In movies, what’s the one genre you can’t get enough of? Some people binge romantic comedies or whodunits or action films. For me, it’s camp movies (or even TV shows; I think I was the one person who watched 2013’s “Camp” on NBC as appointment television). It’s sort of embarrassing to admit—I would prefer to be the kind of person who just can’t get enough of Fellini films—considering how relentlessly predictable all camp movies are, kicking down the same dirt paths worn by their predecessors. Meatballs, Camp Nowhere, Heavyweights, Troop Beverly Hills, even my favorite But I’m A Cheerleader—they all share the same elements. A redemption story, a shocking triumph against all odds, a merry band of outsiders who find themselves united under a common purpose and learn to make their own place in the world. I can’t get enough.
Part of what makes camps intriguing is they are a liminal space, away from the strictures of normal society, which makes them powerful engines for change. Unless you do it totally wrong, you do not return from camp the same person you were when you left. They’re coming-of-age stories, no matter your age. This is what makes the camp setting a natural fit for stories of learning to be oneself—discovering how funny or strong or kind you can be without all the BS of everyday life cluttering up your essential self. Thursday night, we watched the Mariners put on a perfect camp story. Let us count the ways:
- Lovable band of misfits:
Heavyweights is about a camp of overweight boys (and curiously, no fat girls at all). Camp Nowhere is about a group of authority-flouting, disaffected yet genial teens who seem to have disappeared as a species in the 1990s. The Meatballs campers are basically the Bad News Bears to the straight-teeth straight-hair athletically gifted kids at Camp Mohawk across the lake (there’s always a camp across the lake). The Mariners have Robinson Canó, who is Paul Rudd in Wet Hot American Summer, and then a lot of other guys who needed to pack a separate bag for their headgear. There’s Adam Lind, who is currently doing his best Stanley Yelnats impression. There's a bunch of nameless extras filling out the extra cots (when did you get here, Cody Martin?) And oh, there’s Norichika Aoki, who has previously been Charlie Brown but last night decided to be Football:
- Speaking of the camp across the lake, next we have The Rivals:
So, San Diego isn’t exactly Camp MVP or Camp Mohawk or slimy waiter Robbie Gould from Dirty Dancing. But they are our hated, natural rivals. Actually, after Thursday night, the Mariners fans might be the kids from Camp Mohawk. Let that sink in for a sec.
- No solitary star:
In 2003’s Camp, a young Anna Kendrick is tenth-billed. among a host of other actors who haven’t done much since. Wet Hot American Summer features more names than can be crowded onto the poster. Camp movies are often made on a tiny budget (see WHAS, Dirty Dancing), using actors who haven’t yet established a name for themselves, like Bill Murray in Meatballs. But more than a budgetary concern, assembling a star-studded cast offends the egalitarian nature of the camp movie. Sure, last night, Robinson Canó and Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager all came up huge. But so did the rest of the lineup. There was no real star last night because everyone had a chance to be the star. Even you, headgear kid.
(Clearly I am joking I know Kyle is not headgear kid I couldn't find a still of Stefen Romero or someone wearing the galaxy cat shirt don't @ me)
- A Dark Night of the Soul:
There's always at least one rainy day in a camp movie that usually coincides with the plot's nadir. Everyone is out of clean socks and sick of bug juice and ready for the whole thing to just be over, already. The Mariners were on their way to having two rainy days in a row at the end of the sixth inning. Wade Miley and Mike Montgomery (*insert anguished wailing sound*) had combined to give up twelve runs. Things were about as dark as they could be. But then the rain let up and Kyle Seager had covered the firewood with a tarp so it stayed dry and we can still have the cookout, you guys! And then Dae-Ho's family mailed him a big box of chocolate bars so we can have s'mores and your camp crush is coming over to sit next to you EVERYTHING IS HAPPENING IT'S ALL HAPPENING!
- A Herculean effort made by a group, leading to a thrilling comeback:
In Troop Beverly Hills, Shelly Long leads a fever-dream performance of a fantastically 80s song called “Cookie Time” to secure enough cookie sales so her troop can get to the Wilderness Girls Jamboree. In Heavyweights, the kids mutiny on a grueling hike against the health maniac (a be-wigged, be-muscled Ben Stiller) who has taken over their camp, and lock him in a jury-rigged electrified cage. These comebacks are always just plausible enough to be passable if one’s suspension of disbelief is made of sturdy enough cables. What the Mariners did Thursday night wasn’t plausible. It took our suspension of disbelief and burned it end to end before scattering the ashes all over Petco Park. It was every bit as glorious as every montage with swelling music and tender first kisses and slo-mo crossing of finish lines, and even more so, because it was real, and because it was ours.
- An Unlikely Hero/A New Identity:
Whether it's Baby emerging from the corner forever in Dirty Dancing or Ernest saving the camp in Ernest Goes to Camp, Camp movies are full of the unlikely heroics we saw from the non-starpower part of the Mariners' order during the seventh inning. Chris Iannetta, Stefen Romero and Shawn O'Malley all played like they had just watched Bill Murray shrieking "IT JUST DOESN'T MATTER" in the dugout. Even Cody Martin, making his first start with the big club after being called up from AAA that day, played a part. No one emerges from this experience unchanged. Even we, as witness to this, are changed. I’m not sure how “camp” and “campy”—described by Susan Sontag in her seminal essay Notes on Camp as “travesty, impersonation, theatricality”—became intertwined. Camp is about nature, about uncovering one’s true self and living more authentically. Maybe it’s that element of theatricality, of lifting above oneself, that’s the key to camp—you go way up, way over the top of the mountain, and somehow come back to yourself, what you were supposed to be all along. The Mariners made history Thursday night, but they also redefined what a win is, or can be, and in the process of doing so, changed their identity as a team in a way we will watch play out over the next several months. I can't get enough.