Kaiser Wilhelm II: Camp or Eccentric?

The case for Eccentric: 
Eccentricity is often associated with genius, intellectual giftedness, or creativity. The individual's eccentric behaviour is perceived to be the outward expression of their unique intelligence or creative impulse. In this vein, the eccentric's habits are incomprehensible not because they are illogical or the result of madness, but because they stem from a mind so original that it cannot be conformed to societal norms. English Utilitarian thinker John Stuart Mill wrote that ‘the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigour, and moral courage which it contained’, and mourned a lack of eccentricity as ‘the chief danger of the time’. Edith Sitwell wrote that eccentricity is ‘often a kind of innocent pride’, also saying that geniuses and aristocrats are called eccentrics because ‘they are entirely unafraid of and uninfluenced by the opinions and vagaries of the crowd.’ Eccentricity is also believed to be associated with great wealth. What would be considered to be signs of insanity in a poor person is generally accepted as eccentricity in these people.

How does the Kaiser fare against this assessment?

  • Genius: No
  • Intellectually gifted: Not Really.
  • Creative: When it came to playing with toy Dreadnoughts yes.
  • Original: Not really, maybe a little in dress sense: all his contemporaries wore army dress uniforms but not all with a Brown Bear as an off-the-shoulder cape.
  • Wealthy: Most Definitely.
  • Result: 2/5, NOT ECCENTRIC.

The Case for Camp:

Camp is defined as an aesthetic sensibility wherein something is appealing because of its bad taste and ironic value. The concept is closely related to kitsch, and things with camp appeal are described as being ‘campy’ or ‘cheesy’. When the usage appeared, in 1909, it denoted: ostentatious, exaggerated, affected, theatrical, and effeminate behaviour, and, by the middle of the 1970s, the rise of post-modernism made 'camp' a common perspective on aesthetics, the definition comprised: banality, artifice, mediocrity, and ostentation so extreme as to have perversely sophisticated appeal. Camp derives from the French slang term se camper, meaning ‘to pose in an exaggerated fashion’. The Oxford English Dictionary gives 1909 as the first print citation of camp as ‘ostentatious, exaggerated, affected, theatrical; effeminate or homosexual’. 

So how does the Kaiser fare against this assessment?

  • Perversely sophisticated: Oh Yes!
  • Ironic: Most definitely.
  • Poses in an exaggerated fashion: Need I say more.
  • Bad taste: He could be.
  • Ostentatious: Invented leather shorts.
  • Result 5/5: Most Definitely Camp: in the post-modern sense of the word as well!
Therefore our conclusion must be that Kaiser Wilhelm was indeed a camp Post-Modern European Monarch who reigned even before there was any ‘modernism’ to be ‘post’ about, a man way ahead of his time.