Eagle Man & Pure Camp (Brooke Daley)

What do you call something so bad its good? Susan Sontag answers the question in her essay Notes on Camp. Sontag explores how things can be campy because the content or purpose of the piece doesn’t live up to its original intent. Pure camp (camp not designed to be camp) is something that was meant to be taken seriously but which naively falls far short of its goal.[1] Camp objects are also often old or out of date because a level of detachment can form to make the object more enjoyable to the viewer.[2] An example of pure camp that is also out of date is the car insurance commercial Eagle Man (RDR Productions, USA, 1993).

Eagle Man is a low budget television commercial that features a man in a bald eagle costume laying an egg that hatches into an eagle chick holding an automobile policy. This commercial is pure camp because its purpose was not to get a laugh but to sell insurance. The Eagle Man wears an uncomfortable looking eagle costume, speaks in a strange voice, and unexpectedly lays an egg – something no male eagle has ever done in the wild or anywhere else.

The commercial first aired in 1993, which also gives it an out of date feeling. It’s easier to laugh at the out of style hair and dated dresses the women of Eagle Man wear than what we consider fashionable today. There is a detachment and distance between the present and the 1993 world of Eagle Man that makes it poignantly naive.

Eagle Man is campy due to its commercially counterproductive purpose and its dated aesthetic. The eagle costume and puppet create a bizarre world where eagles sell car insurance, but modern viewers get the best deal because they can laugh at the unintended absurdity of it.

[1] Susan Sontag, “Notes on Camp”, Against Interpretation (New York: Farrar, Straus, Girouz, 1966), p.282.

[2] Ibid, p.285.

One comment

  1. This is absolutely camp, and hilarious. I am assuming that, in 1993, this was actually intended to be funny. I don’t think that the humour we find in it now, with the distance of time (like the clothes and other dated elements you mentioned), is what we were meant to find funny at the time, which, as you said, is the camp quality of it.

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