Kitsch Delimited

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.

3 thoughts on “Kitsch Delimited

  1. > 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…

    Which would put Socialist realism, pornography, or Picasso’s Guernica into that bracket, too (no offense to Picasso meant). Not all wrong, but not quite to the point.

    > …(usually, inoffensive wholesomeness)

    This qualifier is needed, but not sufficient. The spectator’s affectation makes art kitschy, the ostentatious display–or inward simulation–of feelings for one’s shallowness’ benefit. The kitschy artist is catering to that need, either intentionally, as it might sell well (a pimp of sorts), else for being like minded or plainly incapable of genuine expression.

    The Onion’s Mr. Farmer is a different case: it shows that artsy haughtiness can both be cured and rewarded, a win-win scenario’s rare variant, reminding vaguely of blogland’s pleasures – writing, reading, and commenting. Thank God for the occasional true and heartfelt hidden–or not so hidden–agenda, hideous as it might be. Self congratulatory? Yes, thank you.

  2. No, André Rieu is kitschy as Kitsch can get. The problem with this kind of Kitsch is that even if there were genuine other qualities, you would not be able to find them under the layer of kitsch.
    And how about Kitsch where it is hard to figure out the intended reactive channel (i.e. the typical airbrush collage of stars, dolphins and women)? IMHO Kitsch is not so much defined by the intention but rather by being “too much”.

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