John Lyttle Column

You say camp is everywhere. Yep, everywhere for, and increasingly by, heterosexuals
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Indy Lifestyle Online
So here I am, down at my local pick-up palace, all matt black and moody lighting, gargling Diet Coke, minding everybody's business. Over in the corner there's this quartet of queens, and I do mean queens. There's not a stitch of otherwise ubiquitous Adidas or Russell Athletic in sight. Trust me, these darlings wouldn't wear sports casual if their mothers were held at gunpoint.

Anyway, the little minxes are meanly observant - "Is this a bar or a workshop for the blind?" - and are, like, being really, really ignored by the milling leather and denim herds, until the dance mix of "Unbreak My Heart" swells over the sound system. Suddenly the KY Jelly Babies spontaneously do big, bad, Bassey actions to the words, arms circling like windmills, faces contorted with sourly sincere mock-emotion. And it's such a dumb yet deft and dismissive commentary on the pre-fabricated ballad form, and on the gooey emotions those sad songs still (secretly) trigger in homosexual hearts that, well, you have to laugh.

Except no one is, save me. Au contraire. The atmosphere is ice. Prides of packed meat are actually pointing, sneering, casting looks to literally die for.

It's horrible, because it's blatant and it's hate and a certain type of homosexual panic, and, ooh, honey, it's radiating from Muscle Marys who not a minute before were licking and snorting each other's armpits like tomorrow wasn't coming, and in public, too, without drawing a second glance.

But that's "hot", you see. "Hot" is the name of the latest game. This is the age of being, as a certain detergent ad so succinctly puts it, Best Ever Fairy - a period of readjustment when "passing for straight" is no longer a curse but a compliment. Catch the gay personals. "Straight- acting" is the new order, and Butch is now officially the gay man's ideologically approved burden. Larking around like a teenage girl is just poufy, right, letting the side down, while carrying on like an odious teenage boy, see, that's progress.

Which leaves, my dears, no place for camp.

Yes, camp. The one-time defiant, feel-bitchy survival strategy that threw society's insults, effeminacy in particular, back in its two faces. For camp as she is spoken is no longer regarded as a revolt into style, a pay-off that doubles as a payback. Camp, to some, now merely smells of the escaped closet, of the bad old days, camp being, in one of its few agreed definitions, "the product of oppression, a creative means of dealing with an identity loaded with stigma". But oppression isn't what it used to be. Who needs "a lie that tells the truth" when lies are less and less required? Or, indeed, wit or the insouciance to "take serious things frivolously and frivolous things seriously" when the boys in the back rooms dictate that a grunt is worth a thousand words. There's nothing remotely ironic about the recent evolution of gay "attitude" - laddishness with nipple clamps and the sort of welcoming expression usually found on Easter Island.

You don't believe me. You think it strange. You say camp is everywhere. Yep, everywhere for, and, increasingly, by, heterosexuals. That's part of the paradox: camp practised in its original spirit by everyone bar the mother source. Absolutely Fabulous is media-savvy women behaving badly to everyone's delight, an almost vindictive refusal to abide by the rules of decorum, and automatically a camp triumph: aggression through exaggeration. Butch loves Ab Fab for much the same reasons it's cool about drag, Butch having decided that drag, once a locus of relief because it allowed the expression of feelings the world said we shouldn't have, is today a dump for the renounced and denounced; mere permission to snigger at the flamboyant imitation women the world once insisted we were, and which we assert we no longer are. No more toying with roles, tampering with surfaces, or threatening chaos. Just let Butch wear its simple uniform of Top and Bottom.

Butch is casting off camp as, of all things, conformist, at the very moment that even straight men are taking advantage - so what else is new. I call into court screaming PC Goodie from Ben Elton's The Thin Blue Line. Walks like a sissy, talks like a sissy, smells like queen spirit, and doesn't much care. He's a happy heterosexual. Happy not to strut, swagger, be strong and silent. Goodie is a mincing role model for members of a growing real-life band who've learnt to camp to conquer. Ask any deluded dolly who has found herself one second trading quips about this season's fishtail fashions and the next second slamming hips, flattering herself that what he really needed was to meet the right woman. What a fate for camp; the best butter-up since Last Tango in Paris - but exclusively for the breeding classes.

If you're one of those, then camp liberates, cuts the individual loose. If you're bound to be Butch, then camp as a form has outlived function, can only be applauded and appreciated if distanced, displaced, dissipated. It's a touch Prince Hal and Falstaff: "I knew thee not, old queen." And knowing not, Butch forgets that camp's message is Be Who You Want To Be, And (Ha Ha) Bugger Everyone Else.

A lesson painfully lost on four miming Mamas who now quit in mid-gesture and slink away defeated, wordlessly labelled reactionary when they're by far the most radical movement in this dim - and I do mean dim - room without a view

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