The Inauguration: An Orgy of Kitsch
January 23, 2009, 12:47 AM
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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, Dennis 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 Luke Fildes's The Doctor (1891, Tate 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 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?