Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Camp and Existence

James Tailoring. Petal Attraction. Yehey. The legal, registered names of Filipino business establishments. Filipinos are supposed to celebrate these names as more proof of our creativity. They are certainly creative, the way jokes are creative. But why joke in the first place?

It is a commonplace observation that humour usually has roots in pain. Comics make schtick and routines about things that irritate and oppress them. Laughing is a kind of psychological judo, by which the mind overcomes/shelters from that which obssesses and oppresses it.

I find it more and more credible that these jokes are meant to overcome an abiding sense of falsehood. I do not mean "falsehood" in the sense of a lie, but in the sense of being an imitation. We feel oppressed by the sense of living a copy of real life. Real life being, of course, everything that happens 1) in America 2) on television 3) in English. This is the irritant that joking about buying something in "New York - New York,Cubao" refers to.

I am beginning to wonder whether our vaunted Filipino wordplay is actually a form of camp. Camp has been historically defined as gay sensibility. Drag queens practice a particularly pointed form of camp: A drag queen imitates a female, while making it obvious that he is NOT a female, but an imitation, a copy. He oscillates between longing and irony, aping femininity and mocking his efforts to do so.

It appears to me that Filipinos have generalized camp. We have taken the oscillating strategies of camp from the context of gender, and used it as a response to the psychological pressures of imperialism. To the pressures of economic inequality so deep it determines existential assumptions.

The jury is still out on whether camp is an empowering or self-defeating sensibility. That is what worries me. More and more it seems like the humour of those without hope.

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