Derives from the French gay community's slang term se camper, meaning "to pose in an exaggerated fashion". The term "Camp" morphed into referring to a sensibility that revels in artifice, stylization, theatricality, irony, playfulness, and exaggeration rather than content, as Susan Sontag famously defined the term in her short essay "Notes on Camp".Don't expect it to take itself the least bit seriously.
The main debates concerning the term are twofold: 1. How such an aesthetic relates to intentionality: whether camp deliberately cultivated ("high" camp) is the same to that of the unintentional kind ("low" camp), and 2. Whether the term relies too much on the elitist notion that popular culture cannot also be enjoyed by a sophisticated sensibility, except through a condescending or distancing label.
See also Camp Gay, Macho Camp and Camp Straight. Compare So Bad, It's Good and Narm Charm. Not to be confused with the movie Camp.
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Anime and Manga
The newest incarnation of the Cutey Honey anime, Re Cutey Honey, is deliberately rendered in a psychedelic, humorous 1970s-style exaggeration of the franchise's infamous violence and Fanservice. The live action movie is similar.
The Entire Burton/Schumacher Batman film franchise to varying extents. The first film less so than the succeeding three.
The Disney flick Condorman falls squarely into this category. It's pretty entertaining if you don't mind suspending your disbelief a bit (and remember that it was intended for kids).
Flash Gordon. The movie's script was written by Lorenzo Semple Jr., script consultant and sometimes episode writer for the Adam West-era Batman. The theme song is done by Queen. Of course it's going to be camp as hell.
Flash - a-ah - saviour of the universe
Flash - a-ah - he'll save everyone of us
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
Flash - a-ah - he's a miracle
Flash - a-ah - king of the impossible
The campiness was really enhanced by this being one of the first completely self-consciously Raygun Gothic productions made. All the designs for Mongo were completely over the top, and everyone had equipment just lying around that made no sense for them to have but was both cool and convenient. (A slideway from the edge of the deathmatch arena down to a rocketcycle in a city inhabited exclusively by people who can fly? Why not!)
The Showa (1955-1975) Godzilla films were just filled with this.
Mommie Dearest has Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford gravely overacting while everyone else seems to be sedated. The editing only adds to the strangeness. For example, in one scene, Joan has been fired from her job and the scene ends with her boss turning around to the camera. Then there is an immediate cut to a screaming Joan, decked in an expensive evening dress, cutting apart her rose garden with a pair of hedge clippers and then ordering her daughter to "bring [her] the axe" so she can chop down a tree.
Tommy Wiseau's The Room is one of the more popular examples of low camp. Althought Wisseau made the smart marketing decision to now push it as an ironic comedy, it's clear to everyone that he originally meant it to be completely serious.
Snakes on a Plane. Notably, the film started out as low camp and morphed into high camp over the course of its production process, thanks to its internet popularity and the noble efforts of Mr. Samuel L. Jackson to preserve the film's working title.
Tank Girl. More regarding the film version, which featured all staples of camp seen above. Bad jokes, bizarre plot, unexplained animation segments, Malcolm McDowell playing late-career Malcolm McDowell, and—of course—a random musical segment.
The infamous The Wild Wild World Of Batwoman may well qualify as one of the worst movies ever, owing to its having been a failed attempt at camp. It is a rip-off of the Adam West TV series, right down to the ludicrous villains and the 60s go-go dancing. The producers of Batman took Jerry Warren to court, which is why he threw in that tacked-on opening about the "synthetic vampire" Batgirls.
Probably no TV show had as much intentional camp as its central focus than did the live-action Batman from the 1960s. Notorious for putting the prefix "bat-" in front of everything Batman did or used, and for Adam West's portrayal of Batman as a constantly emoting expositionist who had but one tone of voice no matter the situation. However, many of the people involved with the production debate the label as needlessly denigrating to the hard work they put into the show's elements of farce.
In his essay Batman, Deviancy and Camp, Andy Medhurst goes so far as to say the best definition of camp could be "sort of like the Batman TV show." Adam West has apparently made a career out of playing campy superheroes. Occasionally he even plays himself as if he thought he was a superhero.
West mentioned during interviews that he deliberately played up some 'campy' aspects of the show — it was, apparently, a necessity, as only part of his face was visible, and he had to find another way to express emotion.
Nowadays, the animated Batman: The Brave and the Bold series and its video game adoption has picked up the camp role. Besides its surprising emphasis on more obscure, cheesier villains, the show also gave us the Music Meister, a villain who controls the will of others by singing like Neil Patrick Harris.
Doctor Who has flirted with camp on-and-off throughout its various incarnations. This was partly out of necessity, due to the low budget. However, camp is, in some ways, inherent in its premise: It's a world where the hero triumphs (usually deflating any attempts at seriousness in the process) by virtue of being gallant, romantic, and stoic in the British tradition. In Whovian circles, this push-pull dynamic between camp and drama is known as "Guns and Frocks", a term taken from one of the New Adventures novels. The Sixth Doctor, when confronted with a choice between fending off the villains with rifles or frocks, sides with frocks. The Doctor will always win in the most outlandish, silly way possible, because the alternative would be to resort to violence, which is against the franchise's philosophy.
