Camp

How would people be, without oppression?

Here are Julian and Sandy, camp gay comedians when “gross indecency” was a criminal offence, making jokes with gay single entendres, speaking Polari, from which terms like “Cottaging” have entered the general language, but which was dying out in gay subculture in the 60s. Camp self-mockery is self-defence: I become a figure of fun so as not to get beaten up. Or a form of attack, being too clever for the homophobe.

Then it becomes a way of being gay. Those who would tolerate gays say “I don’t mind if they are homosexual as long as they don’t shove it in our faces” to which the camp say, “What, you mean, like this?” Then the gay small ads before Grindr was a thing, before mobile phones were smart, ask for men who are “straight-acting”. As if it is an act, or as if gay is camp.

Camp is tolerated. Just. It is not complete protection, and there will still be homophobic assaults, but it is a way of living which is not straight-acting. Different people have different personalities, and some will be more able to conform- because they are more straight-acting in reality, or because of a more naturally straight appearance.

Now when we recognise diversity as a positive good, camp can be a game of supreme flamboyance, as in the drag queen, but people can be ourselves, with a range of ways of being with others. We still have different registers of speech for work, socialising, partners, strangers- but they can be less defensive, because we are not under constant threat.

'Julian and Sandy'

I went to Wikipedia, and read that Julian and Sandy were a standing ridicule of effeminacy. Were people laughing at or with them? I like to think that they were normalising: straights would hear them on the radio, like them, and be more inclined to tolerate similar behaviour elsewhere. They would be in on the joke, where if they came upon it for the first time at work they would not be, and might be offended.

The “ladies” of Little Britain might be normalising. Are you laughing at us, or with us? I found the way they were so ridiculous offensive; yet there was one sketch I found touching. A radiologist insists on using a lead sheet to protect Emily’s testicles, which she denies having- “maybe little lady’s testiclays”. I could pity her. Or him.

If you are straight, how do you react to such comedy?

11 thoughts on “Camp

  1. “I found the way they were so ridiculous offensive; yet there was one sketch I found touching.”

    I never saw that episode (I find their jokes take a “kernel” of truth and bludgeon it to death – but then my mum and dad found Monty Python’s Flying Circus not worth watching when I was a young lad!).

    That detail you picked out touched me. Thank you!

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  2. I could not warm up to “Little Britain”, I did try to find positive value but ended up flat, deflated with sadness, realising there was a lot of dumbing down of issues that deserved better treatment and no ridicule…

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    • Trying to see it positively: David Walliams in drag droning “Computer says no” at people. The character is unhelpful, stupid-seeming, stolid, immovable by appeal to sympathy or threat or any other response: like a negative version of this:

      Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
      Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
      Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
      Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
      She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
      For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

      Liked by 1 person

    • It is more complex. We have the concept of “irony” in comedy- telling a racist joke to laugh at the racist. Alf Garnett was the figure of fun, yet some, not getting the joke, cheered him on. Julian and Sandy are reacting to severe oppression: “Gross indecency” was a criminal offence until 1967, when there was enacted a defence to the charge in particular limited circumstances- not a public space, only two men present, both over 21 and consenting. They started in 1965.

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