Artwork by Holly Coulson

Why does everyone fawn over Harry’s Vogue cover like no man has ever worn a dress before? And why behave like he’s the first celebrity to ever bring camp to mainstream audiences? Why do we act like he’s a symbol of woke twenty-first century culture when androgyny is not avant-garde? With the release of Don’t Worry Darling and My Policeman, Styles and his sexually ambiguous persona is Hollywood’s new toy, and I’m not surprised. In the backlog of cinema history, our leading men have always camped it up...

David Bowie

Another musical legend who dabbled in movies, Bowie defined his image with an otherworldliness. Ziggy Stardust, his alter-ego, was a gateway drug into his fluid universe. His androgyny transcended the material limits of this world, gorgeously disrupting the gender binary and transforming his image of celebrity into something immaterial and godlike. Yes, he could wear the most outlandishly garish and glittery costumes, but his camp charm would win you over just as well in a boring suit and tie.

John Travolta

Androgyny is not avant-garde

If you watched Grease as a child, just how camp Travolta’s charisma is might have gone over your head. Give it (and Pulp Fiction) a rewatch (Uma Thurman is an equally exquisite camp leading lady.) Perhaps it’s the musical theatre in Travolta, the breaking into song in normal conversations, that is innately camp. Or maybe it’s his straight face as he wiggles his hips to the kitsch-est of dance moves. His confident flamboyance. His not-so-subtle smarm. And his gradual entry into middle age aided by California’s finest plastic surgeons.

Rupert Everett

Oscar Wilde and Rupert Everett have become largely merged in my unscrupulous twenty-year-old imagination. Wilde’s sensibility is reincarnated in Everett. A tragic Greek hero born too late, his performances in films from Another Country to My Best Friend’s Wedding show him flexing his camp muscle. He laughs and cries, both taking himself too seriously and not seriously at all. In Sontag’s words, it’s about “the metaphor of life as theatre,’ about ’seeing everything in quotation marks”.


Mountain View

Why are gay romcoms so depressing?

So, the cult of camp was never just confined to pop culture’s peripheries. Mainstream audiences, irrespective of the social climate around homosexuality or transgenderism, have always lapped up the Michael Jacksons and Billy Crystals of Hollywood. HIV and its associated homophobic mythology pervaded the same era in which Ziggy Stardust and John Travolta sold out cinemas.

Styles is only a rediscovery, a reiteration of those stars who camped it up before him. Right-wing culture might want us to think he’s a radical who’s disrupting conventional images of manhood - but just a brief tour through our history of A-List heartthrobs tells us otherwise.