Sense Vs. Sensibility: an Exploration of the Lived Experience of Camp

ABSTRACT - Hedonic and experiential modes of consumption are important, yet relatively unexplored areas of the consumer research discipline. This research uses long, semi-structured interviews and participant observation in order to explore the homosexual subcultural style known as 'camp.’ Three themes emerged from the data: camp products, camp celebrities and people, and gender subversion. Camp phenomena are subsequently discussed in the context of meaning transfer between the homosexual subculture and the dominant, mainstream culture. Directions for future research in this topic area are noted.


Steven M. Kates (1997) ,"Sense Vs. Sensibility: an Exploration of the Lived Experience of Camp", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, eds. Merrie Brucks and Deborah J. MacInnis, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 132-137.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, 1997      Pages 132-137


Steven M. Kates, University of Northern British Columbia


Hedonic and experiential modes of consumption are important, yet relatively unexplored areas of the consumer research discipline. This research uses long, semi-structured interviews and participant observation in order to explore the homosexual subcultural style known as 'camp.’ Three themes emerged from the data: camp products, camp celebrities and people, and gender subversion. Camp phenomena are subsequently discussed in the context of meaning transfer between the homosexual subculture and the dominant, mainstream culture. Directions for future research in this topic area are noted.

The purpose of this article is to empirically explore 'camp’ sensibility within the contexts of the larger, theoretical question of meaning transfer from culture to product as expounded by mainstream consumer researchers such as McCracken (1986, 1989) and cultural semioticians such as Gottdiener (1995, 1985). Camp is a consumption phenomenon which has been neglected in the consumer research literature. According to Sontag (1964), the camp aesthetic-along with 'Jewish moral seriousness’-are the most importance influences upon our modern culture. Moreover, it is arguable that the empirical study of camp-as a set of meaning tied to gay subculture and as manifested within certain goods and services- has a great potential to enrich the consumer behaviour literature, as consumer researchers have the opportunity to both expand the understanding of this strange, elusive, and somewhat ineffable mode of consumption and expand the knowledge domain of hedonic consumption (Holbrook and Hirschman 1982).

In previous works, consumer researchers have made progress in addressing the conceptual and theoretical aspects of the consumption of experience (e.g. Celsi, Rose, and Leigh 1993; Arnould and Price 1993; Wallendorf and Arnould 1991; Holbrook and Hirschman 1982) and considerable progress in understanding the deeper meanings of possessions (Richins 1994, 1994a; Belk, Wallendorf, and Sherry 1989; Belk, Sherry, and Wallendorf 1988). These and other works illuminate a host of social occasions in our society during which people gather and obtain social benefit by the public use or sharing of goods or consumer experience. This branch of the discipline is of great imporance, as broad yet intangible cultural forces shape consumption practices and meanings, and in turn, people’s consumption shapes culture (Wallendorf and Arnould 1991).


Camp may be considered the product of a sensibility-a mode of feeling- and an aethetic-a form of artistic expression. Since Sontag’s (1964) now famous essay, little has been written about it within the social sciences literature, but it has been discussed in the gay and lesbian studies work (eg. Sullivan 1995; Newton 1993; Bergman 1993). Camp is manifested in goods or practices which are highly stylish but not substantial. According to Sontag’s essay, it is the 'homosexual aesthetic’ which is 'off,’ exaggerated, or gently comical. Kleinberg (1992) notes that camp is an ironic sensibility as related to a product (or often, a work of art) because the physical object itself conceals a deeper, hidden meaning beneath a facade of absurdity.

Camp is the aesthetic taste which might prompt someone to exclaim, 'it’s so dreadful! It’s wonderful!’ The juxtaposition of the two opposite sentiments in this statement should be noted carefully. The apparent contradiction therein summarily enforces the notion that camp art or products contain within themselves important paradoxes, inversions, and contradictions which may help to subvert conventional order, tradition, or orthodoxy (Bergman 1993; Newton 1993; Babcock 1978). Camp is a style found in things or experiences which may be described as artifice or extremity. There is a significantly subjective aspect to camp, and it is worthwhile to list some examples of things which are widely considered 'campy’: John Waters’ films, Andy Warhol’s art, plastic pink flamingoes, feather boas, Steve Reeves movies, drag queens and female impersonators, and a host of female entertainers such as Bette Midler, Marilyn Monroe, and of course, Judy Garland. More precisely, it has been asserted that camp is not a thing itself, but rather, it is a relationship between things (Newton 1993) or between people and things: " inheres not in the person or thing itself but in the tension between that person or thing and the context or association..." (Newton 1993; p. 47). Thus, camp refers to a person-object relationship and as such, may constitute a rich, sophisticated, and complex set of cultural meanings which lend themselves to empirical enquiry by consumer researchers.

