Camp vs Kitsch

Camp vs Kitsch

What is the difference between ‘camp’ and ‘kitsch’?


I heard someone, can’t remember their name, I think it was on the NPR podcast Pop culture Happy Hour, call the Fast and the Furious franchise “straight camp.” It occurred to me, do straight people who were not in theater not know that camp isn’t exclusive to drag shows?

@fangirlJeanne 7:08 AM · Jul 13, 2021

Likewise, I was listening to a podcast recently — I think it was one of the 99% podcasts — when someone in interview started talking about something being ‘camp’ and I realised I have no idea what the word actually means. I thought it described the behaviour of stereotypically gay men, in relaxed, social mode. But no. I still had no idea what it meant, even after listening to a lengthy discussion about it in relation to architecture.

But then, a few weeks later, I came across ‘camp’ again in an essay about David Bowie:

Camp is notoriously hard to define, but in most conceptions it involves both a sense of doubleness — things are not merely what they seem to the naive viewer — and a preference for reversal — the very bad now reinterpreted as good. Camp makes most sense not as an aesthetic style — like classicism or modernism — but as a mode of apprehension or a hermeneutic. It is a way of understanding or interpreting the world. Historically, camp emerges in gay subculture where it functions as a kind of passive resistance to the straight world, much of the cynical humor of the Russians was a form of passive resistance to Stalinism…. Transvestitism for obvious reasons lends itself to camp interpretation, and the embrace of artifice over nature is a convention of camp taste… camp interpretation requires a lack of seriousness and the rejections of sincerity.

from Goth: Undead Subculture

(Hermeneutic is another word which I keep having to look up.)

This is probably the best description of camp that I have seen, because it describes how it relates to gay culture, while explaining in clear terms the wider context.

Camp David cover, camp vs. kitsch

In her book about fairies, Troublesome Things, Diane Purkiss describes the practice of purchasing fairy items and jewellery for little girls: “The parents I know justify the purchase of this lavishly doubtful product by using the phrases ‘camp’ and ‘tongue-in-cheek’ a lot, by which they mean that the violation of taste canons is so glaring as to be no threat.

In children’s literature we don’t tend to use the word camp to describe this ‘reversal’ of the established order; we use the term carnivalesque. Though they are slightly different, I now consider them very much related as concepts.

Hetereosexual Camp Things In Modern Culture from The Toast


Another word I have trouble defining — apart from ‘I know it when I see it sense’ is kitsch.

From io9:

Fantasy has a problem – it is inherently kitsch. What do I mean by kitsch? Crap that people unaccountably like. The dictionary defines kitsch as tawdry, vulgarised or pretentious art usually with popular or sentimental appeal. Unicorns, wizards, put upon young wretches who come to be great mages, haughty princesses, riders in dark cloaks – Robert Jordan, if you want it summed up in two words.

There is an inherent snobbishness in the word kitsch. Worse than snobbishness, perhaps:

Critics’ widespread distaste toward kitsch springs from an unwillingness to tolerate any kind of emotion that is seen as too sentimental or “sweet.” 

The Problem of Kitsch by Maranda Bennett (who argues against this idea)

So what’s the opposite of kitsch?

In going the other way, in trying too hard to be ‘realistic’, honest, gritty or meaningful we end up over-reaching ourselves and the monster eats us anyway.

There. Now I have a definition for ‘gritty’. I’m just going to say it’s the ‘opposite of kitsch’ and be done with it.

The Celebrate Doilies exhibit at the Spellman Museum, Forney, Texas
The Celebrate Doilies exhibit at the Spellman Museum, Forney, Texas


Cute and kitsch – Laurie Taylor asks why objects and phenomenon which come under these headings have such a hold and a fascination, from BBC4

Lemon girl young adult novella


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