The Evils Of Kitsch

by Dish Staff

Roger Kimball argues that there’s a moral component to the kind of bad taste we call “kitsch”:

[T]o say that something is kitsch is to utter a judgment that is moral as well as aesthetic. The failure of kitsch is not just an artistic failing. There is an ethical dimension dish_dogart as well. Hermann Broch identifies kitsch as “the element of evil in the value system of art” and notes that “kitsch” describes not only certain works of art but also a certain attitude towards life. … [T]he element of untruthfulness is key. “He who produces kitsch,” Broch writes, “is not someone who produces art of meager value. He is not someone of little or no talent. He is definitely not to be judged according to the standard of aesthetics but is ethically depraved; he is a criminal who wills radical evil.”

That may seem hyperbolic. We’ve certainly come a long way from corny genre scenes, paintings of puppies with big eyes, or pretentious, pseudo-classical hotel lobbies bedizened with colored lights. But Broch understands that kitsch rests on a fundamental refusal of reality, on an effort to counterfeit life, to replace reality with a species of narcissistic fantasy. The puppy with big eyes may seem innocent enough. But when extended to the whole of life and invested with the pathos of untrammeled fantasy, kitsch forms a brew that is toxic as well as infatuating. “Evil” is not too strong a word.

(Image via Flickr user Mark]