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"Scary" and "Zany" Summer Camp Movies of the 1980s and 1990s

In 2011, the American Camp Association published the article, Summer Camps in Popular Culture, which paints a clear picture of the direct connections between summer camps and the media released through the decades. Jon Malinowski, Ph.D., the author, captures this particular era of the late 1970s through the 1990s into two main categories of media, the “scary camp movie” and the “zany camp movie.” Under the category of the “scary camp movie,” Malinowski writes:

“If movies are any indication, summer camps are among the scariest and most unsafe places in America.” And the “zany camp movie” is not any better; “sadly, many of the camp comedies that have followed [Meatballs, 1979] barely even acknowledge a functioning camp or show any care toward the campers.”

We are asked the question “So, should we care?” This article describes that while these films and tv shows are entertaining, they do have and continue to have a direct impact on the perceptions of summer camp, particularly during their initial releases in the 1980s and 1990s. The article concludes with the following call to action:


“Although fun, the movies of the past three decades tend to trivialize the century-old mission of ACA and the foundations of the summer camp movement. Can we stop them? No, but we must ensure that campers and new staff realize that camp is something quite different, and hopefully better, than what they see in movies or television. When we have positive stories of camping, we must make every effort to publicize them with the hope that our message reaches as many people as possible.”


To read the full article, click here

While there is a lot of media that gives a dramatized or eccentric version of the summer camp as seen above, there are also films and documentaries that paint a more accurate picture. For example, Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution tells the story of campers in the 1970s at Camp Jened during the Disability Rights Movement.
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