Taking Notes on Notes on "Camp": Met Gala 2019

Lady Gaga in her final look of her four part attire on the MET Gala 2019 carpet. Pictured with Brandon Maxwell.

Lady Gaga in her final look of her four part attire on the MET Gala 2019 carpet. Pictured with Brandon Maxwell.

Camp is a part of who we are, not something we have to try to be.
— Lady Gaga

Earlier this year, the Metropolitan Museum of Art released the theme for the highly anticipated 2019 Met Gala as Camp: Notes on Fashion. The theme initially had many question, including myself, if celebrities were to show up with s’mores and scout badges. Camp, however, takes on a diverse meaning in Susan Sontag’s 1964 Notes on “Camp”. The irony is within the text itself since it aims to define the elusive concept that is camp. Camp gravitates toward the grandeur—larger than life movements, commodities, and figures. This conception of camp was reflected by some on the carpet, such as Emily Ratajkowski channeling Cher and Lilly Collins as Priscilla Presley. Camp is the love of the unnatural and human creativity. Camp restores humanity in the artificial, capturing irony within pieces as a space for humor: “Camp sees everything in quotation marks. It’s not a lamp, but a ‘lamp’; not a woman, but a ‘woman’ (Sontag Note 10 1964). Camp captures complexity through dichotomies—unintentional/deliberate and trivial/serious.

Andrew Bolton, head curator of the MET Costume Institute indicates, indicates that despite all the definitions and illustrations of camp within the exhibition, “you leave the exhibition still wondering what camp is”. Celebrities on the carpet were also encouraged to indicate their own definition of camp. Within their attire, some took a more literal translation of the text, through the extensive use of feathers, referencing Note 25 “three million feathers”. It is evident that the very definitions that the attendants gravitated toward in their outfit choice reflects camp. Camp is individual and elusive, which exists solely within himself/herself as part of the “cult” known as camp. The theme challenges the participants to dress the theme and explore Sontag’s conception of camp. But, this in turn also calls for an expression of themselves, showcasing their personal understanding of camp.

Lady Gaga, co-chair of the gala, plainly states, “Camp is a part of who we are, not something we have to try to be”. Camp is a celebration of individuals, for all their quirks, ideas, and creations. Camp empowers individuals to embrace themselves to the fullest through their own contrived, exaggerated styles. Although the exhibit attempts to define this concept, it inevitably acts a mirror reflecting back to the individual, unabashedly expressing their self. Perhaps the greatest takeaway from Sontag’s notes are that “it relishes, rather than judges”. In this social media age of immense criticism, many of us needed a celebration of self, often repressed due to societal norms. We are undefinable, individual—and most notably, we are camp.  

“The whole point of Camp is to dethrone the serious. Camp is playful, anti-serious. More precisely, Camp involves a new, more complex relation to "the serious." One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious.” Susan Sontag Note 41, Notes On “Camp” 1964

A Peek Inside Camp by Mehdi Lacoste

“Camp taste is, above all, a mode of enjoyment, of appreciation - not judgment.” Susan Sontag Note 55, Notes On “Camp” 1964

https://www.vogue.com/slideshow/inside-met-gala-2019-see-photos-by-mehdi-lacoste

Claudia Morgan