YouTube and Campiness in 2013

Camp’s origins lie in gay subculture and drag. I’m not familiar enough with that history or body of work to discuss or understand that version of camp. So instead I have to do what I do understand: YouTube.

Douglas Wolk’s  points out when Sontag brought “camp” into mainstream parlance, camp has reached a point where it’s hard to be shocking or new. From his perspective in 2006, Wolk’s discussion of Numa Numa suggests that the video is a possible example of “pure” camp as described by Sontag: people like it because it is honestly over the top, despite the fact that it is not exactly “bad” (around 2006 there were still no culturally endorsed standards defining what makes a youtube video “good”).

Today’s youtube virals tend to be different. We have standards of what “good” is to measure them against. In 2004, Wolk described modern camp as “…a sensibility entirely without risk or shock, a cultural flavor like any other. Camp is hyper-aestheticized, or deliberately overaestheticized…” In my opinion, today’s videos are a reflection of this the trend of campiness as a knowing style. Music videos that have used it include Party Rock Anthem, Sexy and I Know It, and most recently, Gangam Style.

Like Numa Numa, these videos are seen as good. Other similarities include over the top visuals and a decently put together music. But the discovery element of them is also gone. Instead, friends share the videos with other friends. And the whole thing is commodified and exploited. The Old Spice Guy ad campaigns use an over the top style to sell a product. The style has gone a long way from its roots as a subculture in-joke.

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One thought on “YouTube and Campiness in 2013

  1. A key difference, though, is that pure camp involves the creator not knowing that what they are making is actually camp. LMFAO and PSY are both made consciously with the idea that they are part of a cultural dialogue that values frivolity; their high production values raise the stakes on what is at stake, and very little is risked (Numa Numa Gary, on the other hand, is exceedingly vulnerable; is that the difference between pure and feigned camp, maybe?).
    Well observed, Pavel, especially the bit on pure camp. Christopher Isherwood discusses low and high camp, which are different, mostly on a production level. How useful are these distinctions? What are we really saying when we say “pure” or “feigned,” “low” or “high” camp?

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