Cult cinema and camp

Authored by: Julia Mendenhall

The Routledge Companion to Cult Cinema

Print publication date:  December  2019
Online publication date:  November  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138950276
eBook ISBN: 9781315668819
Adobe ISBN:


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In his 1909 slang dictionary, Passing English of the Victorian Era. A Dictionary of Heterodox English Slang and Phrase, James Redding Ware defines the noun “camp” as those various human “actions and gestures of exaggerated emphasis” (Cleto 1999:10). The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) cites more of Ware’s camp definition under its definition of camp as an adjective: “Probably from the French. Used chiefly by persons of exceptional want of character. ‘How very camp he is’” (J.R. Ware quoted in the OED 1993: 9). From this modest beginning, the obscure slang word “camp” has been defined and redefined over its long history, and it has lately become a key concept of cultural theory, eventually being referenced in Judith Butler’s renowned gender theorizing through camp’s association with drag. Not surprisingly, camp is also an integral component of cult films, and some well-loved cult film favorites contain campy character behaviors and camp imagery, including King Kong (1933), John Waters’ Pink Flamingos (1972), The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), The Big Lebowski (1998), and Black Swan (2010). Cult movie fans often have a taste for camp, and they are the tastemakers who make camp films into cult favorites. Although campy cult films will likely never be seen as “high art,” they do provide meaning and self-determination to the specialized camp cult film viewer.

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