Guilty Pleasures: Feminist Camp from Mae West to Madonna

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Overview

“Camp,” Mae West told Playboy, “is the kinda comedy where they imitate me.” But what was West doing, if not camp itself? Guilty Pleasures puts women back into the history of camp, a story long confined to gay male practice. Emphasizing the distinctive roles women have played as producers and consumers of camp, Pamela Robertson links her subject to feminist discussions of gender parody, performance, and spectatorship. Her book offers a heady tour of social and cultural criticism at its most interesting, and American culture at its most flamboyant.
Robertson grounds her theoretical discussion of female performance and spectatorship in detailed studies of figures such as Mae West, Joan Crawford, and Madonna. She locates these figures in turn within a tradition of feminist camp—a female form of aestheticism related to masquerade and rooted in burlesque, parallel to but different from gay male camp. Through analyses of films from Gold Diggers of 1933 to Johnny Guitar, as well as video and television, Robertson shows how the gold digger is to feminist camp what the dandy is to gay male camp—its original personification and defining voice. Set against a backdrop of social history, her analysis demonstrates that feminist camp flourishes during periods of antifeminist backlash in America, and that it reflects a working-class sensibility particularly attuned to changing attitudes toward women’s work and sexuality.
Appealing to a wide range of scholars spanning the fields of film and mass culture, feminism, gay/lesbian/queer studies, and cultural studies, Guilty Pleasures will also attract an audience of general readers interested in camp and popular culture.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Despite the promise of the subtitle, Robertson (who teaches at the University of Newcastle in Australia) doesn't represent a range of feminist camp over the years. Rather, she simply presents a few case studies in different chapters (Mae West, Joan Crawford, Madonna). While these are all interesting, they do not hang together particularly well. The freshest information here can be found in the introduction, in which Robertson examines the aesthetics of camp and how it has been assumed that camp exists in the form of gay male culture appropriating women's culture, but that the inverse is never true. "Women... are objects of camp and subject to it but are not camp subjects." The individual chapters are then somewhat disappointing, however, as they closely examine specific performers and performances. Robertson examines whether Mae West was a camp creator, or merely a camp object. In a 1971 Playboy interview, West opined, "Camp is the kinda comedy where they imitate me." Another essay dissects the film Gold Diggers of 1933, positing that "the comic gold digger is to feminist camp what the dandy is to gay camp." Although it opens with an introduction to Joan Crawford as camp figure, the third essay quickly narrows in on her performance in Johnny Guitar as the mannish Vienna. Finally, in an anemic essay that perhaps proves there is not another drop of analysis to be squeezed from Madonna's body of work, Robertson examines the material girl's politics and claims that they warn us against a tendency to "naively substitute camp for politics." (May)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822317487
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/1996
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 195
  • Lexile: 1620L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.91 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Pamela Robertson Wojcik is Associate Professor in the Department of Film, Television, and Theater and Director of the Gender Studies Program at the University of Notre Dame. She is the author of The Apartment Plot: Urban Living in American Film and Popular Culture, 1945-1975, also published by Duke University Press, and the editor of Movie Acting: The Film Reader.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction. What Makes the Feminist Camp? 1
1 "The Kinda Comedy Where They Imitate Me": Mae West's Identification with the Feminist Camp 23
2 What Trixie and God Know: Feminist Camp in Gold Diggers of 1933 55
3 Camping under Western Stars: Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar 85
4 Does Feminist Camp Make a Difference? or, What We Talk about When We Talk about Madonna 115
Conclusion. The Queens Are Dead, Long Live the Queens 139
Notes 155
Bibliography 175
Index 189
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