Vogues Forces of Fashion: Ryan Murphy
In early October Andrew Bolton, the curator in charge of the Met’s Costume Institute announced the 2019 themed for the Costume Institute exhibit… Camp. What even is camp many were asking?!?! At the Vogue Forces of Fashion Conference 2018 also in early October Andrew Bolton sat down with Ryan Murphy, the force behind such TV shows as Glee, Feud, and Pose to discuss the meaning of camp, and its purpose.
Bolton began by describing his favorite aspects of camp: the winking, tongue in cheek knowingness and that camp is a culture of the outsider appropriating the insider with a telling nod. For example the dress of a mannequin worn by a mannequin posing behind the dais.
deliberately exaggerated and theatrical in style, typically for humorous effect.
"the movie seems more camp than shocking or gruesome"
Ryan Murphy was quick to point out that while he mainly writes and produces various levels of camp programming, that the world was not always so welcoming of the satire. Murphy recalled that his first TV show Popular, a satire of cheerleaders on the WB, was not met with the same joy as his later work. “I was always asked, ‘Can you make it less gay?’ ” he said. “When I first started out in the business, I would say 99.9 percent of the critics were white, straight, and male. Throughout my entire career—you know, someone called The Normal Heart camp in a review. I went berserk. I felt it was somebody passing judgement. It was always something that made me very uptight.”
Today, he thinks that the world has evolved to a point where camp can be considered more mainstream, as well as accepted.
“I sort of realized that I had to let go my rancor about that word, because I realize everything is camp now. I think the world has become camp,” he continued, noting that the simultaneous rise of GIFs and memes with a more diverse set of cultural critics has made a campy sensibility the voice of the people. In addition, he explained that it was once he stopped trying to make “serious work”—i.e. what the white male critics would like—that he hit his stride as an auteur.
“I think Susan [Sontag]’s essay was the beginning of camp being mainstreamed,” added Bolton. “I think she provided a vocabulary and a grammar. Prior to that, I think it was associated with marginality and secrecy, particularly in the gay community . . . . The gay community has had a very conflicted approach to camp. On one point it’s a voice of empowerment and a way of being visible. At the same time, it’s been used as a way of stereotyping. It’s a very complicated history.”
There’s a beauty in camp too. “The world is tough, the world is heavy, and camp by its nature is a knowing wink,” said Murphy. “It’s a ball in some weird way. It’s an embrace of a sensibility that is moving though the world with some intent, and I feel, kindness. So there’s no cruelty in camp really . . . . Camp is also rebellion. I think when you’re doing something camp, you’re fighting against someone saying you have to do it this way.”
The discussion was lively, interesting and when it was over Murphy and Bolton rose, knocked over the mannequin accidentally, and had a big laugh. Camp, camp, camp!