Blech! Kitsch.

There was a great article posted on Print Magazine's IMPRINT blog yesterday about the toxicity of nostalgia in design. I couldn't agree more with what it represents and the warning that it should signal to designers everywhere. I discovered this quote in an article about Leni Riefenstahl's voyage to America in 1938 to find distributors in America for her film Olympia.

In 1939 Clement Greenberg, the American theorist of high modernism, defined kitsch as an antithesis, a "rear-guard" of the avant-garde. (Wood/Harrison, 529) In the grim ‘30s, the avant-garde fades, exiled, in hiding – in the "Totalitarian World", or stamped out by the dumb violence of economic facts – in the "Democratic World". It is occluded by its antithesis. For Greenberg, kitsch was both American commercial culture and the totalitarian art of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Kitsch, the culture of the industrialized masses, explains Greenberg, exploits tradition. Kitsch is that which is recognizable. Kitsch is heightened reality that is made dramatic. (Wood/Harrison, 537) Kitsch bears traces of yesterday’s avant-garde, diluted. (Wood/Harrison, 534) In the Soviet Union this kitsch is represented by Socialist Realism, an idealized naturalism. In nazi Germany it is monumentalist art, again illusionistic and illusory. In America its quintessence is surely high-style Disney. 
We're suffering the same "dumb violence of economic facts" in this perpetuation of the 20th Century war-mindset. The century of the self continues to haunt us. Even in the virtual worlds we have created we find nostalgic monuments to memory "divorced from the experiences that generated them"(Angela Riechers). We must have the courage to lose the 20th Century in designing for today. Take the opportunity to create new models for the present, create online experiences which are not just platforms for consuming kitsch but in fact work to reduce or eradicate consumptive behavior. The internet is a global co-op. The internet can be used as a tool for global-local relations. The internet can be used as a way around corporations which because of their greed can only sell us our own oppression in a sameness that alienates and suppresses human potential.
Diverge. Design new functions. Design for new functions. Design for gestures.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the link; kitsch is a most/least favorite topic.

    Kundera: "Kitsch is the aesthetic ideal of all politicians and all political parties and movements…Whenever a single political movement corners power, we find ourselves in the realm of totalitarian kitsch. When I say 'totalitarian,' what I mean is that everything that infringes on kitsch must be banished for life…In the realm of totalitarian kitsch, all answers are given in advance and preclude any questions. It follows, then, that the true opponent of totalitarian kitsch is the person who asks questions. A question is like a knife that slices through the stage backdrop and gives us a look at what lies hidden behind it."

    Also, if you haven't read Calinescu's "Five Faces of Modernity," the sub-section "Bad Taste, Ideology, and Hedonism" of the chapter on kitsch is really good...

    aaaand from Dubravka Ugrešić's "The Culture of Lies":
    "In an utterly shattered world there is a cacophonic mixture of fragments of the former and present regimes,tunes which we have already heard, but in a new arrangement, symbols which we have already seen, but in a new design. In the new reality, which has become a phantasmagoric nightmare, the quickest thing to adapt and come to life again in all its irrepressible splendour was kitsch."

    OK i'll stop now.