"The vanguard - and the most articulate audience": Queer Camp, Jack Smith and John Waters

Nicholas de Villiers

Abstract


I wish to take the "Camp eye" as a point of departure for an examination of camp (lower-case "c") as a way of seeing, a set of relations with the world, a mode of artistic production, a refined form of irony, and an effective mode of critique. To do this I feel we must avoid Sontag's stress on "campy" objects, and instead look at what she calls the "vulgar" use of the term as a verb: "to camp." As a verb, camp implies activity and process; this invigorates the radical possibilities that lie within it. I will however tentatively suggest not a "canon" but a tradition of camp ways of seeing, a distinctly queer avant-garde tradition full of intertextual cross-referencing, allusion, and mutual admiration. The two figures I have chosen to illustrate this more contingent concept of camp are John Waters and Jack Smith. This essay will involve a reading of two re-released films: Smith's Flaming Creatures (1962) and Waters's Pink Flamingos (1972). Both films have earned great notoriety in terms of efforts to censor their distribution due to "obscene" (explicit, homoerotic, transvestite) content, and an equally avid following with circulation ranging from East Village midnight screenings to Congressional hearings.

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ISSN 1749-9771