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.