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  • Between a Frock and a Hard Place:Camp Aesthetics and Children's Culture
  • Kerry Mallan (bio) and Roderick McGillis (bio)

Camp is associated with a particular kind of performance in which the overt meaning of what is performed is subverted or inverted by drawing attention to the fact that it is a performance, and thus a kind of lie (drag being a perfect example).

Thomas 103

French: Se Camper—To Posture or Flaunt

In exploring camp and children's culture, we raise the following contrasting viewpoints. The conventionally accepted view, derived from Susan Sontag's Notes on Camp, is that "camp" is a style or a sensibility (275–7). More recent queer accounts of camp see it as an oppositional critique (of gender and sexuality) embodied in a "queer" performative identity (Butler 233–6). Camp is also a social practice for many, and a style and an identity performed in many types of entertainment (for example: film, cabaret, and pantomime). In this respect, it is indicative of the competing and conflicting cultural elements within Western societies. Such conflict heightens the visibility of "difference" particularly with respect to queer communities, and the blurring of gender/sexual identity as a singular, homogenous entity. In other words, camp sensibility and camp performance embrace difference while they also gather performers into communities we might label "queer." Queer communities differ from non-queer communities and defer any notion of stability. Both queer and camp are outside notions of stability; they are border activities. [End Page 1]

The advent of queer intellectual reclamation of the term "camp" has seen a shift from camp as a gender-specific strategy of gay men to include the notion of female (or in some cases lesbian) camp. By situating our discussion within this broader theoretical context, our consideration of camp aesthetics in children's culture takes note of the shifting interpretations of camp. We are also sensitive to the "flattening" of camp that may result from its appropriation by the academic community, straight or gay. Aware of the instability of camp, we are curious to know whether the notion of "camp aesthetics" has any relevance to children's culture. Assuming that it does, is camp in children's culture, by necessity, an apolitical style? What is the appeal of camp humour in children's entertainment? Is the ostensibly innocent appropriation of camp for children's viewing or playing pleasure a politically motivated marketing ploy designed to appeal to a diverse consumer market? These questions emerge throughout our discussion, which considers from the outset the idea of a camp aesthetics in children's culture, drawing upon a range of cultural texts. Answers to our questions remain elusive, on the border. But in order to approach these answers, our discussion next focuses on two Disney films in order to give close analysis of the deployment of male and female camp characters in one medium of children's culture. Finally, we consider the location of children between the pleasures of corporate culture and consumerism and the pleasures of instability and the body. Children will or may enact the conflicting and disorienting ways of understanding identity, gender, and sexuality—camp's raison d'etre.

Camp Aesthetics and Children's Culture

Is the term "camp" at all relevant to our understanding of chil-dren's culture? The identification of camp with an "off the wall" or outrageous sensibility might make it seem far removed from the world of children and the texts that comprise that world. Camp can be as elusive as childhood. Like the childhood that some envisage from Romantic roots, camp is energetic, attractive, compelling, unsophisticated, and pure. Camp is perky and self-conscious, self-aware and maybe naïve. Camp is mercurial and difficult to pin down. Camp is polymorphous and perhaps even perverse. Camp sensibility, unlike the sensibility of the Romantic child, but like that of another kind of child-type, is artificial and unrefined. Or is it? If camp does share such attributes with childhood, then [End Page 2] perhaps camp has something to offer us in the way of understanding (albeit partially) "children's culture."

Camp aesthetics disrupt or invert many Modernists' aesthetic attributes, such as beauty, value, and...


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