Bergman (1993) asserts that there are four important areas of agreement about camp, and in order to provide a foundation for empirical, critical enquiry, these separate but related points must be noted. First, camp is a style which emphasizes exaggeration, extremity, and artifice. Second, 'camp exists in tension with popular culture...’ (p. 5). Third, camp is generally only recognized, understod, or appreciated by someone outside the cultural mainstream. And finally, camp is associated with gay subculture. This final point is critical and merits further elaboration. Various authors have noted that from early in life, many gay men share in common the need to 'pass’ in 'straight,’ dominant culture in order to hide their social stigma (Sullivan 1995; Troiden 1989, 1987; Goffman 1963). Before 'coming out of the closet,’ gay men and lesbians must hide and deny a socially condemned sexual orientation and methodically construct a social identity or personae which is sharply at odds with their most deeply felt personal and sexual self-knowledge. Thus, it is not surprising that many gays and lesbians may develop well-developed appreciation and understanding of artifice and appearances in general (see Sullivan 1995). In many social situations, a gay man or lesbian must carefully present a facade to a potentially hostile audience. This dasein or mode of experiencing one’s own social and cultural world leads often to a sensitivity or appreciation of the ironies and inversions contained within camp experience, art, or products. One might go as far as to claim that a gay man’s unique perspective of the world as sexual suspect and outsider is a fertile breeding ground for the production of the sensibility and aesthetic-in short, the style-which humourously, ironically, and sometimes subversively emphasizes artifice as opposed to substance, and appearance over reality.

Camp has emerged as a very etic, cultural construct which appears somewhat removed from its contextualized lived reality. By studying it naturalistically, in situ, from the perspective of those who experience it, it is possible to grasp and explore its sophistication, complexity, and cultural richness and understand its 'lived experience’ dimension-how it is encountered, perceived, appreciated, and incorporated into the consciousness of the informants’ social worlds. Hence, one may ask the following questions: how do individuals experience camp or campy products? What is its importance in their lives? How does an object or commodity acquire 'campy’ meanings? Such is the contribution which this paper seeks to provide: a thick description of camp, grounded in data and situated within the overall perspective of an experiential, hedonic, symbolically meaningful consumer behaviour.


Camp is an amalgam of deep meanings, often related to possessions and consumption experiences. Such a phenomenon lends itself to humanistic enquiry (Hirschman 1986) within the overall interpretive paradigm (Burrell and Morgan 1979). Thus, in the spirit of ethnographic discovery, qualitative methods including a combination of long interviews (McCracken 1988) and participant observation (Jorgensen 1989) were employed as part of a larger, more comprehensive study of the consumption patterns of gay men within the urban subculture (Kates 1996). In this study, forty-four gay men were interviewed, and the topic of camp was broached; other topics such as coming out stories, personal histories, favourite possessions and consumption experiences, and dining out were also discussed. These participants were selected purposively, using an emergent design. Interviews were semi-structured and lasted between one hour and three and a half hours. All were audiotaped. The tapes were transcribed verbatim.

Moreover, participant observation was employed in order to enrich my own experience of camp products and the gay subculture. For almost one year and a half, I dwelled within the gay subculture in a large, Canadian city. During this period, I lived as an openly gay man within the physical area of the 'gay ghetto,’ frequented gay bars, parties, and festivals such as Lesbian and Gay Pride Day, and participated in political actions such as marches. Also, I joined two different groups. One was a gay and lesbian youth group in which I took on the role of respectful, interestedresearcher. The other was a gay men’s professional and social club in which I had been an active member for almost four years previously. Associating myself with these groups provided me with the opportunity of interviewing and interacting with a broad spectrum of gay men from the ages of 16 to 52 of multiple races and diverse cultural, professional, and ethnic backgrounds. Moreover, such a diversity assisted me in finding informants who would both reinforce and challenge preconceptions or interpretations through an overall process of refutation (see Spiggle 1994). I noted my experiences in journals throughout my time studying the groups. The actual demographics of the forty-four men actually interviewed are as follows: the majority (27) were between the ages of 20 to 35; six were between the ages of 15 to 19 and nine were 36 and older. Thirty-five of the informants were from European backgrounds; four were Black, and four were southeast Asian.

