Phew, I don’t know about you, dearest Filthy Dreams readers, but what a week this has been. From the world leaders at the U.N. laughing at our clownish president to Lindsay Lohan’s post-clubbing child kidnapping to Kanye West’s MAGA meltdown last night on SNL, it feels like there are more than a few glitches in our simulation. As you may have noticed, I skipped over the biggest dumpster fire of them all: the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearings on the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
Like most of you, faithful Filthy Dreams readers, I was glued to multiple screens on Thursday, riveted by the trashy circus-like atmosphere while also trying not to spontaneously combust with rage. It goes without saying that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s bravery in coming forward with her testimony was nothing short of heroic, as was Maria Gallagher and Ana Maria Archila’s decision to corner Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator, causing him to doubt his vote. I think he was terrified by the prospect of having to look screaming survivors in the eyes for the rest of his life.
And yet, in addition to the seriousness of the prospect of having this creep on the Supreme Court, the Kavanaugh hearings on Thursday also exemplified the pinnacle of conservative camp, that weird strain of camp that has been divorced from its coded subversive roots only to be taken up by the Right. From Judge Kavanaugh’s opening statement, introduced by loudly boasting that he wrote it himself, to Senator Lindsey Graham’s shrill outburst, this was conservative camp at its apex. In fact, Kavanaugh’s entire testimony could be boiled down to that famed line from Mommy Dearest: “Why can’t you give me the RESPECT that I’m entitled to?!!” Ironically, wire hangers also hang in the balance here too.
Explored by Bruce La Bruce in his “Notes on Camp/Anti-Camp,” conservative camp is, as he defines, “wholly without substance, their views exaggerated and extremely stylized, and evincing a carefully contrived posture of ‘compassionate conservatism,’ they function merely as a crude spectacle that mocks the unwashed masses by pretending to be one of them while simultaneously offering policies that are directly antithetical to their authentic needs.” Recently, though, conservative camp has tossed aside the shackle of compassionate conservatism, and instead, embarked on a more transgressive route, embracing sexual deviancy including our pussy grabber president, mall-banned pedo Roy Moore and Judge Kavanaugh’s rape-y drunken blackouts. It’s ironic that when Divine yelled “Filth is my politics! Filth is my life!” in Pink Flamingos, she was inadvertently articulating the Republican platform in 2018. Let’s be honest, all of these people are now in the running for the filthiest people alive!
Granted, as I’ve mentioned before, conservative camp has been swirling around the toilet bowl of Washington D.C. long before now, hitting its stride during the Trump administration with the consistently overblown ridiculous figures wandering through the hallowed halls of the White House like Omarosa, Kellyanne and the hapless Sean Spicer. Trump himself is also no stranger to conservative camp, as seen in his U.N. press conference this week in which the president referred to a reporter as Mr. Kurd, accused George Washington of sexual assault (?) and compared himself to Elton John.
Of course, the main poster boy for ushering in conservative camp has been that almost-forgotten Milo Yiannopoulos who did his part to maintain his camp cred by posting a hilarious rant in a Facebook comment, raging against his followers who criticized his cocktail habit. This included the line: “You guys have no idea what I’ve sacrificed for you, and you think just because I drown my sorrows with a few expensive bottles of wine, you’re justified in calling me lazy and self-involved. I don’t advertise my selflessness, because I’m not a victim.” I desperately want to do a dramatic reading. I’ll bring the expensive bottles of wine.
Even Milo’s frenzy paled in comparison to the fragile masculine hysteria on display during the Kavanaugh hearings, which did its part to confirm Bruce La Bruce’s assertion that “In this moment, the whole goddamn world is camp.” The farce began before Kavanaugh’s appearance with Special Prosecutor Mitchell, in the role Shelly Winters was born to play, acting as a mouthpiece for the Republican men who couldn’t apparently bring themselves to communicate with a human woman.
But, the camp ramped up once Kavanaugh appeared all red-faced and sniffy to alternate between screaming and crying in his opening statements that ran about fifty minutes, rivaling the histrionics from a Tennessee Williams play (and probably just as booze-soaked). He yelled about how the confirmation process has become a national disgrace, bellowing, “You sowed the wind for decades to come! I fear the whole country will reap the whirlwind!” Who are you talking to, Brett? He blamed the Clintons and also confessed his undying love for beer.
Then, there was the crying. I get it, I can get weepy after too many beers too. The sobbing commenced over his daughter praying for Dr. Ford, which admittedly is deeply fucked up when your child prays for your attempted rape victim. But, even more theatrically, Kavanaugh broke down over his dad’s habit of keeping calendars, mirroring his own. It shouldn’t go unrecognized that he blocks out entire weeks to camp.
