In Defense of Camp


I’m a firm believer in the motto So Bad, It’s Good. I have an unrequited love for bad television shows, tacky film noir, witty dialogue and musicals. Make something that can only be described with a loathsome ‘camp’ and I will love it to death. With this in mind you can imagine that I have been having a particularly exciting two weeks. Two new TV shows have hit the airwaves that will hopefully become worthy of this motto.

The shows, called Zero Hour and Cult, both have a premise which instantly gives you the feeling of “this will be so terrible, let’s watch it!”. The sad thing however, is that these terribly good premises don’t always turn out to be as bad as you hoped. Sometimes they just turn into something So Bad, It’s Horrible and then there’s no more fun to be had. I’m really looking forward to what these shows will do, but after only one episode it’s not looking good for everyone…

Who knew camping was so much fun?

Let’s start with the show that has the most hopeful future, Cult. The show is airing on The CW and I cannot help but love almost everything they put out. I was heartbroken when they cancelled Secret Circle and Emily Owens M.D. and I will never forgive them if The Vampire Diaries will end. Of the nine shows currently airing I watch four religiously and tried to watch the other four, all the while pretending that Beauty and The Beast starring Kristen Kreuk doesn’t exist. I have unlimited faith in The CW, but that one I just can’t acknowledge.

Revamping Beauty and the Beast was totally unnecessary after this gem.

Revamping Beauty and the Beast was totally unnecessary after this gem.

Cult is a television show about a television show called Cult. I was completely unaware of this when I started watching it and I was immediately taken in by the bad acting and dialogue of the in-TV-TV-show. Then suddenly, credits rolled and I was propelled out of this first fictional world into a second one and left feeling like one of the creepy fans the show is about. The actual main character of the actual TV show is Jeff Sefton, better known as Alaric from the Vampire Diaries. His brother is a big fan of the fictional Cult and mysteriously disappears after having a disturbing phone call with Jeff/Alaric. Our Hero Jeff then goes looking for his brother and runs into the craziness that is Cult and its aforementioned super creepy fans.

If the CW makes a Vampire Diaries / Cult crossover happen and Damon and Alaric are reunited once again, I will watch Beauty and Beast.

If The CW makes a Vampire Diaries / Cult crossover happen and Damon and Alaric are reunited once again, I will watch Beauty and the Beast, I promise.

The fictional Cult is about a Cult leader played by Robert Knepper, who I still know from Prison Break but he probably did meaningful things in the meantime. His cult brainwashes and kidnaps people, which is why the cops are after him. Two cops in specific even. One is a feisty blonde, who is trying to find her kidnapped sister and nephew, and her partner is still a rather nondescript, but very sensible black officer. For a more accurate and in-depth portrayal of the show, watch the trailer:

While the show goes back and forth between the fictional Cult and the real show, the viewers are smacked in the face with the similarities. The show seems to revolve around creating a meta-story and many things that happen on the fictional Cult are starting to happen on the actual Cult. Surely, not a coincidence! The twists aren’t always fun and unexpected, but the bad guys are so obviously Bad and the whole cult is so wacky that I’m certain I will keep watching this show for at least the coming season.

One of my favourite things from this first episode was that the main character of the In-show Cult as well as the real Cult used super hip 3D glasses to find a clue that will hopefully unravel the mystery that is Cult. Any show that lets their main characters walk around like Blade going to see Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter wearing his own special made 3D glasses, has a warm place in my heart. It also helps that the show is on The CW and therefore only employs hot people. But knowing The CW, they can turn this pilot into a fun, crazy and exciting mystery. They are not above using wacky folklore (The Sun and the Moon Curse, anyone?) to make entertainment and are certainly not worried about losing any credibility.

3D glasses, solving your mysteries since 1936

3D glasses, solving your mysteries since 1936

This is definitely not the case with the second show, Zero Hour, broadcast by NBC. The show aired last week and many reviews were puns on the first word of the show’s title. Although we are not allowed to call it as such, Zero Hour is a Dan Brown type of mystery, following Anthony Edwards (poor Dr. Greene from ER) trying to find his wife after she gets abducted by a high profile criminal, after discovering a magical clock made by the church during the second world war, which the Nazi’s tried to use to unleash hell on earth. Although I think I did a nice job explaining this one, you can still watch the trailer:

Even though Zero Hour’s premise is much crazier than Cult’s, the show tries to present itself as a very serious mystery. There is no playing around with the crazy demon baby with snake eyes, or the fact that there is a secret church group called Rosicrucians who make magical clocks.

Right now the only redeeming quality of the show is that I can watch Anthony Edwards and Scott Michael Foster (Cappie from Greek) roll around in a crazy mystery together. I’m still holding out hope that this show is going to be great. It has all the  ingredients for a good, campy show and I really do enjoy mystery adventures! And although the show is trying to be serious, it’s hard not to smirk at the ridiculous scene where the priests feast their eyes on the evil demon baby and then perform the worst minute of acting in their lives. Also the in-between shots of a clockwork turning, accompanied by the deep, loud, ticking of a clock is just too ridiculous for words.

This slogan certainly shut me up

This slogan certainly shut me up

It still seems that the show wants to prove itself as something with gravitas and therefore it is veering dangerously close to So Bad, It Could Turn Out To Be Horrible. I’m really hoping it’s going to have more fun with the crazy ideas that are already floating around, so it can transcend into So Bad, It’s Really Really Awesome.

Watching these two shows made me wonder why people enjoy things that are ‘bad’. What is enjoyable about camp? It seems almost impossible to not mention Susan Sontag while discussing camp. She states that ‘Camp taste is, above all, a mode of enjoyment, of appreciation – not judgement. Camp is generous. It wants to enjoy.’ Loving camp then, is not an ironic love, although it can sometimes seem like it. Sontag describes this nicely:

‘It only seems like malice, cynicism. (Or, if it is cynicism, it’s not a ruthless but a sweet cynicism.) Camp taste doesn’t propose that it is in bad taste to be serious; it doesn’t sneer at someone who succeeds in being seriously dramatic. What it does is to find the success in certain passionate failures.’

So no ironic appreciation of bad art please. Only sweet tender loving!

So no ironic appreciation of bad art, please. Only sweet, tender loving!

What I personally love about camp is the heightened sense of reality it conveys. It creates a theatrical version of life, leaving out all the mundane parts. It involves a kind of drama and intensity that you will only encounter in fiction and don’t actually want in your own life. It doesn’t matter that it might come across as fake, camp isn’t here to paint an accurate picture of life. These ‘bad’ artworks are passionate about showing an idea or emotion, or telling a story. Sontag calls them passionate failures, and yes, these works of art might fail at what they set out to do, but they do not have to fail at entertaining and instilling a love for the work in the audience. Loving camp is like loving a three-legged cat. It is obviously flawed, but those flaws make it special and maybe even more likeable. You will learn to love it, because of its flaws and definitely not despite of them.

Update 02-03-2013: Zero Hour has been cancelled and pulled from ABC’s schedule immediately. Now I will never find out what is the deal with those clocks!

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