80’s Perfume Ads and Camp: Calvin Klein’s Obsession

Calvin Klein's Obsession - magazine ad

In 1964, the literary and art critic Susan Sontag published an essay in Partisan Review entitled “Notes on ‘Camp'” in which she enumerates camp’s evolution as a distinct aesthetic category.  Sontag writes:

The whole point of Camp is to dethrone the serious. Camp is playful, anti-serious. More precisely, Camp involves a new, more complex relation to “the serious.” One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious. (1)

Why aren’t perfume ads on television like this anymore?  These Obsession ads are so self-consciously ridiculous, and that’s what makes it great.  It’s pure camp à la John Waters and Liberace.

I leave you with SNL’s Kristen Wiig’s hilarious “Red Flag” skit.  If anyone understands Camp, it’s Kristen.

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