Once transcribed, I read over several times and sifted through the data (approximately two thousand types pages) and coded it according to different areas of interest, using a naturalistic orientation (Lincoln and Guba 1987). I categorized the data according to similar topics of interest by comparing informants’ experiences, and then searched for patterns which were collapsed into overall, broad themes which described the informants’ lived experience of camp, carefully ensuring that the data determined the broad categories as opposed to imposing them myself upon the data. I chose one interview, coded it, and then coded the other interviews according to this coding scheme, adding categories and taking care to cross-categorize data as well. Finally, I interpreted the categories, relating topics of interest, developing a thick description, articulating the relationships between dominant themes and categories in order to extend the individual events to the broader cultural logics as reflected in the data (Spiggle 1994; Wallendorf and Brucks 1993; Geertz 1973). During this process, I attempted first to understand camp from the informants’ perspectives and then extend the interpretation by distancing myself from the data in order to relate various overall patterns and cultural codes of meanings.


A number of broad and inter-related themes emerged after coding the data and tacking between it and the literature: 1) camp products, 2) camp people and celebrities and 3) gender subversion. Each of these will be described and fleshed out below, using rich and detailed quotes from the participants themselves.

Camp 'Products’

According to the data, camp is very much a subjectively experienced phenomenon, but it has some shared, cultural characteristics. There exists a significant level of agreement among the informants as to what objects and experiences are camp and what renders them so:

...anything tacky, which is great (laughs). Through the whole era of the fifties, the whole thing is camp or tacky. Um, There’s like flat painted ceramics that are worth quite a bit, but you think 'Oh, my God, they’re junk!’ because the colours are tacky. The ceramic itself is not like high quality the way we expect it to be now. (Gay white male, 25; my italics)

There are campy things and there are campy objects, but there’s also campy people... Whereas camp is more an idea that sometimes manifests itself in objects. A campy object tends to be a kitschy object as well. But it has specific significance for the gay community. A pink flamingo is a kitschy object. It’s also camp for gay people, because there’s a whole representation behind pink flamingoes that doesn’t quite apply in the straight community. I mean, the straight community may associate pink flamingos with traile parks and pink fibreglass and stuff like that but for the gay community, pink flamingos were used very often, especially in Florida, in the Miami communities to represent gay people and was often used as a symbol for gay people, and for us there’s an added dimension to it...I mean, we’ll just look at it and go, 'that’s so tacky!’ It’s hilariously funny, it’s so horrible, it’s funny! (Gay Asian male, 23)

Consistent with the prior literature (e.g Babuscio 1993; Ross 1989; Bronski 1984) , camp objects or possessions are described as extreme, exaggerated, somewhat ridiculous, and humourous. The data support the previously accepted notion that camp products, objects, or possessions are the meaning constructions which emerge from gay subcultural taste. Yet, the data lends itself to a deeper interpretation. Many of the objects listed above such as pink flamingos and pastel ceramics are appropriated from the heterosexual mainstream culture. The gay men herein are reinterpreting these 'straight’ artefacts in a particular manner which mocks them and reveals their absurdity. Our understanding is further enhanced when we take into account that some cultural critics (e.g Ross 1989; Bronski 1984) interpret camp as a form of defence mechanism which gay men employ to protect themselves from the indignities they endure due to the dominant sexual norm. As McCracken (1988a) notes, goods tangibly manifest the dominant categories and ideas of a culture, and one may infer from this statement that material goods are another form of discourse or power structure which maintains the status quo (Foucault 1980). Camp sensibility, thus, may be meaningfully interpreted as a significant 'shift in lens’ for gay men which may lead to alternative, more inclusive forms of discourse. The data supports these notions. Camp emerged as a lived experience which provides the informants with a new outlook, perceived as largely private and exclusive from the heterosexual mainstream, an alternative way of viewing the relics and experiences of culture.

