Tuesday 25th July 2017,
Televisual

Camp 2.0, or YouTube’s Queer Identity

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.

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About The Author

Aymar Jean Christian is assistant professor of communication at Northwestern University. He writes about media and society for a number of publications. For more information, click the "About" tab at the top of the page.

3 Comments

  1. Melvin September 7, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    First, let me say, I really enjoy reading your blog. You’ve got a mine field of interesting articles and links here. As a future PhD student, I hope to produce scholarship as engaing as yours. I just finished reading your essay on ‘Camp 2.0’ and I found it really interesting. You make some great points about drag and the performance art aspects of it. The scope of your essay’s focus on youtubers presents a different take on the more traditional sites where drag performances occur, in night clubs. As a graduate student, I reseached and wrote an essay about drag and female impersonation pageants. Both are aesthetically, two differnt performance tropes. After reading your essay, I realized I primarily focused my critique within a Butlerian/ Feminist perspective. I found that a lot of feminist’s criticism dismiss both forms as subversive. Aside from I did, what I like about your essay is the fact that you ground your results in what the peformers on youtube have to say, their experience. It seems they are more concerned with becoming a fully self-acutlized person than with trying to completly embody a type of feminine persona. Camp, drag,etc..is simply their vehicle.

  2. Aymar Jean Christian September 8, 2010 at 9:40 am

    Thanks, Melvin, for our your wonderful insights! Sounds you’re doing a lot of great work and I look forward to reading it someday.

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