kitsch

Natalia Cecire, University of Sussex • EBAAS 2018

http://natalia.cecire.org/presentations/
@ncecire

Mr. Trump has maintained that he does not want A-list celebrities at his inauguration. ("I want the PEOPLE!" he tweeted in December.)

Katie Rogers et al., "Who Is Playing at Donald Trump's Inauguration?" The New York Times, 11 January 2017.

bankability: "the degree to which an actor's name alone can raise 100% or majority financing up-front for a film."

www.ulmerscale.com/The Hot List

[Kitsch] predigests art for the spectator and spares him effort, provides him with a short cut to the pleasure of art that detours what is necessarily difficult in genuine art.

Clement Greenberg, "Avant-Garde and Kitsch," 1939.

1. Kitsch is associated with a falsity and false consciousness that makes it the ideal aesthetic of authoritarianism.

Kitsch as industrial and (therefore) fake:

Kitsch is mechanical and operates by formulas. Kitsch is vicarious experience and faked sensations. Kitsch changes according to style, but remains always the same.

Clement Greenberg, "Avant-Garde and Kitsch," 1939.

Kitsch, using for raw material the debased and academicized simulacra of genuine culture, welcomes and cultivates this insensibility. It is the source of its profits. Kitsch is mechanical and operates by formulas. Kitsch is vicarious experience and faked sensations. Kitsch changes according to style, but remains always the same.

Clement Greenberg, "Avant-Garde and Kitsch," 1939.

If kitsch is the official tendency of culture in Germany, Italy and Russia, it is not because their respective governments are controlled by philistines, but because kitsch is the culture of the masses in these countries, as it is everywhere else. The encouragement of kitsch is merely another of the inexpensive ways in which totalitarian regimes seek to ingratiate themselves with their subjects. Since these regimes cannot raise the cultural level of the masses—even if they wanted to—by anything short of a surrender to international socialism, they will flatter the masses by bringing all culture down to their level. It is for this reason that the avant-garde is outlawed.

Clement Greenberg, "Avant-Garde and Kitsch," 1939.

Fascism attempts to organize the newly proletarianized masses while leaving intact the property relations which they strive to abolish. It sees its salvation in granting expression to the masses—but on no account granting them rights. The masses have a right to changed property relations; fascism seeks to give them expression in keeping these relations unchanged. The logical outcome of fascism is an aestheticization of political life.

Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility," 1936.

2. Our strongest theories of kitsch were developed in the first half of the twentieth century by way of critiques of industrial capitalism.

The boundaries between high art and mass culture have become increasingly blurred, and we should begin to see that process as one of opportunity rather than lamenting loss of quality and failure of nerve. There are many successful attempts by artists to incorporate mass cultural forms into their work, and certain segments of mass culture have increasingly adopted strategies from on high. If anything, that is the postmodern condition in literature and the arts. For quite some time, artists and writers have lived and worked after the Great Divide.

Andreas Huyssen, After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism, 1986.

Cover image from Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas, 1972.

Elites today must recognize that they are very much like the Gilded Age elites of old. Paradoxically the very openness and capaciousness that they so warmly embrace — their omnivorousness — helps define them as culturally different from the rest. And they deploy that cultural difference to suggest that the inequality and immobility in our society is deserved rather than inherited.

Shamus Khan, "The New Elitists," 2012.

3. As industrial capitalism has given way to postindustrialism and the rise of cynical reason, so too has the power of kitsch as an idea been absorbed into a new age of omnivorous taste.

Left: still from opening sequence of the parody show The Colbert Report.
Right: Lee Greenwood's 1984 single "God Bless the U.S.A."
Nationalist kitsch can be parodied because it is recognizable.

Mannheim Steamroller, an "eighteenth-century classical rock" group heavily promoted by right-wing radio personality Rush Limbaugh, especially their Christmas albums.

kitsch