Camp Celebrities and People

People such as drag queens and certain popular celebrities have also acquired important camp meanings. At the outset of my study, I was very curious as to how it was that gay men appeared to be so fond of various celebrities, particularly female singers and actors. This study has provided some valuable insights in this regard, from an emic, consumer perspective. Consider one informant’s view of one of his favourite celebrities, Jackie Kennedy Onassis:

...I mean, coming out and dealing with everything and a lot of us have dealt with various things in our lives, whether it’s dealing with a health crisis issue or whether it’s dealing with uh, a sexual abuse of some sort or something. We’ve had very hard lives! And so when we look at other people like this, by exaggerating their lives, we can make our lives a little bit easier in a sense. It’s like entertainment to us. Bette Midler, for example, tends to be very campy, in a sense. It’s not her in itself, but it’s rather her act. She tries to go over and above and beyond and just as outrageous as she can get because the more you do that, the more pleasurable experience it’s going to be, the more positive and the more funny. Because you’re looking at something that, uh, Jackie Onassis, this is the perfect example. She passed away this past weekend...One of the bars, up the street, is having a...our angel in a pillbox festivity, so to speak. So they’re going to honour and tribute her, but they’re going to do it in a campy way because with the pillbox, they’re referring to her hats, of course, not necessarily that she had a drug problem. But the type of artistry that’ll be perceived is something...Sometimes the best way to deal with tears is through laughter, and that’s exactly what the gay community is doing...Judy Garland had led such a tragic life. Therefore, they onour her with laughter, through their campiness. With Jackie Onassis, at the GCDC [Gay Community Dance Committee] dance, actually, um, there was the best costume I’ve ever seen, a Hallowe’en costume and it was Jackie Onassis, dressed exactly...well, Jackie Kennedy at the time, I should say, exactly as she was, when her husband was murdered. And she was splattered in blood, and she was just..that is very, very campy!!! It’s so outrageous. It’s horrible! But at the same time, it’s real! But it’s not real!

SK: How was she dressed at the time?

How was she dressed? She was dressed in the pillhat, she was dressed in the pink outfit, like the business suit, quasi business suit, I should say. Um, she had on the same hairstyle, the same shoes and everything. But then, it was as if...she was splattered...with blood. And there was an incredible, incredible type costume and I...Chris was the person who was wearing it...because she went over and above, and not only was it a costume, but she brought the person...she made the person come alive. And she did the wave...she spoke the way that Jackie did. And in so many ways, she...took an experience that people held as being so horrible, I mean, people can remember exactly where they were that day, and she brought humour in a different perception to people. She brought that double entendre so to speak, in a sense that, yes, it happened in reality, let’s take it for face value, we don’t ever, ever want to forget what happened, but at the same time, let’s laugh as well. We can’t constantly cry. I mean when I think of some of the things um, with the Holocaust, for instance, that is such a horrible, horrible experience, and I don’t ever want to ever see anything like that happen again. Yet, at the same time, only so many movies and so many plays and so many stories can hold the serious monotone...the educational type force behind it. That suddenly, the perception gets lost in a sense, we only see it as that’s the way it was, and there is no other way we can ever achieve it except on that serious monotone note. Whereas by taking like that Jackie Onassis type character, we can see it for something else. Wait a minute! We can get to that exact same spot other ways and through humour, through other types of stories and all the rest, we can have the same profound meaning, but it’s with a double entendre. It’s like this did happen. This is so important to history, did you get the point? And that’s exactly what camp is all about. There is a message there but you have to find it. (Gay white male, 28)

I think there’s a...most of these women are very strong women. Barbra Streisand, Jackie Onassis. They’re very strong women, and I think gay men identify with women because women have a lot of obstacles in their way that they have to overcome in order to succeed.

(Gay white male, 23)

Celebrities are another form of camp 'product,’ the work of whom many of the gay men in this study experienced. Bette Midler, Bette Davis, Barbra Streisand, Madonna, Marilyn Monroe, and Judy Garland were frequently mentioned as camp female figures. By comparison, few men were named. Generally, the women artists were described in both stereotypically masculine and feminine terms. Jackie Kennedy Onassis 'overcame’ great pain and hardship (ie. she 'took it like a man’), but she 'looks great!’ in a feminine manner. The conflation of these binary opposite dimensions-masculine/feminine, pain/pleasure, failure/success-as embodied within the lives of the female stars perhaps exemplifies the very essence of camp sensibility. Symbolic inversion, as commonly defined as a reversal or negation of conventional thought or orthodoxy (Babcock 1978), depends quite heavily upon irony and incongruous juxtapositions of various symbols or ideas; it is a form of cultural bricolage (e.g. Hebdige 1979). The pain and struggle as contrasted within the achievements of the great 'larger than life’ women of Hollywood and popular culture acts as a mirror for gay men’s own lives. Yet, the campy mirror is a distorted one. Camp sensibility relies upon a significant shift in perspectve in order to render the unbearable bearable and the tragic hilarious: 'We can’t constantly cry.’ A humourous, incongruous style is introduced to resonate with an often lamentable substance, and it is the former which dominates the overall viewpoint.

