So I have an article out this month in Communication, Culture and Critique! As is typical of academic publishing, I wrote the bulk of the article years ago, so if it reads very YouTube-circa-2007, that’s why.
(I should also say I’ve more or less moved on from the theoretical concerns with identity and performance in the CCC article to those about industry and markets that you see more often in this blog.)
Nevertheless it’s an article and argument I’ll stand by. The basic thrust of the piece uses YouTube vloggers to argue that what academics have traditionally thought of as “camp” – and specifically “queer” – now is being reimagined online in ways that would probably upset most scholars of traditional queer scholarship.
“Camp” is a very historically specific term describing a kind of gay performance associated with theatricality, irony and humor, with an undertone of seriousness. Drag queens are the classic camp icons: theatrical, they embodied the ironies and peculiarities of gender, a seriously potent combination mollified through humor. If you read Susan Sontag’s ‘Notes on Camp,’ which isn’t a hard read, it gets much more complicated pretty quickly.
Nevertheless, the YouTubers interviewed – who I’d mostly label as doing some kind of “queer camp,” though not all would describe themselves that way – don’t express their performances in ways we traditionally understand.
What they add is what academics call a “neoliberal” spin, a focus on individual power and spirit, in resistance to or disregard of social, political or institutional confinements. You’d be surprised how, in the context of queer history and academic writing, such a perspective is de-emphasized among performers and scholars. In this framework, camp becomes much more about overcoming personal challenges and expressing one’s “true self,” than about posing challenges to the social order or staying removed from the potency of one’s performance.
It’s tough to articulate in a nutshell and is far from a clean and perfect argument. Certainly it leaves out a lot, not the least of which are considerations of race and class, which were just too much to contend with given my small sample. Nonetheless, I worked hard on it and hope it contributes to an ongoing discussion. You can access it here; you’ll need a subscription through a library (or some other means). I can’t paste it here! Ah, copyright.