Episode 99: Of Course It’s An Electric Dog

The Overthinkers tackle Lost (or rather, not watching it), the western video game Red Dead Redemption (aka Grand Theft Horse), Troll 2/Best Worst Movie, the nature of camp, and the bleak existential desert that is reality.

Pete Fenzel hosts with Mark Lee, Josh McNeil, and Jordan Stokes to Overthink the things we’re doing instead of watching Lost, the western video game Red Dead Redemption (aka Grand Theft Horse), Troll 2/Best Worst Movie, the nature of camp, and the bleak existential desert that is reality.

→ Download Episode 99 (MP3)

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15 Comments on “Episode 99: Of Course It’s An Electric Dog”

  1. Gab #

    I thought you did just fine, Fenzel. :)

    I inserted “pity” and “fool” into as many conversations as I possibly could and explained the importance of the holiday on Friday quite often, but it was a rather sporadic day, seesawing back and forth between chaotically busy and inanely dull. And, alas, those dull moments weren’t really long enough to do much other than dink around on the internets for a little while. So no big Mr. T stories from me. Alack, alas.

    I enjoy camp, but I’m kind of uncomfortable with calling Lady Gaga “camp,” too. For me, camp is when something is made that comes across as cheesy. And it can be intentional OR not. And I don’t find Lady Gaga cheesy, I find her, uh, well, maybe artsy is a nice way to put it (I’m leaning more toward scattered and bizarre, though). _Starship Troopers_ is a great example of camp because, as has been discussed on the site before, nobody seems to know whether it’s meant to be taken seriously or not, but it’s rather cheesy, regardless. Unintentional camp is pretty much any B (or lower)-rated movie, intentional could be, say, _Clue_, which is cheesy on purpose because it’s satirizing a lot of things at once.

    And I totally realize Lady Gaga could come across as “cheesy” to some people, and thus as campy by my definition- but I personally just am not able to think of anything she does as cheese. I like cheese. And I don’t want to conflate the two. So I’m not trying to argue, so much as give my own rationale and parameters.


  2. fenzel #

    Thanks! We all missed Wrather’s smooth hosting skills — hopefully I made up for it adequately.

    What were talking about with regards to Lady Gaga being “camp” was more specifically her place as a symbol for queer culture that hides in plain sight — which seems to have ebbed out of her image and presentation somewhat lately, but is definitely a major factor in her fame.

    “Camp” — as opposed to hipsterish irony — comes out of queer culture in particular, and as you think about examples that really fit our sense of the word that has lost that conscious definition somewhat, I think you still see the meeting operating diachronically, under the surface.

    We really should have busted out the Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp” on this (especialy “You can’t do camp on purpose.”, but I had forgotten a lot of what I’d heard about it until Jordan reminded me.

    According to Wikipedia, “camp” comes from the French slang “se camper,” meaning. “to pose in an exaggerated fashion.” From 1909 or so through to the 60s and 70s, in English it pretty much just meant “gay-like.” And while we don’t think of it this way today overtly, I definitely think a lot of the sense remains — “cheesy” desexualizes it somewhat, but it’s still performative and over the top in a way that is recognizeable once you know what you’re looking for.

    (This is, by the way, why the historical definitions and histories of words matter — even if you think the sense of a word has changed with context and the march of history, it has usually changed less than you think and carries a lot of baggage from its previous meanings.)

    Starship Troopers is camp in both senses of the word — it’s a pulpy, cheesy, silly action adventure, but you’ve also got square-jawed Caspar Van Dien all up in the barracks with all the other dudes, you’ve got his homoerotic rivalry with Patrick Muldoon, you’ve got righteous solder chicks breaking gender roles, everybody’s showering together, the aliens poke you with their brainsuckers, Zim is as super-butch as they come, and there’s a lot of ramped up tension all over the place.

    Plus, you’ve got Neil Patrick Harris all gussied up as a Nazi — and the last time that happened was the 2003 Broadway revival of Cabaret.

    Yes, Starship Troopers is camp because it’s silly, but it’s also camp because it’s fabulous.


  3. Chris #

    If you were going to turn a David Lean epic into a video game, it should be Bridge on the River Kwai. You could play as William Holden’s character and first escape the prison camp through the jungle, and then have to return to blow up the bridge. Also, you would briefly swim with nurses.

    That, or turn Doctor Zhivago into a video game where you sit around trying to survive a brutal, unforgiving winter.

    Also, and I know you were working with a previously spoken line, but it’s “It was all a dream, I used to read Word Up magazine” not “It was just a dream…” This is, of course, a matter of utmost importance.