This is not to say Who doesn't indulge in deconstruction now and again. The aforementioned New Adventures novels turned the Terrence Dicks interpretation of the Doctor ("Neither cruel nor cowardly") on its head: In Love and War, the Doctor still behaves like the children's hero we all know and adore - even parroting the same Dicks catchphrases - while simultaneously doing thoroughly fiendish things. This contradiction later surfaced on the Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood, most notably with the flamboyant pansexual immortal child killer Captain Jack — about as schizo a character as you can come up with.
The new series, faced with the terrifying prospect of a reasonable budget and cheap and high-quality special effects being widely available by that point, perhaps overcompensated for this by having a Darker and Edgier Doctor - one who was now the Last of His Kind, wore Nazi clothes and a shaved head and had committed double genocide as Back Story - fighting mostly extremely goofy comedy monsters over his short run, with the notable exception being the Daleks, a "serious" but legendarily campy 50sB-Movie-like monster played painfully straight here. The worry was that, with good special effects, the Narm Charm responsible for a lot of the campy appeal would be lost, and so it had to be added by replacing "low camp" with "high camp" - not least to avoid traumatising children (which the original series cared about much less, being by far the goriest show on the BBC at the time). By the second series, the Doctor got more mellow and the monsters got spookier, finding what is generally agreed to be a less mediocre middle ground - and it's still camp as hell.
Even some of the Nu-Who music comes under this - composer Murray Gold, when creating a Leitmotif for the Doctor's alien-ness, was deliberately asked to do it as a Cliché Storm, so he went with an operatic One-Woman Wail. This was nicknamed by him "Flavia's Theme", after an extremely campy One-Scene Wonder Time Lady in the story "The Five Doctors", who he could imagine singing it. It's deliberately overly dramatic, but at the same time hits exactly the emotional button it's supposed to push - both Angst and the promise of adventure.
Some of the scores in the late 80s. Italo Disco Daleks, anyone?
The score of the official "Shada" reconstruction shot for this (alongside Retraux) as it was a late 80s-era Doctor Who scorer doing a very knowing pastiche of the 70s style scores, but it is generally agreed upon to be distracting, inappropriate and just really nasty to listen to.
Sherlock borrows the aesthetics and Mood Lighting of gritty crime drama and uses it as window dressing for incredibly silly, implausible stories that take place in a world of movies and setting-transplanted pulp Victorian fiction rather than in the real world. This is partially demonstrated by how much joy it takes in Painting The Fourth Wall, and also in how much the dialogue implicitly mocks its own premise and characters while at the same time being in no way a Self-Parody. It is mostly able to handle its acute self-exaggeration and ridiculousness through extremely high-quality acting which plays it all exactly as straight as it has to be, making Sherlock himself The Comically Serious. Then there's the individual character Moriarty, who embodies all of this in himself alone.
Kevin Ayers features in possibly the gayest, most outrageously camp, music videos ever committed to tape. His 1973 hit Carribean Moon has all the gayness buttons deliberately racked up way past eleven. Julian clary would look like a macho straight. The video is also hilarious.
Michael Jackson sometimes was intentionally campy, most famously with the song and video for "Thriller". His adult career is otherwise rife with unintentional camp; he and his handlers really thought people would take him seriously as a tough guy/ladykiller with stuff like "Bad", "Smooth Criminal", "Dangerous", and "You Rock My World", for instance.
Klaus Nomi, the 80s version of Lady Gaga, with his "postmodern theatricality". Which brings us to...
Lady Gaga, who claims inspiration from the above two. "He ate my heart, and then he ate my brain!"
Kylie Minogue's career is practically built on this trope. See "Your Disco Needs You" and her Light Years album.
Queen. Their sound was essentially this combined with the Epic Riff and/or Epic Rocking. "We Will Rock You" cranks it up to eleven, naturally. Lead singer Freddie Mercury was Camp Gay/Manly Gaynote actually bisexual. This should come as no surprise that his songs and videos were extremely camp as well. He loved to dress in fur and leather. Later in his career, he had a moustache.
Steps, even by The Nineties pop standard. The three mains traits of the band were exaggerated dance moves, cheesey, happy music and bright colours and costume worn by the members. Like the Batman television series, it was intentionally camp.
Titanes en el Ring, from Argentina. Every bit of it.
Most Broadway musicals, especially those adapted from movies.
The entire output of Gilbert and Sullivan is high camp. As ridiculously uppercrust as Sullivan was Gilbert made his living as a parodist. Their operetta Patience is particularly worth noting as being a camp parody of the, also very camp, aestheic movement.
