Friday, August 18, 2006

Is Kitsch Cool?

When I was in grad school there was this woman, Lois, who wore 50s house wife dresses with her vintage shoes, horn rims, and red or (better!) orange lipstick. See, it was kitsch because she was an intellectual in sheep's clothing. But really, she just looked stupid.

When I was in high school, I was a bit of a punk. I wore my father's military jacket (with some slogan against capitalism written on it), Doc Martin's, and a safety pin through my ear, and every once in a while I'd drive down to Boston to see Black Flag. But even then, I'd think to myself, "if the point is to undermine society by expressing our individuality, why the fuck do we all dress the same?" It was okay for me to say it, because I was an insider, but when my parents would point out that we were joining the revolution by donning a uniform, well what could we expect really? It was just their way of reinforcing hegemony.

It's not like I can't see the underside of kitsch. It's not like I don't analyze revolution.

I've been thinking about this since I read Anneli Rufus's article It's Yarn Out Here for a Pimp. She reviews the passel of hip craft books that have hit the shelves recently.

First she points out that the movement has a little Lois going on:

Subversive. Revolution. Viva. Most of these authors feel compelled to keep reminding you that crafting isn't dorky anymore — well, yes it is in flyover country. But not here, where hipsters with braided-yarn headbands know that felt Christmas ornaments and homemade snow-globes and bleach-bottle piggy banks and disco balls are ironic. When Auntie decoupages, we want to die. When we crochet, it's kitsch.

I am perfectly willing to don the mantle of dork that goes along with being a cross-stitcher. I tell people I do it, knowing they'll think a little less of me. But you'd better step outside if you want to call me that, bitch.

Then she goes all parental on us:
In principle, a rickrack revolution is really cool. Save cash. Create. But what's weird and kind of sad is how the same handful of themes pop up in book after book. Tikis. Zen. Space, not as in the Mars Rover but as in Plan 9 from Outer Space. Cowboys. India, à la Cube Chic's "visual mosaic of paisley and pop" and Pimp My Cubicle's "Taj Mahacubicle," sporting "broomsticks with white painted basketballs as minarets at each corner." Disco. Pirates. And pimping. ... What marketing director died and made these the themes? Why not, for a real insurrection, a James K. Polk-themed kitchenette or a workspace encrusted in faux rock salt? Hunkering down on hands and knees, Astroturfing your fridge for the jungle look, or stenciling planets onto chairs, you have to ask yourself one question: Is this fun or just cynicism with scissors, poking fun at places and passions alien to me and long lost anyway; spinning snark about what once might have been sincerity; painting and pinning but it's still prefab because some writer told me that tikis are hilarious, that the hustle and bump I never danced are all that passes for iconic in a globalized, homogenized today? You just have to ask yourself. Because you could collage your closet door with pictures of bagpipes or prawns or Charlemagne. You really could.
I just wonder, who's poking fun at places and passions alien to me? Who's the snark now?

1 comment:

Leah said...

Without a hint of irony, I genuinely like some things that are considered kitschy. I guess that means I'm not cool. ;)

Do people really think less of you because you're into needlework? Learning that someone makes finely-crafted things automatically elevates my opinion of him or her.