That’s So Camp


A is one of my best friends. She is a senior in high school from my hometown. She enjoys writing poetry as well as knitting.

The context of this piece was during a facetime call in which I asked her to share some pieces of folklore with me, and she referred to this collection as “camp.” I asked her to elaborate on the phrase for the collection and to explain its meaning. 


Me: “Where would you say you got ‘camp’ from?”

A: “I like it a little bit when people don’t initially understand what the hell I’m talking about. And that was one of the phrases where if I said it, people would just be like, ‘What the hell does that even mean?’ I just like things that are very subjective to interpretation. And ‘that’s so camp,’ depending on how I say it, is just something that can be very subjective and it can be an insult or a compliment or just an observation. I’m pretty sure it was after an award ceremony, maybe the Met Gala and the theme was ‘camp.’ That was years ago and I remember being like, ‘That is such a good definition,’ I need to start using that and now I think it’s a staple of my vocabulary.”

Me: “What does it mean to you?”

A: “I feel like it’s very hard to describe verbally. I would say camp is when you can tell someone is trying to do something where there’s a very large amount of effort present, and the execution is more questionable. So like, sometimes outfits are camp in that sometimes they’re good because they’re camp and sometimes they’re bad because they’re camp and it’s just about how you sort of pull it off.”


I also use this term — “camp” tends to refer to things that are a little weird or off-putting, but not always necessarily in a bad way. For example, things that are eccentric are camp. Anything that is camp also tends to be somewhat amusing. They can be artificial or self-consciously ironic. In a sense, it refers to things that are so bad they are good because of the intention. Today, there almost seems to be a revitalization of the appreciation for things that aren’t perfect, and even more so, things that are intentionally imperfect. Irony, especially amongst the younger generation, has taken hold as a point of appreciation. There seems to also be a lack of desire for people to point out that one thing is absolutely cool or uncool, and “camp” is a way to fit in between that. With such a loose definition, it’s easier to judge ambiguously, which can serve a good purpose at a time when our statements are much more highly scrutinized.