From The American Prospect (of all places):
“Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass. The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! The second tear makes kitsch kitsch.”
Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
I think Kundera has it right. It’s not the naked content of the image or book or painting that makes it kitsch, it’s the sense that whoever created it is striving toward a particular effect, or trying to force the viewer’s reaction into some kind of reactive channel (usually, inoffensive wholesomeness).
Two conclusions follow: not all sentimentality is kitsch, and some things that are kitsch can nevertheless be appreciated for their non-kitschy qualities. The Cavalia show, for instance. Perhaps even Andre Rieu.* Of course, in order to extract the non-kitschy ‘genuine’ pleasure from these kitschy experiences, you’ll need to make sure everyone knows you are doing so. The dilemma is further explored here.
* Warning: both websites play music. Which, itself, is a sure sign of Netkitsch.