After using a lot of historical examples of summer camping practices and rituals for my case study paper, I turned to a more modern text on summer camp to help me think about and process my ideas. I recently finished reading Meg Wolitzer’s new novel, The Interestings, which details the lives of a group of New Yorkers who met at a summer camp in the Berkshires. I think the way Wolitzer portrays summer camp, which is a very central aspect of her plot, ultimately does a lot to support Raymond William’s theory relating to alternative and oppositional cultures.
After examining Althusser, I turned to Williams for what I thought might be, perhaps a more positive theoretical interpretation of American summer camping. Williams, through his notion of alternative and oppositional cultures, might argue that summer camp is indeed a means of interpellating youth, but that this interpellation does not necessarily have to be an expression of dominance. Williams is of the belief that, “we have to recognize the alternative meanings and values, the alternative opinions and attitudes, even some alternative senses of the world, which can be accommodated and tolerated within a particular effective and dominant culture.”
If camp comes to be known as “alternative”, according to Williams’ definition of the term, then American summer camp could be considered an entity that is truly unique from the dominant culture. Smith would agree that summer camping can be considered an alternative culture, as he states that, “most [summer camp leaders] were not…anti-modern, they were (and are) rather, counter-modern, exalting something more ‘natural’ and more ‘real’ as a means to being modern in a different way.” Often, camps provide a sanctuary, of sorts, for children to escape from the frustrations and challenges of everyday life. The idea that camp is intentionally different from society, but is not necessarily “anti-society”, fits nicely into Williams’ vision of an alternative culture.
Certainly, in The Interestings, Wolitzer’s characters are experiencing an alternative culture of sorts, in that their camp never changes each summer that they return to it. The author describes the conflict, envy, and frustration apparent between the characters when they return home to New York city each school year. Yet at camp, all of these tensions disappear completely and the characters are able live as though the “real world” doesn’t exist at all. I am unsure if i will use The Interestings in my paper, but it did help me rethink about summer camp as a cultural practice, and one that is clearly still very relevant today.