WTF FRIDAY: Good Camp vs. Bad Camp
There’s a lot of campiness in the geek world. Some of it is great. Some of it is tolerable. Some of it makes me want to gouge my eyes out with sporks.
Everyone has a camp threshold. Mine is relatively high, probably due to 1) the number of Broadway musicals I was dragged to in my formative years 2) my propensity for early ’90s X-Men (Daredevil vs Wolverine? Own it) and 3) early and frequent watching/rewatching of Star Trek TOS on VHS.
Everyone loves a little camp now and again. We need it. We crave it.
But there is too much of a thing. And that line? It’s narrow.
Here is how I make my judgments:
Good Camp: The Batman TV Series (1966-1968)
You know you’ve watched it and you know every time you flick by a rerun you stop for at least a minute. You squeed when you heard it was finally coming out on DVD. This show is absolutely packed with over the top shenanigans and replete with maniacal cackling, Bat-Shart repellant, and “POW!” So why is this particular dynamic duo a member of the “good camp” camp?
Overarching Audio Representation: Na na na na na na na na. Na na na na na na na na. Na na na na na na na na. *trombone slide* BATMAN!
Portion Size: 24-ish minutes. You giggle, you snort, and by the time you’re ready to get annoyed, it’s over.
Context: Created during the Cold War and the era of Mutually Assured Destruction. Which meant folks really needed the laugh. Our own times ain’t much better; we need the laugh as well.
Commitment to the Cheese Whiz: All in, from the actors to the prop guys to the shaky cam operator. Every last one of them knew it was camp and every last one of them clearly reveled in it. The wink, wink, nudge, nudge factor is is ginormo and no one makes any attempt to pretend otherwise. Cast has fun, crew has fun, we have fun.
Character Continuity: Backs slowly away, wanders into the woods, fords a stream, follows every rainbow, falls into a volcano, travels back in time, then stands in the corner and pretends to be really interested in counting the number of pencils people have managed to embed in the foam tile ceiling. It’s all about the spandex and underpants here, kids.
Longevity: Because it stands by itself, it’s good pretty much forever. This show is special. It can’t ever happen again. And don’t pretend you’ve never done the Batoosie. You have. I’ve seen you. We’ve all seen you. Batoosie loud, Batoosie proud.
Bad Camp: Superman Returns (2006)
Overarching Audio Representation: *cricket cricket cricket cricket* *cricket cricket cricket cricket cricket* *cricket cricket cricket cricket cricket* *thud clunk*
Portion Size: Far too super at 154 minutes. Like, 154 consecutive minutes. I giggled. I fell asleep I ate some popcorn. Took another nap. Trimmed my fingernails with my teeth.
Context: We needed the defender of humanity, the big blue boy scout. I think Brandon Routh is a good actor and I’ve liked other movies in which he’s starred. Through shoddy writing and ass directing, however, he was transformed into a tree trunk in spandex who hovered over things and looked constipated (point of order: why is this the default facial expression of all superheroes?) and may haver dived into the ocean at some point to do something heroic but I had totally stopped paying attention by then. And yet he was still wearing the lame ’80s suit. Why? Why didn’t they sleek him out or alter the color a little or skip the fucking spit curl?
Commitment to the Cheese Whiz: Kevin Spacey went all in, which is why the bits of the movie he featured in are both the best (hehe, Kevin Spacey camp) and the most painful (“is this thing on?”); if other people had thrown down with him, it could have at least been fun. Parker Posey was the camp girl at the time and she was a featureless Ikea shelving unit. Which is a shame because her Kitty and Spacey’s Lex could have made beautiful aeresol together. James Marsden was in fucking HAIRSPRAY! and yet, they cast him as the straight laced, super boring boyfriend; complete waste of charm, smarm, and his willingness to laugh at himself.
Character Continuity: No one was going to follow Christopher Reeve. Tom Welling had been Superman for a while by 2006 and he was doing just fine, but no one, no one, was going to follow Christopher Reeve as that Superman in that timeline with that cheesy Phantom Zone and the redic theme song etc. Don’t make him the alien dude who wears spandex and who’s very distinctive features are supposedly rendered unrecognizable by A PAIR OF GLASSES if you’re not going to allow him to act the part. Also, you gave him the spit curl. At least let him make snarky commons about it (aka: laugh it up, fuzzball).
Longevity: None. Saw it once (half-assedly), haven’t watched it since, not even when I’m horribly bored and it’s free. In fact, you couldn’t pay me enough to watch it again. I’ve already lost two hours of my life, that travesty isn’t getting any more. It was supposed to round out a continuity thread and it failed.
Camp is a device like any other and I’ve bitched exhaustively (still eyeing you with suspicion Steampunk) devices should not be used for the sake of use. They should be used to further something, anything, about the story. Camp is a short hand, not an excuse. If you choose to use it, go all in, keep it tight, left it be left, like the plastic bottle of nacho squeeze cheese, on my subwoofer for two years before it mummified itself into the Pantheon of “worst ___ ever.”