Hillary Clinton is possessed by the spirit of Joan Crawford. Like that notorious über-bitch immortalized by Faye Dunaway in the camp classic Mommie Dearest, Hillary bulldozed into a Democratic primary dominated by men and brazenly declared, as any self-respecting diva would: Don't fuck with me fellas! This ain't my first time at the rodeo!
Hillary Dearest doesn't take no for an answer. Melodramatic and megalomaniacal, Hillary, like Joan, is an aging super star whose career is on the wane, but she refuses to exit the stage. I'm not going anywhere, she dishes out defiantly! Like Joan, Hillary will embrace any identity and any performance even if it requires sacrificing her own children (her party) at the altar of winning. And God help anyone who gets in her way: Christina, bring me the ax!
Barack-olytes cannot wrap their minds around HillDiva, who seems more like HillDemon to them. Why, they grumble, hasn't she -- that train wreck with eyebrows -- self-destructed yet? How does an unlikable, shrill, mendacious, and bloodthirsty monster manage to challenge the dignified, mild-mannered, and pure-intentioned Holiest of Demorcratic Holies? How can that woman, who represents nothing and who will say and do anything to win, hold a candle to Him who represents everything? Yes, we can, they marvel, but how can she? When, Andrew Sullivan pleads, will this horror film end?
In fact, however, Hillary is no monster. Sullivan and the Barack-olytes don't get Hillary because they don't get the aesthetic genre she is working in. Hillary Dearest is no horror show -- she is a camp phenomenon and fast on her way to becoming one of this century's greatest camp heroines. Hillary's camp should be taken seriously; it offers a critical alternative to Obama's Romanticism. And many Americans just cannot get enough of her.
Whether as Madame President or Vice President or just former First Lady, HillDiva will enter the Pantheon of Prima Donnas alongside the great gay-male camp icons of yore: Judy Garland, Mae West, the Divine Miss M, Madonna, Cher, Liza, the Joans (Crawford, Collins, and Rivers), Liz, Diana, Tina, Mariah, Beyonce.
Like all of these queen bees before her, HillDiva is continually reinventing herself. With each new hairstyle and each new outfit; with each new rhetorical strategy and each new scandal, we meet a different kind of Hillary. We have comeback Hillary, forgiving Hillary; victimized Hillary; lying Hillary; bellicose Balboa Hillary; Northern Ireland peace-brokering Hillary; vetted Hillary; sarcastic Hillary; survivor Hillary; tearful Hillary; experienced Hillary; Jesus-loving Hillary; vast right-wing conspiracy Hillary; sleep-deprived Hillary; 3am Hillary; feminist Hillary; cackling Hillary; patriotic Hillary; high-road Hillary; kick-him-while-he's-down (or "He wouldn't have been my pastor") Hillary; "Not some little woman standing by my man" Hillary; Bill's Hillary; Chelsea's Hillary; Obama-loving Hillary; "Not as Far as I know" Hillary; "I'm human" Hillary; McCain-loving Hillary; the Hillary I know.
From her burlesque biography to her faux-marriage; from her stylized overemotionality to her pseudo-drag admixture of male and female traits and gestures; from her synthetic stump speeches to her outrageous pronouncements and staged lies; and from her international acclaim to her most recently discovered wealth, Hillary, whether intentionally or not, embraces melodramatic excess at every turn.
Hillary, like camp, always comes back for an encore.
To be sure, Barack-olytes find camp unsettling and it is not difficult to see why. If the appeal of Hillary is the appeal of camp, then surely the appeal of Obama is that of Romanticism. The world according to the gospel of Obama is a world of drama (not melodrama), of spiritualism, of authenticity, of beliefs, of more perfect unions, of the national community, of teleology, and of the serious power of words. For Barack-olytes, the melodrama of camp reeks of heresy and antinomianism. In the context of messianic expectation, there is not much room for laughter.
But camp is (by definition) not purely a laughing matter and Hillary's performances are not just some theatrical joke. Camp loves the artificial, the spectacle, and the ridiculous because it refuses to maintain the illusions of political rhetoric. Camp exposes the masquerade of political theater by flaunting the grandiose pose and the ironic overstatement.
Camp celebrates theatricality because through its showboating excess camp reveals that our dominant cultural narratives -- whether on gender or sexuality; nationalism or politics; religion or society -- are artificial constructions. Through its ridiculous staging and dishonest spectacle, camp undermines the false illusion (upon which political rhetoric depends) that expression is a straightforward vessel which conveys intention. Camp reminds us through its conspicuous duplicity that there is a large gap between feelings and words and that all political rhetoric is just that -- rhetoric.
HillDiva's camp, which is monstrous to some, is a source of comforting laughter for others. When we laugh at her ridiculous and self-destructive performance, we recall that politics is artifice. In a political climate dominated by the audacity of hope, Hillary's camp is refreshing and instructive. Hillary offers no prophetic returns to a pre-Nixonian or pre-Watergate cultural faith in politicians and politics. Hillary will not usher in the End of Days.
Ironically, it is Barack Obama, the harbinger of change, who disseminates a political aesthetic that relishes in the uncritical mythologies of national community and national destiny. Hillary, the so-called establishment candidate, challenges us to remain critical of our political leaders and institutions.
Camp is the lie that tells the truth and Hillary, as a camp heroine, is the liar who breathes veritas.