MAE WEST defined camp as "the kinda comedy where they imitate me." In "Guilty Pleasures: Feminist Camp from Mae West to Madonna" [Duke University Press, 1996] Pamela Robertson saw things differently.
• • In her book review, Harmony H. Wu writes: Pamela Robertson has set out a difficult task for herself in GUILTY PLEASURES: FEMINIST CAMP FROM MAE WEST TO MADONNA. Never mind that “traditional” notions of camp are contentious and hard to pin down, Robertson wants to define a “feminist camp” sensibility, one that has relationships to but is distinct from more familiar conceptions of gay camp. She argues that while women have historically been active participants in camp, discourse AROUND camp has increasingly posited an exclusively gay male agent of camp, distancing women from the site of camp production. Robertson seeks to re-center women in camp, drawing on popular culture texts and gay constructions of camp to argue for a specifically feminist camp sensibility and practice.
• • Harmony H. Wu explains: In a brief genealogy of the term, Robertson finds that “camp” can be located as far back as 1909. By 1945, the term was understood to connote gay or lesbian . . .
• • Harmony H. Wu focuses on the MAE WEST section: The chapter on Mae West most successfully illustrates that feminist camp both resides within and extends beyond the sphere of gay males. Noting that Mae West was/is frequently referred to as doing “female drag,” Robertson notes that West actually modeled her performance on contemporary female impersonators, which would have been recognized by her audience. Furthermore, the gay male played a significant role in West's act and functioned as a crucial element of her proto-feminist camp sensibility. From stage plays to Hollywood movies, “West did not simply copy gay style but linked certain aspects of gay culture to aspects of a female sensibility” (33). While, as Robertson points out, West's acts were in collusion with the inversion theory of gay men, on the other hand, West clearly believed that women and gay men were aligned because of their shared oppression by straight men. In her hyperbolic performances of femininity, Robertson suggests that West rewrites the gay male drag performance, extracting the masculine characteristics and “articulate[s] a specifically feminine form of aggressivity… She paradoxically reappropriates — and hyperbolizes — the image of the woman from male female impersonators so that the object of her joke is not the woman but the idea that an essential feminine identity exists prior to the image” (34). It is within this reinscription of a gay male camp activity (female drag) that Robertson locates West's feminist camp. Furthermore, she suggests that female VIEWERS have access to the critical stance of West's feminist camp — not only through watching the narratives but also in the female spectators' practice of West imitation, a practice alluded to by contemporary fan magazines and reviews, giving women “imaginary access to [West's] autonomy, transgression, and humor” (51). . . .
— — Excerpt: — —
• • Article: Book Review of "Guilty Pleasure: Feminist Camp from Mae West to Madonna"
• • Written by: Ms. Harmony H. Wu
• • Publication: International Gay & Lesbian Review, Los Angeles, CA — — www.gaybookreviews.info
• • Come up and see Mae every day online: http://MaeWest.blogspot.com/
• • Photo: • • Mae West • • 1935 • •