Camp vs. Kitsch: Desperately Seeking Susan

Originally published on Camp vs. Kitsch.

The idea behind this blog is simple. We’re going to examine the phenomena of camp and kitsch, using YouTube as a vehicle. Each entry will present two videos on the same or similar subjects, the only difference between them being whether they fall into the camp or kitsch sensibility. There will be a poll, all you lovely people out there in the internet will vote, and we’ll see if there’s a clear trend to prefer one to the other.

Unsure of the difference between camp and kitsch? Have no fear, here’s a quick refresher:

CAMP was famously defined by Susan Sontag in her 1964 essay, “Notes on Camp.” Sontag’s main points include that to be campy, a piece of art must necessarily be marginal. In Sontag’s words, “uhe ultimate Camp statement: it’s good because it’s awful.”

KITSCH, according to Sontag, isn’t necessarily a discrete category separate from camp. However, Sontag writes, “Camp taste nourishes itself on the love that has gone into certain objects and personal styles. The absence of this love is the reason why such kitsch items as Peyton Place (the book) and the Tishman Building aren’t Camp.”

Now, as a good English major from back in the days, I am a little suspect of trying to read authorial intent as an indicator of camp vs. kitsch. However, I think it’s safe to say that for our purposes, camp will be represented by performances that were clearly intended to be serious, crafted out of sincere love or devotion. Kitsch will be represented by performances that exhibit self-awareness of their own ridiculousness, or a sense of mocking or derision towards their subject.

I also think it’s fair to say that both camp and kitsch are somewhat like pornography, in that “I know it when I see it.” (Feel free to debate the choices in the comments sections.)

Finally, as an end to the introduction, I must say that this project was born in part by my brain’s stubborn refusal to reliably separate the concepts of “Susan Sontag” and “Susan Anton.” When trying to explain who Susan Anton is to my friend Amy, the best that I could do was this:

Susan Anton is a C-list performer. I’m not actually sure what she’s famous for… She spent much of the 90s as the “Celebrity Guest” who toured with the Rockettes. That said, I do own at least one of her CDs.

Needless to say, I am delighted to find that both Susans appear on YouTube.

Susan Anton
(firmly in the kitsch category)
A Tribute to Susan Sontag
(firmly in the camp category)

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