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Did the Met Gala achieve camp?

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In this era of aesthetics, fashion is a cultural currency more than ever. This currency has been used to fundraise for the New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute since 1948, with celebrities competing in extravagance to themes based on the art exhibition opened on the night of the gala. This year’s theme? ‘Camp’, based on Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay ‘Notes on ‘Camp’, but half the attendees didn’t seem to have got the memo.

The theme led to the tassels and feathers which are undoubtedly part of Camp, yes, but also to widespread outfits which seemed more deflated and confused than to do with the theme at all. An earlier draft of Sontag’s essay was called ‘Notes on Homosexuality’, and the essay is entirely queer taste codified. To remove the queerness out of Camp is to remove the heart and soul of its flamboyance, the pride in being visible to the point of contemptable, of battling invisibility with hyper-visibility. This theme was an opportunity for queer designers to shine, but a lack of emphasis on their presence was sorely felt. Camp should have been a glorious explosion of theatrical artifice and colour, instead some designers seemed to have designed gowns for a bedraggled circus.

There was also much disappointment in regards to the androgynous side of Camp fashion. Contrary to the belief of many, Harry Styles wearing a translucent chiffon blouse has not brought about the end to toxic masculinity, and is hardly the epitome of androgyny. Lacklustre attempts of androgyny were made by several designers, but resulted in atrociously phantom of the opera style suits

To quote the Sontag’s inspirational essay: ‘When something is just bad (rather than Camp), it’s often because it is too mediocre in its ambition. The artist hasn’t attempted to do anything really outlandish. What is extravagant in an inconsistent or an unpassionate way is not Camp… Without passion, one gets pseudo-Camp — what is merely decorative, safe’ This sums up the feeling I get from the uninspired sea of feathers and bejewelled dresses at this year’s gala, an utter lack of ambition, pseudo-Camp. Yet what is worse than the mostly tedious costumes of various celebrities, is the lack of impactful queer presence at the gala despite the absolute ties Camp has to the LGBT+ community. Although according to Sontag, Camp is ‘good because it’s awful’, this year’s Met Gala was simply not very good at all.

Last modified: 8th May 2019

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