On bombs and Kitsch

On Kitsch and Bombs

In 1939, in “The Avant-Garde and the Kitsch,” Greenberg depicts the appearance of the expressionist avant-garde, as the side effect of the popularization of art:

“Kitsch, using for raw material the debased and academicized simulacra of genuine culture.”  It is painted as a decaying of the artistic process brought forth by mass-production. Later on in the text, a second reason is linked to the rise of kitsch: the democratization of literacy. When literacy wasn’t quite as well distributed, only those who could read would participate in the creation of art or culture. Now art needed to please, a whole new audience, especially because it held the most money in its paw.

Kitsch before reading this essay were represented in my head by pink trinkets floating around in a yellow room. In other words, they were not poor taste as much as they were a style I, as an individual, wasn’t attracted by. The new definition of kitsch raises a few questions however. If kitsch is the poor, context-deprived imitation of art, well then we may have to talk about a few more things.

This weekend, I went to watch the new Batman movie, Dark Knight Rises… Two weeks before, I had gone to see The Amazing Spiderman… I stand by these choices, I wanted to go see them. Unfortunately, both were very disappointing, not to say disconcerting. It these two movies, based on comics which used to tell the great feats of incredibly talented beings faced with equally exiting challengers, I found myself waiting for a bomb to go off.

These are not suicidal, cynical comments, they are to be taken literally: both involved a massive bomb ready to wipe-out New York… Bomb-based movies used to be a genre almost, James Bond or Die Hard perhaps, movies you went to watch for some thrilling suspense, the entertainment would lay in the absurdity of the situations, and how cleverly or grotesquely the protagonist would win. Even then, the bomb was secondary. In both Batman, and Spiderman, the heroes were asked to dismantle bombs set by their enemy. Has the bomb become the new, mass-manufactured, idolized, element of kitsch?! Has it?

When I stepped out of the theater, after both movies I wondered if the screenwriters had been forced to dilute their work into the insipid yet dramatically violent soup it had become or if they had done it of their own bidding. My conclusion scared me. I told myself:

“They must’ve had a wonderful script and then producers decided it wasn’t impactful enough, they added a bomb.”

When did the bomb become such a trivial tool of mass-distraction? When did the bomb become kitsch?

The shootings on the opening night in Colorado definitely had and influence on me, every gun shot on the screen had me increasingly frightened, increasingly concerned about what was being fed to me. To take Greenberg’s terms again, if kitsch work is based on the simulacra of genuine culture, when did the bomb become a central element of our contemporary culture? Where did it come from? Can the war really be trivialized in such a way?

Those movies in my eyes, sacrificed the imaginative and intriguing, for free, desperate violence. I see culture as the pursuit, individual or collective, of values, good or bad. The concept of pursuit however demands a sense of analysis. I am the first one to preach that culture is most enjoyable when shared in an entertaining manner, nonetheless, I fear that if placid entertainment is confused with culture and engaging, constructive activities, then passion may become and endangered specie.

Culture feeds on history, it is true, the “War on Terrorism,” has undoubtedly carved itself a place in the American culture. But this malevolent inception of bombs into  what used to be exiting, almost etherial settings (the comics) strips the bomb and the terrorist from its context, from its culture, making them figurines of propaganda and symbols of fear in a foreign environment. Fear in many ways has become kitsch…

I’d like to close with one last question: has innovation at Art Center, after being paraded like a poster child, suffering from the same dilemma, has it become kitsch?

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