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Carry on camping (it up)

By Alex Wiggan

Family Guy’s Stewie. Bungle. The 1960s Batman. Fanny the Wonder Dog. Andy Warhol. Cilla Black even Simon Cowell’s one liners. All of them iconic, all of them loved, all of them camp. Isn’t life great with a dash of camp? It’s not always easy to define, sometimes it’s about being ironic, sometimes it’s about exaggeration and sometimes it just is what it is. There’s not always a definitive line for camp because a muscle Mary like He-Man can be just as camp as a weekend with the Nolans, so it’s often something that just has to be accepted. Some love it, others loathe it and many refuse to acknowledge they do it, but at some point all the boys will delve into the camp zone from time to time. Yes even those lads who claim they like drinking pints and that they’re the furthest thing from camp will start to wiggle their ass after a few beers. From here on out it’s not long before the ill fitting vest is unveiled and they’re asking for an umbrella and a sparkler in their next Stella. It’s fun, it’s garish, it’s lively, kitsch and enjoyable. It’s jazz hands, Louie Spence, John Inman and handlebar moustaches. It’s Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, Elton’s specs, Big Gay Al and knowing all the words to The Sound of Music. People are camp, songs are camp, Christmas is camp and even tits are camp.

Camp is what you want to be when you think no one is looking or what you can’t stop yourself from being when everyone’s eyes are firmly focused in your direction. It’s camp because only you can see it that way when others can’t. It can be born from musical theatre, from art and culture or from anything ever said or done by Dame Edna Everage. It’s gay and yet it really isn’t, as often things that are defined as camp owe this to being associated outside the realms of homosexuality. All the saucy goings on in a Carry On film between Sid James and Barbara Windsor? Camp. Heterosexual interior designer Lawrence Llewelyn Bowen painting a room purple? Camp. They’re camp because they’re examples of exaggerated behaviour set out to shock and amuse. It’s not what you expect, it’s often what you think it is and yet it’s ever evolving, taking on new forms and assimilating wondrous iconic pieces into the camp collective. Sometimes things can become camp through the passage of time yet other times camp needs no measurement at all to take hold and shape an idea. Camp is what’s fun when everything seems miserable and it brightens the day. Camp is the preposterous notions spouted by someone who so painstakingly wants to be taken seriously that they have entered Campville and they have no idea on how to get out. It’s a way of life, it’s a bold statement and it’s that feeling that some things can be steamrollered over if they’re just plain absurd.

It’s something which has been embraced and used as a force for good to assert those who need a voice amongst the haze and the din. It can break down the borders and unite everyone who has ever giggled at anything straight laced. Sometimes it panders to stereotypes and sometimes it makes up its own rules. It’s sharp, it’s sassy, it’s fluffy, pink, leather bound and studded. Without camp there would be no Manilow, no Midler, no Clary or O’Grady. There’d be no Zippy, no Skeletor, no Davros and no Danny Zuko. Camp exists in order to poke fun at anything and everything without being too offensive and it does it with a knowing wink that just can’t be ignored. Celebrate it; invite it into your life because chances are it’s crept in their somewhere even if you thought you’d escaped it. Maybe camp is hiding in the wardrobe amongst a row of T-shirts and maybe it’s slotted into the DVD collection and in between the CDs. Wherever you least expect it chances are it’s going to be there. Don’t dismiss it, because you never know when you might use it to your advantage, as it can be your best friend if you’ll only give it the time of day. A culture without camp isn’t really a culture; it’s just a collection of stuff waiting for a day of freedom when it can truly be what it has always ached to turn into.

So embrace it, love it, don’t worry too much about defining it and just accept that camp happens.