EUROVISION: A Lesson in Camp

Three weeks ago the internet was awash with images from the Met Gala, the theme of which was ‘Camp: Notes on Fashion.’ The title alluded to Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay, ‘Notes on Camp’ which posited the myriad ways in which we might understand camp as a construct and as a sensibility.

At the gala, celebrities turned up costumed in their idea of camp. So there was a lot of hot pink, a lot of sequins, a great deal of volume and a heck of a lot of extravagant headwear. Mostly courtesy of the great fashion houses.

In essence it just meant that Harry Styles turned up wearing a see-through, lacy shirt worn entirely without irony, and Anna Wintour wore an actually rather elegant dress with a stole of feathers.

It was all rather knowing.

(Plus, it’s pretty hard to top the campest of celebrities in the US, namely President Trump himself. Fake tan and cotton candy hair is big news in camp circles.)

It strikes me that proper camp isn’t that artful. It’s not what you wear so much as how you wear it. And the essential accessory is the twinkle in the eye.

Neither Harry nor Anna have the appropriate twinkle.

If you want to see camp in action, this was the weekend for it. The best examples of camp can be guaranteed at the Eurovision Song Contest.

There’s nothing about Eurovision that isn’t camp. Unless you count the commentators from Belarus and Russia who hyperventilate at the merest whiff of homosexuality about the proceedings.

But generally speaking, it’s a hotbed of camp.

And because at its heart camp is something joyful, open and accepting, it’s hard not to get swept up in it.

If the celebrities at the Met Gala really want us to believe in their camp credentials they should do their research.

Years of watching Eurovision has led me to understand the following:

  • National costume is always camp.
  • Where national dress is not available, a latex monster outfit could swing the vote. Or anything made out of Bacofoil.
  • The mullet will always be in fashion somewhere within the European Broadcasting Union.
  • Given the choice between a little baggy and a little too tight, a little too tight is the answer.
  • Butter churning is sexual. The Polish Eurovision panel knew it and so did Catherine Zeta Jones in The Darling Buds of May.
  • Leather. Slightly too much leather can never be enough. 
  • Also PVC. There’s no such thing as too much PVC. Ask the Icelandic bondage punks using Eurovision to bring down capitalism. (Seriously, how camp is that?)
  • Shoulder pads will never go out of style. And I mean NEVER.
  • Pyrotechnics and a key change are essential for success though difficult to pull off outside the theatre.
  • The gender binary is irrelevant. Beards for all!
  • Overt expressions of camp, such as the cabin crew trope as employed by Scooch, (UK entry 2007) are too obvious. The audience won’t buy in.

Of course, we in the UK are personae non gratae at the event these days. The Brexit vote has put paid to happy relations with our European neighbours. Hence our position at the very bottom of the table last night.

We’re the kid  who boasts to the rest of the class they’re going to a new school with better facilities, cleverer teachers and higher achieving students, even when everybody knows the new school is situated in a leaky Nissen hut by the side of a motorway and the roll is made up largely of unusually intelligent badgers.

Nobody wants to play with us any more. Even our old allies, Ireland, Malta and Cyprus, have found new people to hang out with in the playground.

It hurts, but who can blame them?

I’ll be sticking with the Eurovision Song Contest for as long as we’re participants. For one thing, Graham Norton and Rylan Clark-Neal are totally on fleek when it comes to dissecting the performances – camp is as camp does –  and for another, I’ll just never get enough of hearing ‘Hello Tel Aviv (or wherever – usually Dublin), this is Luxembourg calling…’

It still sends a tingle. And who doesn’t need a tingle in times like these?

Please let us never leave this European Union…



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