Much of camp consumption does revolve around lamentable circumstances-the widowhood of a young woman (Kennedy Onassis), the drug abuse and personal downfall experienced by a greatly admired singer and actor (Garland) or the criticism and ostracism endured by a multi-talented and extremely accomplished entertainer (Streisand). As McCracken (1989) has noted, both the art and the lives of Hollywood artists are 'consumed’ within the context of the star system. Yet, the camp consumption perspective mellows and soothes the tragedies by introducing a measure of melodrama and humour. It is as if the tragedy and pain itself is framed as a performance rather than as real life. The tragic circumstances of the 'great women’ are, to a significant extent, reflected and experienced within the lives of their primary audience: gay men. The conflation of dramatic pain and pleasure closely parallels the pain and etiolation experienced by these sexual outsiders. Yet, the same camp lens which is focused upon the lives of camp women is also directed toward these gay men’s own lives. Camp as a survival or coping mechanism allows them to achieve an ironic, dual stance in relation to their own paradoxical understandings of themselves as insiders (when 'passing’) and outsiders and as males who share something significant in common with the denigrated, binary opposite social category-women. The pleasure associated with camp style or perspective ameliorates the pain of another experienced subjectivity.

Gender Subversion

Previous literature has noted that gays radically transform the meanings of products through the fashion system (McCracken 1986) through subverting the socially constructed notion of gender. As noted previously, the gay men here identified with women to a certain extent. The following comments by this informant elaborates on this theme:

Um, I think a political aspect goes back to a little bit to the gender bending, I guess, in a way. Just the way we define gender in the postwar period. Not before. And gender in the postwar period was that, males had certain characteristics. Boom, boom, boom, boom, and when I mean boom, boom, you can just state them all-the breadwinner, the dominant force in the family, and all of the things which we all know are totally fucking false anyhow, but this is what we project, and this is the foundation during the 50’s that I say and it never even existed that much before, but yeah, that’s what we’re dealing with, that’s what we’re aspiring to today. And the political element in campiness is the allowance for a couple of guys to sit around no matter how macho and to sit there and just laughing their heads off at the most ridiculous experiences which women should only be able to kind of be able to identify with whether it be about crying or laughing or whatever, some aspect of domestic life. Relationships. And all that other kind of thing that aren’t quote unquote what we always kind of identified with as now, so in that particular respect, that’s what we’re opening...allowing ourselves these experiences...So, in that particular respect, uh, I think it does have that type of political element because it challenges that structure that we seem to have built for ourselves. Little boys play with this. Little boys don’t change dolls. Well, isn’t it alittle bit of campiness when little boys playing around with...little boy’s setting up his dollhouse and changing so and so and doing the diapers and that stuff? I think there is, a little bit. (Gay White Male, 28)

J: [Barbra Streisand]’s so funny, man! That film is funny. Let’s take The Way We Were or something like that. Perfect relationship, fell in love at first sight. The campiness to me comes out of the fact that as the guy, you don’t identify with Robert Redford, you identify with 'Bahbwa,’ you know. And that may be stretching what campiness is all about, but for me, that’s basically, what a lot of times what happens for...what happens in campiness is that, on whatever level it may be, as a male, you’re identifying very strongly with the female character and what the female character is going through, 'cause she’s kind of the one who falls in love, and doesn’t like, you know, trying to seek love and all that kind of thing. All the things that, you know, men aren’t usually supposed to be doing or something like that. They fall easy and their hearts break easy and that kind of stuff. (Gay white male, 28)

