Recently, queer artsploitation filmmaker Bruce LaBruce presented a lecture with tongue reportedly slightly in cheek on the state of camp in 2013 as a sort of half-century revision to the comfortably ensconced taxonomy provided by Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp.” The crux of his corrective hinged on the proliferation of campiness as a default mode in current pop culture, ushered in by the near-simultaneous death of irony and the homogenization of the homo set and evident in the rise of various (implicitly inferior) camp mutations: reactionary camp, quasi-camp, conservative camp, bad straight camp. We’re witnessing, LaBruce seemed to be arguing, the spiritual capitulation of a freshly welcome minority, allowing consumerism to take yet another victory lap. Auntie Mame has been forced into retirement as our patron saint; in this decisive moment’s volatile mixture of long-deferred gratitude and wariness over an entire identity being cashed in, she’s been replaced by RuPaul’s drag racers repeatedly reciting Sally Field’s second Oscar acceptance speech. No longer can camp claim to embody Sontag’s dictum that it be unaware of itself. Camp is now aware of all; it is all.
Would that LaBruce could’ve waited just a few more months for the arrival of Baz Luhrmann’s perfunctorily campy The Great Gatsby and its even more sensation-engineered soundtrack. The movie and film ride in like the two horsemen of the gaypocalypse, sealing off all hopes that subversion can ever exist as an alternative, rather than the all-devouring Cthulu of pop consciousness. Conceived by Luhrmann in collaboration with executive producer Jay-Z, the soundtrack co-opts the musical filigrees of the jazz age and the cultural vitality of both hip-hop and house into an acid bath of EDM (that lurching final solution of current pop music) with all the panache of an energy drinktini. Cover songs nuzzle sweatily up against melodramatic reinterpolations of choice DJ drops, and stylistic mash-ups aim to remove the gravity of all contemporary points of reference, more or less in the same manner Luhrmann refined in his magnum o’please Moulin Rouge. But the difference is clear between Moulin Rouge, a musical whose campiness is still rooted in the expressive intentions of an outsider point of view, and The Great Gatsby, an adaptation that all-too-conspicuously emulates the impulses of its central character, a man whose fatal flaw is his desire to superimpose the present onto the past. Hence, will.i.am getting all LMFAO on F. Scott.
This being revisionism at its most cross-promotional, Jay-Z gets his Daisy, with Beyoncé splitting the bill with André 3000 on a midtempo cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black,” but not before cashing his own check by kickstarting the collection off with his “100$ Bill,” in which “ill reverence” and “irreverence” are spoonerized to irrelevance and Jigga muses “that cheese made us constipated” before calling out Taylor Swift’s “hundred fucking million.” It’s the closest the compilation comes to the era-skipping fusion Luhrmann stated as his goal for the project (to approximate the psychological effect jazz had on West Eggers by intercalating the participation of East Coasters) and also seems to be the most conscious about the limits of the enterprise. Certainly a hell of a lot more than Emeli Sandé and Bryan Ferry’s banjo minstrelequerie of B’s “Crazy In Love” or Fergie and Q-Tip’s boh-d’oh-dee-oh speakeasy horror show “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody (All We Got).” Despite few-and-far-between curveballs from the xx (the spare “Together”) and Nero (“Into the Past,” which clearly aches to be included on the next Nicolas Winding Refn movie), The Great Gatsby speaks on Duke and Ella’s behalf when it says, “It don’t mean a thing.” Period.