January 22, 2009

The Inauguration: An Orgy of Kitsch

As Dennis Dale noted even before the Inaugural Kitschfest, Milan Kundera pointed out that:
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! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch.

In his fine new book The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution, Denis Dutton expands upon Kundera's insight:
The first tear is what we shed in the presence of a tragic, pitiful, or perhaps beautiful event. The second tear is shed in recognition of our own sensitive nature, our remarkable ability to feel such pity, to understand such pathos or beauty. A love of kitsch is therefore essentially self-congratulatory. In a withering critique of Sir Luk Fildes's The Doctor (1891, Tage Gallery), Clive Bell says that this famous portrayal of a thoughtful physician with a sick child creates what he calls a "false" emotion. What the painting gives us "is not pity and admiration but a sense of complacency in our own pitifulness and generosity."

The kitsch object openly declares itself to be "beautiful," "profound," "moving," or "important." But it does not bother trying to embody these qualities, because it is actually about its audience, or its owner. The ultimate reference point for kitsch is always me: my needs, my tastes, my deep feelings, my worthy interests, my admirable morality. ...

Kitsch shows you nothing genuinely new, changes nothing in your bright shining soul; to the contrary, it congratulates you for being exactly the refined person you already are.

Sound familiar?

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think that the aversion to any hint of self-congratulation or to sentimentalism generally is a specifically northern European trait. I can't recall ever noticing it in any other people. I can't imagine a Chinese P.G. Wodehouse or an Indian Evelyn Waugh, for example. I can't even imagine that kind of anti-sentimentalist attitude from Spaniards or southern Italians. I suspect that the definition of kitsch that's implied in this post is, like a lot of other things to do with culture, genetic at its root.

A possible way how this could have come about:

I'm told that in pre-historic and early historic times Europeans tended to live on isolated homesteads, as opposed to villages. Northern European climate simply couldn't feed as many people per square mile as the Mediterranean. Julius Caesar wrote in "De Bello Gallico" that the typical German of his time felt cramped in if he was able to see the smoke of his closest neighbor's chimney from his house. Modern archeology has lent support to this assertion. Caesar also wrote that the only time a German ever saw a lot of people together was during military campaigns.

There's no need to develop skills for fooling others with phony emotions if you hardly ever see anyone outside of your nuclear family anyway.

Jim Bowery said...

My favorite idiom for this disgusting phenomenon is "moral vanity" used by Prof. Andrew Frasier in this interview.

Colin Laney said...

The kitsch object openly declares itself to be "beautiful," "profound," "moving," or "important." But it does not bother trying to these qualities, because it is actually about its audience, or its owner. The ultimate reference point for kitsch is always me: my needs, my tastes, my deep feelings, my worthy interests, my admirable morality. ...

What a terrible thing to say about Picasso's Guernica, Steve.

Jeff Burton said...

And I thought kitch was related to Hummels. I love the internet.

Mark said...

One response I loved was that of John Derbyshire (son of a repo man) to the black poetess and representative of the underclass Elizabeth Alexander, daughter of a Secretary of the Army.

The other two I loved were by Yuval Levin and Jonah Goldberg in regards to Garrison Keillor's claim that Obama is "our first author-president." Keillor is too smart to not know about these earlier author-presidents, so that leaves only the options that he is either lying his ass off or completely unhinged - not atypical of the left these days. If rationality was ever a trait of the left it has gone out the window and been replaced by simple madness.

Talking to many of my leftist friends these days (the educated ones) I realize that any pretense of applying the same rules and moral expectations to Democrats as to Republicans has gone out the window. They just pull new rules out their ass to suit the circumstances.

Lucius Vorenus said...

Mark: ...Talking to many of my leftist friends these days (the educated ones) I realize that any pretense of applying the same rules and moral expectations to Democrats as to Republicans has gone out the window. They just pull new rules out their ass to suit the circumstances...

But that's been the difference between the Left and the Right in this country for at least a century - going back at least as far as William Jennings Bryan, and his attack on sound money & his desire to replace it with funny money. [Another singularly hideous strain of tyrannical thought - a strain which continues to infect us to this very day - was being imported into the country at about the same time, but I don't know if it had yet been formally integrated into the DEM party power structure of that era. And I also don't know how powerful the Papist vote was at that point.]

The GOP has been the party of "The Rule of Law" for well over a century now, while the DEMs have been the party of "The Rule of [Violently] Chaotic Tyranny" during the same time frame.

In fairness, though, if you go back another fifty years, to the middle of the 18th Century, and the birth of the Republican party, then, oddly enough, the roles are reversed: The DEMs are the party of the Rule of Law, and the GOP is the party of anti-constitutionalist fuzzy-headed utopian nonsense.

Go figure.

.

Anonymous said...

Between kitsch and GWB, I'll take the kitsch.