Perhaps Sontag’s most controversial and disputed statement in her 1964 essay was to assert the 'apolitical’ nature of camp (Bergman 1993; Ross 1989). Recent critics have strongly objected; Bergman, by contrast, claims that camp 'could have a powerful, radical role to play in cultural politics...’ (1993; p. 7). The above quote by an informant and other, similar accounts in the data reinforce and elaborate upon Bergman’s point of view. Indeed, the politics of camp are 'foregrounded’ when one contemplates the notion that gender inversion generally constitutes a powerful form of gender subversion. Drag, one of the most common forms of camp, has been criticized as sexist and degrading to women, as it presents an extreme, gaudy, and somewhat grotesque image of femininity (Babuscio 1993). Yet, it is arguable that this rather simplistic point of view is incomplete and ungrounded in gay men’s own experience. True, camp is experienced often by the participants as a parody of conventions or orthodoxy; but it is a parody and satire of common stereotypes of femininity, not of women per se. Moreover, in the study, the emergent finding is that the gay men feel a form of kinship or empathy with the problems and experiences of women. This empathic form of identification breaks a social taboo. Not only do these gay men challenge serious societal norms by engaging in sexual relations with other men (and thus assuming women’s culturally inferior sexual role), but also they exacerbate their offence by attempting to connect emotionally with the other sex, assuming (one of the many) feminine, inferior social roles. Camp has the subversive capacity to expose certain societal contradictions and conspire in their ridicule and eventual overthrow. Through it, gay men may develop a form of revolutionary consciousness in order to challenge their collective oppression.


Meaning Transfer, Inversion, and Camp

Overall, inversion has emerged as the key, operative 'meaning creating’ mechanism which grants camp its power and depth. Camp depends upon a diverse set of symbolic inversions: reversals of conventional roles, (sometimes dramatic) irony, cross-gender identification, and juxtapositions of disparate elements. The phenomenon of the drag queen, as an excellent example (and particularly well depicted in the film Paris is Burning), is a juxtaposition between the male sex and stereotypically feminine gender signifiers. As such, (s)he represents a radical and socially proscribedform of social role reversal. Like much of camp, the drag queen as radical cultural icon represents a combination of exaggeration, humour, wit, tragedy, histrionics, and style.

Both 'ordinary’ commodities or products (such as feather boas or pink flamingos) and female celebrities may acquire camp-related meanings through a process resembling that of McCracken’s (1986) meaning transfer model. Through the conduits of mass media, word of mouth, and propinquity (elements of the fashion system; moreover, all of which are relevant to small communities such as urban gay 'ghettos’), certain objects and people from the 'straight’ or mainstream cultural world become associated with a set of complex, inverted 'gay’, meanings which 'stand the world on its head’ in a form of mocking parody; these meaningful goods are then consumed experientially for both their utilitarian functions and their sign values (Gottdiener 1995, 1985); consistent with the concept of hedonic consumption, they are appreciated for fun and for their value as 'offbeat’ works of art or as entertainment. Gay men (and to a lesser extent, lesbians) learn about and accept camp meanings into their lives and self-concepts through various grooming, possession, exchange, and divestment rituals (McCracken 1986).

'Straight’ Camp?!

However, in terms of interpreting the important, cultural logics as contained in the data, it should be noted that something more than simple meaning transfer is occurring here. It is interesting to note that camp meanings do not remain within the cultural context of the gay community. Rather, many are reappropriated by 'straight society.’ Some informants noted that while heterosexuals do not usually 'get’ camp, they appreciate their own form of camp which also contains significant elements of wit, humour, inversion and excess. There has been considerable evidence of this phenomenon from other studies. 'Glam’ rockers such as David Bowie, the New York Dolls, and even Mick Jagger have appeared in public drag; Andy Warhol introduced the world to his own excessive, campy, and artistic vision in the 1960’s (Ross 1989). The hugely campy Rocky Horror Picture Show, despite its blatant homoerotic content, remains popular with a largely heterosexual audience. Pop Diva Annie Lennox cross-dressed at the Grammy Awards during the early 1980’s.

Yet, there is reason to question whether this 'straight’ camp retains the 'substance’ of the original subcultural style. Is 'straight’ camp but a shadow of its gay progenitor? Given the dramatically differing social situations of gay men versus the heterosexual majority, it is highly likely that the painful, subversive, and political meanings and tensions which give camp its 'edge’ are 'stripped’ and 'sanitized’, leaving humour, wit, and excess-and nothing more. In his study on English punk culture, Hebdige (1979) noted that punk style may be interpreted as a subcultural, rebellious response to English class hegemony. Through processes such as bricolage and homology, the signifiers of English class structure were subverted and parodied. Yet, in a further development, fashion designers and journalists (as agents of the fashion system) respectively reappropriated and popularized punk style into 'To Shock is Chic’ fashion, commodifying and depoliticizing punk subcultural style. Furthermore, Schouten and McAlexander (1995) in their ethnographic study of the new urban bikers described the process of reappropriation of original biker culture by wealthy, urban, middle-class professionals. Analogously, the distinct, cultural lens-the window on the world-which camp represents may be lost when objects and experiences are (re)appropriated, (re)absorbed, and (re)diffused into the heterosexual dominant culture.

