I have to keep in mind musaafer’s post when it comes to certain friends whose rhetoric jars against their political identities. The most recent example surrounds a discussion of kitsch, or those objects and trinkets considered to be cheap, tasteless reproductions of otherwise superior works of art. Apparently, kitsch is beginning to be reappropriated by young, hip crowds in an “ironic” way, with the central premise to this reclamation being, first, an acknowledgment of its inferior artistic and cultural value and, second, an acceptance of this idea as an empty signifier of separation and distance from an obfuscated “status quo” (not unlike, say, the hip consumption of PBR).
What strikes me is how kitsch has been really undertheorized (there’s been some treatment within the Frankfurt School, but very poor and sloppy), and I don’t know if many people outside of those in certain fields like material studies have really spent much time on it. Aside from its textual treatment in postmodern studies, as part of the “problem” of modernity and mass consumption (which entirely misses the point), and the criticality of consumer choices in a post-high cultural era (which smacks of liberal “consumer activist” politics), there hasn’t been much critical analysis of kitsch.
I’d argue that kitsch is an explicit cultural artifact of the working class, the purpose of which was, as I think Bordieu said, “obtaining maximum effect at minimum cost.” There’s this common misunderstanding of kitsch as cheap “forgeries” or reproductions of “originals.” Aside from completely dismissing all other commodified reproductions of art (read Walter Benjamin), the purpose of kitsch was never to be taken for an original, as a forgery might, or to exploit an elitist taste for rarity. Kitsch actually insists on an antielitist availability, and attempts to supply its consumers (primarily the poor and working class) with essentially the same kinds and qualities of beauty as those embodied in the type of artistic and cultural artifacts that have always been reserved for the bourgeoisie (historically, in terms of the development of modern kitsch, this means the Victorian aristocracy).
I think that to understand why kitsch is consistently presented in some dramatic antipodal relationship—presence/absence, high/low, real/mimetic—western epistemologies have to be interrogated using political-economic analysis, an analysis that will illuminate the persistence of kitsch from pre-modern societies that have never had bourgeois revolution or a consolidated capitalist class that disseminates and popularizes “high culture” art (say, the cultural kitsch of Neohellenic Greece) to post-modern societies that seem to struggle with the demarcation between reproductions, in general, and kitsch, in particular.
This is what strikes me as particularly interesting when it comes to kitsch: by rehashing ideas and images of the Other (whether the bourgeoisie or the “authentic past” that a particular culture might attach itself to), we hope to become them. Reclaiming kitsch as something “counter” or subversive isn’t radical or revolutionary, it’s reductive. And treating kitsch as the tasteless junk of unsophisticated cultural consumers is some elitist, classist bullshit that betrays a real lack of understanding of the purpose and presence of kitsch as an attempt to embody the sort of cultural capital that has been denied to so many.