The most surreal and certainly camp-tastic part was when he painted a cozy picture of the family huddling together to…read his dad’s calendars? “Christmas time, we’d sit around and he regales us with old stories, old milestones, old weddings, old events from his calendars,” he sniveled and sobbed. Who can’t relate to that? Also can you say daddy issues? There’s gotta be a Lana Del Rey lyric that relates here (“I pledge allegiance to my dad for teaching me everything he knows”?). And if you don’t believe me that Kavanaugh was camping, imagine a drag king doing a reinterpretation of his roller coaster of emotions, from maudlin to raging, and tell me that’s not transcendent.
The entire monologue was a temper tantrum performed by a judge. He felt like he deserved this gig and was completely incredulous that he wasn’t given his proper due as a privileged Yale-graduated white dude. In “The Loneliness of Camp,” published in Camp Grounds: Style and Homosexuality, Scott Long describes, “Camp self-parody presents the self as being willfully irresponsible and immature, the artificial nature of self-presentation making it a sort of off-stage theatricality…” (69).
Granted, Kavanaugh intended these statements, his indignant protest for his inherent right to his Supreme Court seat, to be serious. “Camp is, of course, based on just this sort of disparity between high seriousness and the absurd,” writes Long (78). More than just this disparity, Kavanaugh’s statements were a failure of seriousness, which is also a marker of camp. As Susan Sontag explained in “Notes on Camp,” “In naïve, or pure, Camp, the essential element is seriousness, a seriousness that fails.”
In fact, his performance was so overblown, I had to wonder if he even believed it himself. “Camp assaults a society that presumes it knows what is serious and what is not. It strives not to imitate this authority in distorted form, but to expose it explicitly as inadequate,” articulates Long. Ironically, Kavanaugh seemed to have, in being so goddamn campy, exposed himself and his authority as inadequate. In Camp: The Lie That Tells The Truth, Philip Core observes that camp is both “a disguise that fails” and “a lie that tells the truth,” which both seem to pinpoint Kavanaugh’s testimony. Shielded under all that hyper-performed emotion was a whole lot of perjury and shades of blackout beer-drinking.
But we can’t forget about the man who may have upstaged Kavanaugh: Lindsey Graham, whose tour de force audition, presumably for Trump, was powerful enough to earn him a Best Actress nomination in the Academy Awards. With his high-pitched shrieks, Graham found a whole new octave with which to express outrage, sweaty with his teeth grinding and nose wrinkled. “If you wanted a FBI investigation,” he railed, “you could have come to us. What you want to do is destroy this guy’s life, hold this seat open and hope you win in 2020. You’ve said that, not me. You’ve got nothing to apologize for. When you see Sotomayor and Kagan, tell them that Lindsey said hello because I voted for them. I would never do to them what you’ve done to this guy. This is the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics. And if you really wanted to know the truth, you sure as hell wouldn’t have done what you’ve done to this guy.” Wow, such ethics from Graham! He’s mad as hell! In fact, he says that we’re in hell, which is probably the only point he nailed.
All this bluster from the Senator from South Carolina was meant to argue that the real victim here was not Dr. Ford or any of the other women Kavanaugh may have assaulted, but Kavanaugh himself and all the other privileged straight white cis men. “She’s as much of a victim as you are,” he even shouted. This overdramatic performance of male victimhood is key to understanding this new crop of conservative camp.
Camp is largely the language of the marginalized or the queer. As Mark Booth writes in “Campe-toi! On the Origins and Definitions of Camp,” in Camp: Queer Aesthetics and the Performing Subject: A Reader, “To be camp is to present oneself as being committed to the marginal with a commitment greater than the marginal merits” (69). Of course, the marginal very often means femme. “The primary type of the marginal in society,” Booth continues, “is the traditionally feminine, which camp parodies in an exhibition of stylized effeminacy” (69).
However, with conservative camp as seen in the Kavanaugh hearing, the camp performed by the Right is that of overly theatric male victimhood, created because conservative white cis men of privilege in 2018 are convinced of their own marginality. In their minds, this is evidenced by being questioned and not immediately granted what they feel they are owed. As Graham said in the Senate the next day, “I’m a single white man from South Carolina and I’m told I should shut up. But I will not shut up, if that’s okay.” Masculinity is often seen as neutral, just like whiteness, but recently, the Right has rallied around both, perceiving them as being under attack. Obviously, this is anything but the case, but it has been the spark that has created these bombastic, absurd and farcical displays of conservative camp.
Now, I always return to what us denizens of camp are supposed to do with the fact that camp has now transformed into something ubiquitous and also used by the right. Clearly, women like Dr. Ford can’t mirror these types of hysterical performances without being hauled out of the Senate chambers and into a straight jacket. We can only hope that things will go the way Philip Core predicts: “What is reassuring is that camp will re-emerge. Indefinable, unshakeable, it is the heroism of people not called upon to be heroes. It will find new ways to react both with and against public tastes, it will selfishly and selflessly shriek on, entertaining the self and the spectator in one mad gesture, oblivious of what it is required to do. Camp is always in the future; and that is why the present needs it so badly” (86).