George Burrows (University of Portsmouth, UK)
This paper examines how the online videos of Randy Rainbow harness camp parodies of musical theatre and pop songs to satirize Donald Trump and the rhetoric, people and events in his orbit. Rainbow’s background in theatre and video-making are explored to contextualise his song parodies, which emerged during the 2016 presidential campaign. Through an exploration of such delights as, ‘You’re Making Things Up Again Donald’, ‘A Very Stable Genius’ and ‘All About His Base’, Rainbow is shown to mobilize the camp associations of musical theatre and commercial pop-song cultures to present biting satire in the guise of a fun-filled lampooning of Trump and his administration. The idea of camp satire as a powerful rhetorical weapon is developed with reference to a 2018 volume responding to the 55th anniversary of Susan Sontag’s ‘Notes on Camp’, including Bruce E. Drushel’s consideration of ‘vicious camp’, Carl Schottmiller’s critique of RuPaul’s Drag Race and Chris Philpot’s essay on ‘Diva Worship as a Queer Poetics of Waste’. Aside from his camp politics, Rainbow takes his place in a long line of musical-theatrical satirists, extending from Gilbert and Sullivan to ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic and beyond, but an important difference of Rainbow’s work is in his medium – the online video. Rainbow’s use of extant news footage within the context of obviously campy and contrived adaptations of familiar songs begs questions about ‘fake news’ and puts the media, and especially the social media, to work in camping up and challenging Trump’s rhetoric, posts and actions. Rainbow might turn Trump’s weapons back on the president but could the power of Rainbow’s online camp parodies weaken Trump’s sway and ultimately help to topple his presidency?