Further Directions for Research

One important future direction could be a comprehensive exploration of 'straight camp. Researchers in consumer behaviour or cultural critique could inquire whether there are any deep, painful, or subversive meanings contained within the perspectives of heterosexual audiences of camp. Within the cultural processes of meaning transfer, co-optation, appropriation and recycling, is the camp artefact 'returned’ in its original condition or does it carry with it the 'taint’ of homosexual meaning? Do other marginalized subcultures (such as African-Americans or Hispanic-Americans ) construct their own consumption 'codes’ or sensibilities which are native to them and serve similar purposes as camp does for gay men or punk style does for the English underclasses? Is some form of cultural inversion a significant mechanism in their development? Celebrity endorsements and meanings are also a relatively unexplored phenomenon in the consumer behaviour field. As described above, many famous women acquire powerful, subtle, and complex meanings as described by McCracken (1989). Do the camp meanings render Barbra Streisand or Bette Midler any more or less effective as endorsers? Would they be appropriate as endorsers for companies who target the supposedly lucrative gay market?

Consumer researchers are only now beginning to penetrate the world of deeper meanings of consumers and the world of hedonic, largely experiential consumption, largely (but not exclusively) through qualitative methods. Camp has emerged a system of related, complex, subversive and powerful consumption related meanings. The consumer research field may certainly benefit from its fuller elucidation.


Arnould, Eric J. and Linda L. Price (1993), "River Magic: Extraordinary Experience and the Extended Service Encounter", Journal of Consumer Research, 20, 1, 24-45.

Babuscio, Jack (1993), "Camp and the Gay Sensibility," in Camp Grounds: Style and Homosexuality. Ed. David Bergman. Amhert, MA: University of Massachusets Press.

Babcock, Barbara A. (1978), "Introduction," in The Reversible World: Symbolic Inversion in Art and Society. ed. Barbara A. Babcock. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Belk, Russell, John F. Sherry Jr. and Melanie Wallendorf (1988), "A Naturalistic Inquiry into Buyer and Seller Behaviour at a Swap Meet", Journal of Consumer Research, 14, March, 449-470.

Belk, Russell, Melanie Wallendorf, and John F. Sherry Jr. (1989), "The Sacred and the Profane in Consumer Behaviour: Theodicy on the Odyssey", Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 16, June, pp. 1-38.

Bergman, David (1993) , "Introduction," in Camp Grounds: Style and Homosexuality. Ed. David Bergman. Amhert, MA: University of Massachusets Press.

Bronski, Michael (1984), Culture Clash: The Making of a Gay Sensibility. Boston, MA: South End Press.

Burrell, Gibson and Gareth Morgan (1979), Sociological Paradigms and Organizational Analysis. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational Books.

Celsi, Richard, L., Randall L. Rose, and Thomas W. Leigh (1993), "An Exploration of High Risk Leisure Consumption Through Skydiving", Journal of Consumer Research, 20, 1, 1-23.

Foucault, Michel (1980), The History of Sexuality, Part One. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Garber, Marjorie (1992), Vested Interests: Cross Dressing and Cultural Anxiety. New York: Routledge.

Geertz, Clifford (1973), The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic.

Goffman, E. (1963), Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. Harmondworth: Penguin.

Gottdiener,M. (1995), Postmodern Semiotics: Material Culture and the Forms of Postmodern Life. Cambridge, Mass: Blackwell.

Gottdiener, M. (1985), "Hegemony and Mass Culture: A Semiotic Approach," American Journal of Sociology, 90, 5, 979-1001.

Hebdige, Dick (1979), Subculture: The Meaning of Style. New York: Routledge.

Hirschman, Elizabeth C. (1986), "Humanistic Inquiry in Marketing Research: Philosophy, Method, and Criteria", Journal of Marketing Research, XXIII, August, 237-249.

