fetish for the Fetishized
In 1964 Susan Sontag came out with a breakthrough essay called Notes on Camp. Nearly 50 years later, Canadian writer Bruce LaBruce published an essay in the same context called Notes On Camp/Anti-camp. LaBruce seeks to uncover the extremely elaborate sub-categories of camp, while also listing many examples to them, such as, “Bad Straight Camp, Good Straight Camp, Bad/Good gay camp, High Camp, Low Camp,” and the list goes on. Notes On Camp/Anti-camp reinforces the idea of camp, and proceeds to discuss that even fifty years later, this word is still so relevant in the world today. In LaBruce’s influential essay, he not only challenges Sontag’s ideology, but also uses them to formulate concepts of his own, rather than completely dumping on her 1964 essay.
LaBruce begins the first body paragraph by giving us the chance to “re-examine some of the precepts of Susan Sontag’s seminal if problematic essay.” He prepares us for a new outlook on camp by first re-examining Sontag’s “normal” definition, which describes it as a “sensibility, and more significantly, a variant of sophistication.” LaBruce gives quite a few examples while also attaching each example to the sub-category of camp it belongs to (e.g. good gay, good straight). He then claims that according to Sontag, the essence of camp is “its love of the unnatural or artifice and exaggeration” and her astonishing quote of “to name a sensibility… requires a deep sympathy modified by revulsion” LaBruce is stunned by her comment because he believes that her famous essay about camp is in itself campy, yet betrays it at the same time “in its sympathetic identification.” In addition, she is a lesbian, who is wrote a camp treatise called On Photography, dating a campy photographer who’s photography style is in itself camp. He tinkles on the subject a bit more by even calling out how she reflects on camp as “a sensibility that converts the serious into the frivolous” which contradicts her previous statement that it is a variant of sophistication.” LaBruce would not be over exaggerating if he said Sontag’s entire life is just one big camp—maybe making her the most qualified to write Notes on Camp in the first place?
LaBruce questions modern society and explains that we cannot forget that Sontag’s piece was written fifty years ago. Throughout time, the “evolution or devolution of the sensibility” should be considered when using the word camp. He believes that camp is today’s “irony” when referring to the receptivity of popular culture. He writes that the irony in pop culture today endures, “the risk of generalization, long since lost its essential qualities of esoteric sophistication and secret signification, partly owing to the contemporary tendency of the gay sensibility to allow itself to be thoroughly co-opted, its mystery, and therefore its power, hopelessly diffused.” Not only is Sontag’s world a big camp, but to him, “the whole goddamn world is camp.” Irony stand alongside camp in the matter that it is not so easy to detect anymore. Popular culture is bombarded with irony and that does not make it un-useful, but can no longer be used as a “witty effect”, simply because its “been normalized and generalized into the default sensibility of the entire popular culture.”
“Camp today is for the masses”, LaBruce says. It makes sense, taking into consideration that the word has been flip flopped all over the place and exploited by “a hyper capitalist system, as Adorno warned.” He articulates that although modern camp is still based on a certain aestheticism, the part it is lacking is the sophistication, and what does not meet these simple requirements, is now considered “Bad Straight Camp”, one of the many sub-categories LaBruce addresses. Who knew camp had so many other categories? From Straight Camp to Conservative Gay Camp, LaBruce has no shame in bringing in opaque examples of each subgenre. What was once known as camp, is now, thanks to Bruce LaBruce, known as anti-camp.