It’s difficult if not impossible to divorce visual culture from material culture – both depend on each other to produce meaning: the object used in film can help convey an idea and the use of the object in film can help asseverate our idea about that object while widely spreading that message to others. In one sense, using objects in film (or in photography, art, or set making) helps create a common culture to which we can all relate (a super specific example would be Balbier’s “East German Material Culture and the Power of Memory“). With this common culture in place and the understanding of what these objects represent, we can then draw on them referentially to convey our own ideas. Objects become a common referent upon which we can all draw though it should be noted, are only accessible to cultural insiders or those indoctrinated to this shared culture (cue discourse on Saussure’s concept of the signifier and signified).
One quintessential American experience is summer camp which, if not enjoyed personally, has been experienced vicariously through television shows and movies that have taken place at camp. In any portrayal of these camps, the color schemes and materials employed in the built environment are almost always the same just like in the visual culture that the camps propagate (from real and fictionalized Native American art to the rustic lettering oftentimes made of twigs that look like ornamentation found on Adirondack furniture).
Two books come to mind in thinking about how this came to be: “A Manufactured Wilderness: Summer Camps and the Shaping of American Youth, 1890–1960 (Architecture, Landscape and Amer Culture) ” and “Playing Indian.”
While the books won’t be discussed here, I think they provide some great insight in addressing many questions that come to mind, mostly about the way artistic direction informs (or warps) our reality, especially in its perpetuation of an idea through film, art, plays, etc. Are summer camps built with this common vernacular to address this Disneyland-esque anticipation about what a summer camp should be? One would think so, making it no different than any art or architecture movement (cultural politics aside) in the sense that summer camp is both a place and a descriptor for a certain type of aesthetic that involves art and architecture. Further, what separates this incredibly distinct style from kitsch? Or is it kitsch?
Salute Your Shorts, 1991-1992
Moonrise Kingdom, 2012
The Parent Trap, 1998