In Tony Kushner’s Angels of America along with the rapper Lil Nas X’s music video for the song “Montero” there is an elaborate use of camp that connects them. There are two similar moments that share related themes in Angels of America it is in Act. 5 of “Perestroika” between the characters The Angel and Hannah Porter Pitt who is a Mormon woman. With Kushner’s elaborate stage directions he is able to convey exactly what goes on between them, “Hannah walks toward her, torn between immense unfamiliar desire and fear […] The Angel kisses her […] Hannah then has an enormous orgasm” (Kushner 261). In this scene, there is an exaggerated use of sexuality with the imagery that Kusher evokes of an angel having the ability to give a character an orgasm. This same type of flamboyant sexuality and the elaborate use of camp is something that is also implemented by Lil Nas X’s “Montero.” One moment in the music video that has a clear relation to the aforementioned scene in Angels of America is depicted after Lil Nas X’s character is mounted by a figure who is supposed to represent a devil. This is shown when Lil Nas X sings, “Call me by your name,” This lyric is a reference to the gay novel by the author André Aciman where two male lovers spend a summer together in Italy. So the overt sexual moment is underscored by this sentimental saying from one fictional man to another.
Montero had a lot of controversy because of its references to religion and Lil Nas X responded on twitter with the following remark, “y’all love saying we going to hell but get upset when I actually go there lmao” (Lil Nas X). Although what he says here is meant to be humorous there is a serious undercurrent to this and the moment in the music video which is the true nature of homophobia. In the same way that Angels in America uses the seriousness and parody of camp to combat a view of religious homophobia Lil Nas X plays into the fantasy that has been common for homophobic people to come up with. I believe that representations like these that use camp as a significant element are important because they show a unique portrayal of queer people that helps to flesh out the different types of stories that can be told about them. Both of these examples have fun with the extremes they go to while also having an intentional seriousness in responding to queer related issues of AIDS and homophobia which evokes the true meaning of camp.
Lil Nas X Tweet
In Tony Kushner’s play Angels of America, the character Roy Cohn depicts a complicated version of masculinity, that he exhibits through brash dialogue and a big ego, but he says certain sexual things that make it clear that he is a part of the gay scene he has so much hatred for. In Act 1. Scene 2 when Roy says “I wish I was an octopus, a fucking octopus. Eight loving arms and all those suckers…” (Kushner 11). The underlying sexual tone is evident with words like “loving” and “sucking” which are sensual words Kushner uses to imply the hidden gay life that Roy lives. Despite this Roy relentlessly tries to distance himself from any queerness that could be associated with him by enforcing the masculine elements of himself. After being told he has AIDS Roy defends himself by claiming that he is, “a heterosexual man…who fucks around with guys” (Kushner 47). Since Roy presents himself as a straight man but he’s actually a closeted gay man the internalized homophobia and the hatred that he has of himself has manifested into a persecution of people he thinks are wrong.
One example of this is his part in the death of Ethel Rosenberg. In Act. 1 Scene 5 Roy proudly exclaims, “I pleaded till I wept to put her in that chair…Why? Because I fucking hate traitors” (Kushner 113). Roy was so adamant that Ethel dies because she represents a part of himself that he hates. Throughout Angels in America Roy is a traitor to his own masculine values and he expels that hatred to anyone who he deems as in the category of people who also go against his values this is shown as he calls other gay men in the play “sissy” or “faggot.” This hatred persists as he endures AIDS and up until his demise.
In Eli Clare’s book Exile and Pride the chapter “the mountain” there is this passage, “The body as a home, but only if it is understood that bodies are never singular, but rather haunted, strengthened, underscored by countless other bodies” (Clare 11). In this passage I think that Clare has clear repetition when it comes to the theme of collectiveness. This is made evident to me when he mentions the phrase “never singular” and the word “countless” with these references he is committing to the idea that the identities of people are not fixed by their own individual experiences but rather they are in some part motivated by other people’s experiences which can cast a shadow on their own life. He is saying s the people around us play a part in how we understand ourselves and our bodies. This doesn’t seem to be dependent on just familiar relations such as parents or siblings but it can be the stories and voices of other people within a group that individual possibly finds home in. In this case, I will focus on how acknowledging the stories and bodies of other people in the LGBTQ community can help strengthen one’s view of their own identity and what queer can mean for them. One of the main class themes that we learned about after reading Adrienne Rich’s “Diving into the Wreck” was the idea of not just hearing the stories of the oppressed people or the “wreck” but seeing “the thing itself and not the myth” (Rich 102). By this I think she means that we must not get these LGBTQ experiences second hand and instead should hear of them from the people who are apart of this community. The voices and bodies of other queer people are meant to be heard so that they can help a queer person understand their identity better which is what makes reading LGBTQ literature like the one that Clare’s passage comes from so important.
In Saeed Jones Poem “Don’t let the Sun Shine on you” in his collection of poems Prelude to a Bruise there is a repetition of the phrases around the sun setting. One of the lines reads “Thank God it’s not dark…yet” (Jones 19). My surface level interpretation is that the sun is setting and it’s getting dark but the person who the story is about, which I assume to be Jones, a black man, is fearful of this. His fear is shown in the fact that he is thankful that it’s not dark yet. Jones reads a sign where the first part of it says, “N*GGIER DON’T LET THE SUN SET ON YOU” (Jones 19). These words make it more clear to me that Jones is afraid of what will happen when it gets dark. The words leave an impending sense of danger in the narrator since the sun has not set yet and the sign. In another poem “Jasper, 1998” Jones details an event where I’m sure that a pair of white men seem to have given him a ride and then beat him up. This poem and the other one mentioned seem to be alluding to the racism that Jones faced. The poem takes a second person view and continues to refer to “you” throughout the poem; this is similar to how the sign speaks in second person as well. It is speaking to the person reading it, specifically the black person reading it. So I think that with this Jones making the reader become him in that moment after reading the sign-that frightened black boy who is hopeful that he will get somewhere safe before sundown.