Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Notes on Camp (not the kind you do for lindens)

As most people who know me are aware, I'm a big grid wide hunter. I've gone a bit overboard this month and need to cut back a bit, but I'll probably always have at least one hunt in progress as long as there's one taking place. I do use a lot of the stuff I find (I'm writing this now wearing a dress from the Bunny Hop, a necklace from Through the Looking Glass, and glasses I bought from a store I landed at on the Scarlet Letter hunt), I love the process of searching, and I even enjoy unpacking (and taking pictures of the results; click the link to my Flickr page at right). I also just like the chance to see a variety of places in SL and see the sorts of stuff the creative people here can put together.

Of course, not every store one lands at on a grid wide hunt is a fine example of virtual architecture or design. Some are dull, some are poorly textured and hard to look around in, and still others make you go, "wtf?" This post is about one of those. This one, to be specific:

This is a store that has shown up in several forms on several hunts I've done. This is just the latest. It's Riki Takaaki's Dreams Gallery (or something like that), which is a Christian store that thankfully gives out secular gifts in the hunts. But unlike other self-described Christian stores that participate in a lot of hunts, like AmberMyst Botanical Designs, Riki's Dreams sells Christian-themed merchandise and displays evangelical propaganda all over the grounds. I know a lot of other secular folks probably get annoyed that a place like this stands between the last hunt stop and the next hunt stop. I did, too, the first time I had to hunt there, but the prize was hard to find and the location at the time was laggy and I had a headache.

As of this last time through (for Through the Looking Glass and Fun in the Sun), however, I love the place and will look forward to when I get to hunt there in the future, and here's why: because Riki's Dreams has become one of the most wonderfully campy stores I've seen in SL. Jesus camp is one of my favorite kinds.

This appreciation for Jesus kitsch began years ago, when I went to my born-again Promise Keeper cousin's wedding. My father and most of his side of the family are Christians of various sorts, so I've been to my share of churches: Catholic, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, "Non-Denominational," and so on. But at this one -- Pentecostal, I think -- the decor was so over-the-top that I had trouble believing it was actually an aesthetic the church members took seriously. Huge, gaudy curtains and tapestries, looming images of Christ, colorful and ostentatious signs shouting bible verses at us.... And apparently they do take it seriously; there was nothing ironic about it. However, I knew this as a potentially campy aesthetic when I saw it. I decided momentarily that even though I'm a heathen, I wanted to become a collector of tacky Jesus art (or "art").

It really was only a momentary decision, though. I was a college student and a hoarder, and between being poor and already having too much stuff to move around, plus the fact that most people wouldn't get the irony, I decided not to do it. Besides, as much as I love camp, there's a problem inherent in it, which is that it's condescending. It's a parody. The use of camp, almost by definition, denigrates some group by satirization. It can be a gentle ribbing or a total slam or someplace in between (or a combination), and it can even be done by a group making light of themselves (think drag queens), but you're basically poking fun by viewing as ironic a symbol that is taken totally seriously in another context.

I hasten to add that I've never failed to take another person's religion seriously; this isn't about making fun of Riki's beliefs but about her taste, and not because she as an individual is a poor judge of appearance but precisely because within the context she's designing from, she probably isn't a poor judge at all. There is an entire aesthetic that emerges from this visually noisy attempt to work the Word of God into pretty much everything. Just visit a few stores listed on this page and you'll get the picture. Some simply sell Bibles and others, sappy, inspirational posters that are neither more nor less cheesy than their secular equivalents, but there are some gems in there, like Heavenly Images, which "creates custom memorial photos for loved ones and pets with Jesus in the picture," and Jesus Laughing, which "features Ralph Kozak's print of Jesus Laughing on witness wear, postcards, and framed prints," the same picture on every single item. Oh, and if you missed it, there's an additional example of Jesus kitsch right there: "witness wear."

The imagery attached to this particular set of denominations of Christianity, I'm sorry, is just begging to be seen as camp. I'm not the only one who thinks so, as the author of the article 20 Tacky Religious Products Guaranteed to Anger God would probably attest. Not all Christian stores give off this camp aesthetic, I should add. The Bedtime Treasures hunt brought me to AngelZ Christian Art just today, and though it was brimming with sap, it was tasteful sap. Christian imagery does not automatically equal tacky, so I'd be interested to understand why so much of it just is and whether purveyors of the tacky stuff are aware that they have no taste or whether they're like collectors of velvet Elvises, who are completely cognizant and enjoy their possessions all the more for their over-the-top-ness.

I am also entertained by the fact that the tacky Jesus art is replicated in SL. I'm not surprised by it; there's plenty of tackiness here, and a lot of it -- like bling and clicking shoes -- even permeates SL's mainstream. But entertained I am and will continue to be, every time a hunt sends me in the direction of Riki's Dreams.