Anonymous said...

If you want to see kitsch watch an old Repubican Rally with Lee Greenwood.

Anyway, for a guy who wrote about Norman Rockwell being the most influential artist in the 20th century it's surprising to hear you have a problem with kitsch.

Andrea said...

Brave Anonymous said:

"Between kitsch and GWB, I'll take the kitsch."

Yes, we know.

David said...

Kitsch is also a substitute for real feeling. Kitsch is phony.

Everything about Obama is phony - his claim to be born in America, his Harvard Law editorship (no article), his receiving a five-figure advance to write his memoirs before middle age, his standing for "change" (without content), his claim that he wants to "transcend race. Additional examples may be adduced.

If you have a phony president and have an "Emperor's New Clothes" population, his garments are not the point. Instead, the point is to praise the non-existent garments (loudly!) and thus prove ourselves full of "hope" and "change" and democracy and goodness 'n' stuff.

Obama is the blank slate. On him we see our reflected image - our beautiful narcissistic face - before we go down into oblivion like the original Narcissus did.

Of course, Obama could be out of there in 4 and we'll move on to a better prez. Keep hope alive.

headache said...

Obama was congratulating himself from the outset. Before he had done anything. But its nothing new to anybody familiar with Africa. Mugabe and Mandela have acted the same way. Also the same bombastic way of talking. The sense of entitlement. Many whites are deceived by this posturing and think it signals self-security. But in African culture the strongman cannot signal weakness. And the posturing is meant to intimidate and discourage his rivals.

I purposely have no TV. But in the gym I was forced to listen to radio news on the hour:

Pres. Obama bla bla Guantanamo
Pres. Obama bla bla Iraq
Pres. Obama bla bla Afghanistan
Pres. Obama bla bla hope
Pres. Obama bla bla [..fill in the blank..]

Afterwards they interviewed Obamanoids. If anything, this Obamania has been a giant coming-out of the idiots.

Anonymous said...

A good place to mention this abomination.

Ronduck said...

David said...

Of course, Obama could be out of there in 4 and we'll move on to a better prez. Keep hope alive.

I certainly hope we'll have a new president in 4 years, but I have a lot of doubts. Until we get a better man in office I will still cling bitterly to God and guns. I'll also keep hoarding ammo too, just in case.

Andrea said...

"If you want to see kitsch watch an old Repubican Rally with Lee Greenwood."

"...Normal Rockwell..."

Actually, the two examples you cited are not kitsch. Believe it or not, people really do like country music and slightly caricatured realistic painting (or what is called disparagingly, "illustration"). They don't think themselves better people for it. Well, there's been a small movement of pretentious college-educated twits to admitting they "like" country music, or at least a small selection of "quirky" country stars like Lyle Lovett, and once Bono admitted his love for Johnny Cash (which I am sure is genuine) it became cool for everyone to love him. Also he wore black all the time like pretentious upper-class New York intellectuals.

But otherwise most country music fans who also like Normal Rockwell paintings and also those velvet pictures of deer and Elvis and hang American flags on their 1970s paneling and drive trucks really like that sort of stuff. Country music and Norman Rockwell and such things are corny, not kitschy -- unless they are in a carefully arranged display in the New York City penthouse of an upper-class pretentious pseudo-intellectual twit.

Epicurean said...

Kitsch = mediocrity.

The dumbed-down culture of mediocrity, firmly lodged in mainstream America since 1945 (or so), is the enemy of classical elegance, or just about any form of excellence.

Epicurean said...

I'm told that in pre-historic and early historic times Europeans tended to live on isolated homesteads, as opposed to villages. Northern European climate simply couldn't feed as many people per square mile as the Mediterranean.

That is also a possible explanation for the "autistic" individualism of Northern Europeans vs. Southern Europeans (and to an extent, Japanese and Koreans vs. Chinese and Indians).

The dominance of Europe over Asia was largely a result of wheat farming (land and capital intensive) vs. rice farming (labour-intensive).

There's no need to develop skills for fooling others with phony emotions if you hardly ever see anyone outside of your nuclear family anyway.

The nuclear family itself, with monogamy and effective gender equality, may itself have been a byproduct of European "autism". It is certainly older than the Industrial Revolution. The alternative is the "Big Man" tribalism of the Africa to Central Asia zone.

Anonymous said...

I watched some hokey stuff at the inaugration, after the fact and on tv. I still don't see it being more kitsch than your average patriotic political rally. Just had more fervor. For obvious reasons. In any case, if bad taste is the worst crime committed in the next 4-8 years we are in for some substantially better days.

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

A good place to mention this abomination."

Thanks for the link, sickening though it was. Funny, how patriotism only becomes important to liberals when a Democrat is in the whitehouse - otherwise they just talk about f**king off to Canada.