The musical of Little Women takes the short and melodramatic play that Jo and her sisters stage in the early chapters, and turns it into a musical number spanning the entire cast (all... six of them), stuffed chock-full of wholesome, affectionate camp.
Bayonetta, spiritual successor to Devil May Cry, begins with the main character, disguised as a nun, presiding over a funeral that is subsequently visited by heavenly beings who rip off her clothes, allowing her to use her suit of magical hair and the handguns (which she wields four at a time, one to each limb) that were hidden in a coffin to beat, shoot, and rip the angels apart gruesomely, all to a cover of Frank Sinatra's "Fly Me to the Moon." It's as over the top as it sounds.
To elaborate for the uninformed: Bayonetta is a game about a sexy witch who brutally kills angels by basically stripping naked and breakdancing with handguns on her quest to find a gemstone in an Expy of the Vatican whilst making thousands of references to Clover Studios and SEGA. It's better than it sounds
Contra: Rebirth Seems to be this with the hero dropped into space station from helicopter, robotic llamas, upside-down midboss, a pyramid of running enemies, over-the-top Excuse Plot and generally lighthearted presentation.
Deep Fear: Although the game itself is hardly camp (instead falling under So Bad, It's Good), the campiness cranks Up to Eleven whenever the sub designer, Dubois Amalric, opens his mouth to deliver his ridiculously accented lines at a volume as loud as his purple turtleneck sweater.
Devil May Cry. In the second game the developers forgot this, but the third game made up for it in spades.
Fallout: New Vegas: All three tribes that run the casinos in New Vegas are camp to some degree (The Omertas representing the seamy underbelly and the White Glove Society representing the elegance well, on the surface, anyway of the old Las Vegas, respectively), but the Chairmen crank it Up to Eleven. All of them dress like Rat Pack rejects and say things like "Ring-a-ding, baby" and "What can I do to make your stay the tops?" with completely straight faces. And it's hilarious.
Space Channel 5. The setting is '60s style psychedelic future. You play as a swingin' news reporter. Colorful aliens start to invade. How do you defeat them? By the power of dancing and copying the moves of the enemies. It also has "space-" inserted to almost every occupation.
Team Fortress 2. The characters have exaggerated Rockwell-esque designs, each of them have a different, very much played up accent and traits stereotypically associated with each's respective nationality. Furthermore, it's filled with Ludicrous Gibs (after you get killed, during a freezecam of your murderer the game will gleefully point out where "your pancreas!", "your foot!", "your kidney!" etc. lies, if the body parts appear on the shot). It is largely thanks to that factor that the game was received so well.
Robot Unicorn Attack. Beloved for its campiness and extremely gay synthpop theme song (Always by Erasure). When they tried to make a Halloween version with a Slayer soundtrack, it wasn't received well.
In Worm, the superhero Mouse Protector is said to have made this part of her shtick so that being defeated by her would be more embarrassing — but the crapsack nature of the Worm universe doesn't leave all that many people following her example.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983). So much so, that even in the 80s, many were suspicious that it was actually gay propaganda. (Especially with names like Ram-Man, Man-at-Arms, Extendar, and last but not least, Fisto. Yes, these were real).
The Venetian is the clearest case of Camp on the Strip. Most of the resorts do indeed have an exaggerated and theatrical presentation. However, not all of the resorts have the required derivative substance or hilarious badness or monumental tackiness. For instance, the Bellagio is certainly exaggerated in its theatricality, and presented very well. However, the resort takes itself very seriously and the vast majority of visitors to it consider it So Cool It's Awesome rather than So Bad, It's Good.
And let's not forget Macau's own Fake Venice which is not only three times the size of it's Vegas counterpart, but even campier. Picture sitting in a Japanese restaurant, overlooking a fake indoor replica of the Grand Canal, with the gondolier rowing past and singing a (very good) rendition of Sarah Brightman's part in "Time To Say Goodbye". Oh, and the Brazillian steakhouse on the fake St Mark's Square, with street entertainers suddenly bursting out of doors to do rousing renditions of "Feniculi Fenicula". Oh yeah, it's more camp than Rufus Wainright.
With regards to the Treasure Island resort, their famous streetside "pirate battle" was originally a straightforward, theme-park like spectacle: pirates vs. the British navy, and the pirates win. When the resort was overhauled to appeal more to adults, this show became The Sirens of TI and became sirens (re: sexy, scantily-clad sea witches) vs. pirates; the sirens win and the pirates join them for a Dance Party Ending. Now THAT'S campy!
The bulk of Las Vegas shows qualified as mostly unintentional camp for decades. But then Cirque du Soleil arrived in The Nineties and presented high theatricality and fun alongside elegance, subtlety, and artistic ambition. Audiences found it refreshing, and this triggered a sea change in Vegas entertainment. Nowadays, when you see a campy Vegas show, it's either intentional camp or an older show that didn't get the memo. For the latter, see this review of the last remaining Vegas showgirl show, Jubilee!