  4. stokes #

    @Fenzel – that said, it’s important to understand that words DO change. Take “decimate,” which is always a nice example for this kind of thing. The last listing for this word in the OED is “rhetorically or loosely: to destroy or remove a large portion of; to subject to severe loss, slaughter, or mortality.” Although this is loose, it’s basically the only way this word is used anymore: its old meaning (which I think is actually fairly well known), is to kill %10 of a given population. Now, the old meaning does still inform current use: decimation implies that the damage has been applied in a quasi-random fashion to the system as a whole. You decimate an army by killing one out of every ten guys, not by killing one specific general, even if the end result is the same. It makes more sense to say “since my car had two flat tires, an oil leak, one working headlight, and a potato jammed up the tailpipe, my ability to drive home had been decimated,” than it does to say “since my car keys had been swallowed by the poodle, my ability to drive home had been decimated.” To claim that a solitary event decimates something, as in “with a single move, Kasparov decimated his opponent’s strategy,” is to imply that the move had a vast number of effects: that Kasparov’s opponent was planning a whole bunch of different things and this move had put paid to all of them, but in different ways for different things. If you modify it to “with a single move (specifically, declaring checkmate), Kasparov decimated his opponent’s strategy,” it stops making sense again. So I would argue that a better – and more historically informed – definition for the modern word “decimate” would be “to apply damage more or less indiscriminately across a system, in such a way that its structural integrity and ability to function are compromised.”

    And yet! Note that my new definition is a lot closer to the OED’s rhetorical sense than it is to the original one-in-ten definition. When I say that someone’s immune system is decimated by radiation poisoning, I mean that it is “subjected to severe loss,” and that it is “structurally compromised,” but NOT that “it is operating at %90 efficiency.”


  5. stokes #

    n.b. We also can’t take Sontag’s word on everything. For instance, she claims that nothing in nature can be campy. And yet. :)


  6. stokes #


    But getting back to Mark’s question about whether Troll 2 can be campy – I do think that Sontag has something when she writes that “Camp is the attempt to do something extraordinary. But extraordinary in the sense, often, of being special, glamorous.” She goes on to say that Camp must provide a “visual reward,” (although she’s basically talking about arts with a visual element, so we can’t take that *too* far). Anyway: Lady Gaga, yes. Starship Troopers, yes. John Waters, yes. Does Troll 2 fall into this category?


  7. Chris #

    I prefer John (from The Simpsons episode “Homer’s Phobia”)’s answer when he described camp as “the tragically ludicrous, the ludicrously tragic.” Of course, John was voiced by John Waters who is often cited, including here, as being preeminent in the making of camp.


  8. lee OTI Staff #

    @stokes: Does Troll 2 fall into the category of attempting to do something extraordinary/special/glamorous? I think so. The director/writer husband/wife combo claim that they were trying to make fairly profound statements on family life and food culture with this movie. The writer in particular had a real thing against friends who had become vegetarians and were presumably judgmental against those who hadn’t.

    So that satisfies “extraordinary” and “special.” As for “glamorous” and the visual reward, well, I can’t imagine anyone who saw those latex troll masks thought this movie would have a shred of what we typically think of as glamor. (glamour? sp?) But it certainly strives for visual rewards. Word don’t really do it justice. Just use your eyes and watch:



  9. Gab #

    Well, and granted that I’m not etymological expert, by Fenzel’s definition, or at least explanation, Troll 2 is *not* campy- unless Lee can enlighten us on some “queer” undertones in it? I’d have to call it “bad,” I suppose. I mean, if we’re going by root, base, original definitions, describing a piece of art as “cheesy” (which would be my first replacement adjective, instinctively) is incorrect, too. Unless that art had a bunch of cheddar all over it. Or maybe Gouda. Mmmm, Gouda.

    But going by how “camp” and various forms of it are used *colloquially* nowadays, its “diachronic” evolution, to use Fenzel’s terminology (had to look that one up- I haven’t gone to grad school YET, guys, gimme a few months, yeesh!)- then YES, absolutely. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a lot of people, at least of the younger generations (as in people under thirty) that realize “camp” originally meant “gay-like” and don’t associate it with (the also colloquial definitions of) corny or cheesy the way I originally did. And I apologize for my ignorance of the original meaning. However, given the way it’s used now versus back-in-the-day, I hope it’s at least understood why I made the mistake.

    And yes, if that’s the original meaning, Lady Gaga is totally “camp.” But still, going by colloquial definitions, I’m wary to say she is- I’d say she’s more tawdry (to avoid any allusions to dairy products) (and I realize that’s not a perfect substitute, either- there is an essence to the colloquial usage of “cheese” that I just can’t find in any of the synonyms).


  10. Matthew Wrather #

    I think Fenzel is a great host, and should be in regular rotation. I really enjoyed this episode. (Largely because of the absence of, well, me.)

    We have largely achieved the show I envisioned two years ago when we started this thing. [Note: Don’t download and listen to that episode. Really. It took us 10 or 15 to hit our stride.]

    It actually feels really good to be coming up on number 100 knowing that we’re creating a quality program regularly.

    Ok, that’s enough narcissistic navel-gazing. Let’s talk more about camp.


  11. stokes #

    Well, I’m sitting down to watch Troll 2 now, Lee. I hope you’re happy.


  12. lee OTI Staff #

    Hooray! Let me know how your trip to NILBOG goes.


  13. stokes #

    Yeah, okay, wow. If that ain’t camp, it’ll do ’til the camp get’s here.

    Gab, rest assured that the “queer” undertones are present IN BULK.


  14. lee OTI Staff #

    IN BULK…It’s KLUB NI spelled backwards!!!!


  15. Gab #

    Okay, then is it safe to say Troll 2 is “campy” by both the old-fashioned *AND* modern interpretations of the word’s meaning? And, if so, would that pose a problem?


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