James Worsdale is perpetually adjusting to life as a southern belle and is grateful for the Internet for connecting him to like-minded people with interesting ideas and viewpoints and creative ways to manifest them, such as here!
There’s a tendency in my liberal-minded thinking to avoid indulging in cultural brands and ideas that I know are being targeted towards me because of existing stereotypes that align with identity categories I’d identify myself with. I often have the conversation with myself of, “Are you sure you’re not just trying to fulfill a representation of what you’re supposed to be and to enjoy by enjoying this?” which in my now post-enlightened state I quickly counter with, “Are you sure you’re not just trying to fulfill a representation by not enjoying it?” And even further, “What forces and ideas are you perpetuating by enjoying it?” Therein that question lies much of my dilemma with camp.
This post was originally intended to be an analysis of the recent cinematic masterpiece Burlesque, which my eager anticipation and eventual adoration of I’ve made no secret. But exploring the reactions to the movie, most notably that of Rich Juzwiak of fourfour, as well as The New York Times‘ Manohla Dargis, got me thinking of the role camp serves for gay men and the straight women who love them, and what that might mean for that relationship.
But let’s back up a second. I can’t imagine many of you reading this have seen Burlesque (yet? wishful thinking?), though maybe it’s more than I’m assuming. Despite the nearly universal designation of the film as a dud, some have found the flick warrants more praise as a potential member of the canon of camp than as a movie that holds the excessively overused adjective of “so bad that it’s good.” A quick plot summary for the uninformed:
Ali (Xtina) is an Iowan girl who packs her bags, leaves her two-bit town and heads to the big, bad city of Los Angeles, leaving nobody behind (as all her family’s dead) and bringing nothing with her but a suitcase and a dream! Marching about the busy sidewalks of L.A., flicking her pen against her chin and folded newspaper (textbook “looking for a job” blocking) she eventually (and by that I mean pretty quickly) stumbles upon the Burlesque lounge, where she is greeted by the ultimately elusive Alan Cumming (seriously he’s in the movie at the most random points and for no real reason at all – like Creed to Dunder Mifflin, Alan Cumming’s just kind of walking around Cher’s club, doing and saying crazy shit).
Burlesque is owned by Tess (Cher) who, when she’s not being reminded of her establishment’s financial doom by her ex-husband and co-proprietor Vince (wait for it…Peter Gallagher), she’s being coddled and placated by her FABULOUS right-hand-man Sean (Stanley Tucci…duh). Ali is entranced by the spectacle, and with the help of eyelinered pretty boy Jack (some Twilight kid) she gets a waitressing gig and eventually demonstrates enough zeal and unrestrained enthusiasm to convince Tess and Sean that she deserves a spot in the show.
Until this point, all the performers have lip-synched to the “great Burlesque numbers”, but after a performer’s snafu Ali saves the show by letting it rip with that voice that only could belong to the greatest Mouseketeer of our time, and her show-stopping vocals buy Tess some more time to figure out how to salvage her sinking-ship of a night club without having to sell it to the nefariously debonair and handsome Marcus (Eric Dane…but was maybe supposed to be Jamie Foxx? Oh My GOD if only).
Fortunately the Burlesque lounge has the greatest view of beautiful Los Angeles, and a condo-developer is selling units across the street, capitalizing on said view. Marcus lets Ali know that he had once purchased air rights above a small convenience store that he had an interest in keeping open, which also secured his status as having the tallest building in Los Angeles (compensating, Marcus?). Long story short (as if that ship hasn’t sailed) Ali eagerly tells Tess about this and they get the condo developer from across the street to buy air rights above the club, and the day is saved!
You get the idea though. The plot’s fucking ridiculous.
Many of the mainstream reviews dealt with the sheer lack of believability, stilted characterization and dialogue, and corny performances and outcomes in Burlesque, but some, like Dargis, seem like they would have even been satisfied with a movie that sacrificed that for “the madness, verve or talent of Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls.” Both camps were disappointed, but Juzwiak points out in his review:
“The colliding knowingness and incompetence is what makes Burlesque a true treasure…the best camp is that which has ambiguous intent. Burlesque isn’t so bad it’s good because it’s trying to be, nor is it because it’s so serious in its attempt that it is a hilarious failure—it exists in a glorious limbo between the two. Ultimately, it is impossible to know if everyone is aware of just how silly this whole thing is coming off. I look forward to pondering it for years to come.”
By using Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp,” Juzwiak claims that Burlesque will remain canonically as a camp classic rather than an adequately and appropriately filmed quality musical by objective standards.
I loved Rich’s review and was unfamiliar with Sontag’s “Notes” until the review prompted me to read it. Her recognition of homosexuals as the bearers of the camp standard had me thinking more about what camp means for women and feminism. It posed the question in my mind: Can camp be a feminist device or is it simply a way for gay men to manifest their sense of entitlement towards female objectification in a way that’s aesthetically and artistically pleasing to them?
In relation to Burlesque, Steven Antin, the writer and director, is a man and brother to the creator of super feminist group (SARCASM) The Pussycat Dolls and was, according to Cher, going through a bit of a steamy break-up with the head of the studio during Burlesque’s filming. She told me. We’re close friends. Since I’m gay and love camp.
This post also appears on The New Gay.