Understanding the 2019 Met Gala: Notes On Camp


Mahle Gangi, Staff Writer

Held for the first time in 1948, the Met Gala was established as a fundraiser for the Costume Institute and marks the opening of its annual exhibit. Initially, the Gala was simply a dinner party fundraiser and the cost was $50 to attend. Today, the Met Gala is regarded as the most important night for fashion and culture and tickets are around $35,000 with an additional $200,000-300,000 for tables. The Met Gala has ascended to an annual trend setting event on a worldwide stage from the simple fundraiser it started as. The defining characteristic of the Met Gala as we know it today is the themes. From themes as vague as Fashion Plate in 1972 to the detailed specifics of Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination in 2018, the Met Gala has done it all in the general sense. This year’s theme, Camp, however, has been more difficult to grasp.

This year, camp does not refer to spending time in the outdoors. Actually, camp can be defined as the polar opposite of anything naturally occuring. Camp is artificial, satirical, elaborate, theatrical, ridiculous, and grand in the grandest sense of the word. Camp is tacky done right, in layman’s terms. According to Dr. David Russell, English Professor at Oxford, “To define camp is to kill it. Camp can’t be canonised – if it is, then it dies. Equally camp is not aimed at the mainstream, so [here] it is at risk of dangerously missing the point.” Because camp is naturally arbitrary to the mainstream, bringing it to the public’s attention may seem controversial, but fashion in general is inherently camp and the Met Gala has an undeclared camp theme every year for those who dare to walk the red carpet in their boldest outfits.

Despite the polarizing conversations about camp in fashion, camp is not restricted to fashion. The Met Gala’s theme was drawn directly from Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay, “Notes On ‘Camp,’’ in which Sontag describes camp as Tiffany lamps, Swan Lake, and old Flash Gordon comics. Sontag explains that camp is simply an aesthetic perception of any and all things artificial and stylistic. She explains to us that anything deemed bad, but warranting study is camp. Based on Sontag’s essay, we wonder if by bringing camp to the surface, we are betraying it. In fact, some may even argue that the Met Gala as a whole cannot be campy because of the attention and praise it receives, but equally camp itself is the act of drawing attention to yourself in an elaborate fashion, so maybe, just maybe, it’s not so bad after all.