The theme of the 2019 Met Gala was “Camp” — an aesthetic that leans into that which would otherwise be deemed inappropriate or tacky. Camp is silly and also, per Susan Sontag’s defining essay on the topic, “dead serious.” And while many people will give you their less-than-expert opinion on what camp is (myself included), it’s really a “you know it when you see it” kind of thing. You also know it’s queer as hell.
This year’s Met Gala (from the theme to its attendees and — most importantly — their outfits) was so queer it threw the second brick at Stonewall. Because unlike its predecessors, this Met Gala made queerness a focal point as opposed to paying homage to queer designers, or simply having a few guests there to “queer up” otherwise not-so-queer themes (like Catholicism, for example). Camp is special because of its accessibility to almost everyone. It is a universal language, though some of us may be more fluent in it than others. For queer people, elements of camp are a part of our regular viewing, such as Lady Gaga wearing meat on a red carpet or showing in up cradled inside of an egg, but to create a space specifically for this kind of garishness is so fulfilling.
From its reliance on subverting the norm to its championing of the unusual as the usual, camp is queerness in motion. It can be a source of inspiration to the misfits we are, and a place where we draw our strength. Legendary queens of today and yesteryear have made the aesthetic not only inviting but also inspiring: Making this the Met Gala theme was making the Met Gala the queerest it’s ever been.
Queer culture is filled with camp masterminds like John Waters, Liberace, Elton John, Divine and Rupaul who represent the genre so well. This group of queer heavyweights have made long careers in the camp aesthetic. John Waters created camp masterpieces like Hairspray and Pink Flamingos which featured the drag camp excellence that is Divine (both a name and an adjective to describe her). Liberace and Elton John are bonafide show queens whose costumes and stage personas are world renowned for their campiness and flair. RuPaul, arguably the world’s most famous drag queen, has made over a three decade career wowing audiences with her signature blonde hair and Bob Mackie showstoppers.