Holbrook, Morris B. and Elizabeth C. Hirschman (1982), "The Experiential Aspects of Consumer Behaviour: Consumer Fantasies, Feelings, and Fun", Journal of Consumer Research, 9, 132-140.

Jorgensen, Danny L. (1989), Participant Observation: A Methodology for Human Studies. London: Sage Publications.

Kates, Steven (1996), "Closets are for Clothes: "An Ethnographic Exploration of Gay Men’s Consumer Behaviour," unpublished doctoral dissertation, York University, North York, Canada.

Kinsman, Gary (1991), "'Homosexuality Historically Reconsidered Challenges Heterosexual Hegemony", Journal of Historical Sociology, 4, 2, 91-111.

Kleinberg, S. (1992), "The New Masculinity of Gay Men, and Beyond", in Men’s Lives, M. Kimmel and M. Messner, eds. Toronto: Maxwell MacMillan Canada.

Lincoln, Yvonna S. and Egon G. Guba (1987), Naturalistic Inquiry. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

McCracken, Grant (1989), "Who is the Celebrity Endorser? Cultural Foundations of the Endorsement Process", Journal of Consumer Research, 16, 310-321.

McCracken, Grant (1988), The Long Interview. Newbury Park: Sage Publications.

McCracken, Grant (1988a), Culture and Consumption: New Approaches to the Symbolic Character of Consumer Goods and Activities. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

McCracken, Grant (1986), "Culture and Consumption: A Theoretical Account of the Structure and Movement of the Cultural Meaning of Consumer Goods", Journal of Consumer Research, 13, June, 71-84.

Miller, D.A. (1993), "Sontag’s Urbanity," in The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. Ed. Henry Abelove, Michele Aina Barale, and David M. Halperin.

Newton, Esther (1993), "Role Models," in Camp Grounds: Style and Homosexuality. Ed. David Bergman. Amhert, MA: University of Massachusets Press.

Richins, Marsha (1994), Valuing Things: The Public and Private Meanings of Possessions," Journal of Consumer Research, 21, 3, 504-521.

Richins, Marsha, "Special Possessions and the Expressions of Material Values," Journal of Consumer Research, 21, 3, 522-534.

Ross, Andrew (1989), "Uses of Camp," in No Respect: Intellectuals and Popular Culture. New York: Routledge.

Schouten, John W. and James H. McAlexander (1995), "Subcultures of Consumption: An Ethnography of the New Bikers", Journal of Consumer Research, 22, 1, 43-61.

Sontag, Susan, "Notes on Camp" (1964), in Against Interpretation. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

Spiggle, Susan (1994), "Analysis and Interpretation of Qualitative Data in Consumer Research," Journal of Consumer Research, 21, 3, 491-503.

Sullivan, Andrew (1995), Virtually Normal: An Argument about Homosexuality. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Troiden, Richard R. (1989), "The Formation of Homosexual Identities," Journal of Homosexuality, 5(3), 43-73.

Troiden, Richard R. (1987), "Becoming Homosexual", in Rubington, Earl and Martin S. Weinberg, eds. (1987), Deviance: The Interactionist Perspective, 5th ed. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co.

Wallendorf, Melanie and Eric J. Arnould (1991), "'We Gather Togther’: Consumption Rituals of Thanksgiving Day", Journal of Consumer Research, 18, 13-31.

Wallendorf, Melanie and Merrie Brucks (1993), "Introspection in Consumer Research: Implementation and Implications," Journal of Consumer Research, 20, 3, 339-359.



Steven M. Kates, University of Northern British Columbia


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24 | 1997

Share Proceeding

Featured papers

See More


When Implementation Intentions Backfire: Illusion of Goal Progress in Financial Decisions

Linda Court Salisbury, Boston College, USA
Gergana Y. Nenkov, Boston College, USA
Min Zhao, Boston College, USA

Read More


J7. Alienation from Ourselves, Alienation from Our Products: A Carry-over Effect of Self-alienation on Self-possession Connection

(Joyce) Jingshi Liu, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
Amy Dalton, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Read More


N8. Effect of Awe on Collectable Consumer Experience

Eujin Park, Washington State University, USA
Andrew Perkins, Washington State University, USA
Betsy Howlett, Washington State University, USA

Read More

Engage with Us

Becoming an Association for Consumer Research member is simple. Membership in ACR is relatively inexpensive, but brings significant benefits to its members.