|—||Susan Sontag, Notes on Camp (1964)|
Looking for Feminist literature on Sleepaway Camp. Oh, you mean I have to write it myself? Just like everything else?
The last time I watched it, Lucas and I were talking about how maybe it’s a kind of transphobic film, even if it’s in the name of Camp. You know: “Biological male lives as a girl. Is fucked up. Is socially incapable. Is violently uncomfortable about sex. Chops everyone up.”
But Lucas was like, “Isn’t it actually the most anti-transphobic movie ever?”
Oh Lucas, always being good at these things. He’s right. Angela didn’t choose to be raised as a girl. She spent the first four or so years of her life being raised as a boy, and presumably, to a degree, conceptualized herself as such. And then bam, some privileged rich slutty thoughtless camp kids murdered her sister and father, and bam, her Mad Scientist Aunt Doctor Crazyface (played by Desiree Gould—an actual trans person) starts raising her, and forces her to live as Angela instead of…whatever her name was when she was a boy.
Anyway: so the message, in the end, is that you will go crazy and murder people if you don’t live as the gender you identify with!
Except: spoiler. In Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers, after we last saw Angela’s penis on the beach, she comes back all refreshed and perky and no longer socially unstable after a sex change. She is still living as a lady, but don’t worry guys: she has a vagina! Also, she’s now played by Bruce Springsteen’s little sister (true!) and not Hot Sauce Felissa Rose, so the continuity of aim between Sleepaway Camp I and Sleepaway Camp II is questionable at best. Plus, the directors changed. (I’m sure you know this about the Sleepaway Camp franchise!)
(I can’t remember how the issue of Angela’s gender is resolved in Hiltzik’s sequel to the first Sleepaway Camp, Return to Sleepaway Camp, which is technically Sleepaway Camp IV but it ignores the events of Sleepaway Camp II and III.)
Anyway, the point is:
Sleepaway Camp was all, “be true to the gender you identify with!”
but then Unhappy Campers is all, “actually, get a sex change if you need to, just as long as your gender matches your genitalia! at least you’ll be perkier!”
but then Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland was like, “just kidding! the only message is to kill spoiled sluts.”
And that, in conclusion, is a Feminist Critique of My Second Favorite Horror Franchise. Pt. 1/95823409582.
Now I’m gonna go grab some readings that talk about the role of—loathe the term—“gender play” in Camp. Because on one hand, there’s the argument that Camp is a safe space for the people that society abandoned. But at the same time, a lot of Camp (even John Waters) isn’t necessarily respectful or safe for actual trans people, actual women, actual gays, actual lesbians, et cetera. It’s kind of like Sontag’s obnoxious undertones in “Notes on Camp,” that whole reading of Camp as a gentle blending of “high” and “low,” without a lot of acknowledgment that defining that binary is a privileged act. And every time someone claims to walk that line (as in a Warholian sense), they are doing so from a position of privilege.
That’s the most fucking amateurish paragraph I’ve ever written. I should stick to Sleepaway Camp.
(Also: there’s always so much confusion when I talk about this film! Because it is both a camp film and a Camp film.)
Relevant edit! I found this post. There’s a whole set of transphobic layers in this film that I totally neglected to mention because I am a biased reporter.
You’d be hard-pressed to come up with a more ridiculous take on queer issues than Sleepaway Camp - gay parenting is presented as The Most Terrifying Prospect Ever…Gay men are presented as so unstable that a death of their loved ones causes them to lose all sense of identity or sanity and not only turn themselves into freaks but force such identity-issues onto the children oh-so-woefully within their care… yet, despite myself, it’s just this totally silliness that I embrace about the film. It spins so far over-the-top not just in its homophobia but in its everything that 25 years later it’s still a blast to watch.
But in the end I certainly can’t defend the film as progressive in its politics, except for the fact that it was addressing fears that were out there while nobody else was. In a disturbingly homophobic manner, sure, but it never takes itself too terribly seriously either. Hell, it doesn’t take itself seriously in the slightest. So it might not be right then, but it is okay.
Ah, the dilemmas we face everyday as people who are devoted to [anything, but particularly movies in which teenagers have sex and get murdered] but also happen to be queer or women or people of color or people in general.
Valet Girls (1987)