Kitsch is a beautiful word I heard first from a German friend who contemptuously dismissed popular American culture with that word. I did not know the meaning of the word at that time but did not know him well enough to ask.
Dictionaries would of course give us the following definition.
kitsch \KITCH\ noun
1 : something that appeals to popular or low brow taste and is often of poor quality
: a tacky or lowbrow quality or condition
Since we borrowed "kitsch" from German in the 1920s, it has been our word for things in the realm of popular culture that dangle, like car mirror dice, precariously close to tackiness.

Over the years the term kitsch has come to be used not only for things relating to fake art but anything that is designed to appeal to popular taste and hence comes prepackaged with an emotional response. Kitsch addresses your heart rather than the head and many times bypasses the head altogether. You can find ready instances of kitsch in our films and advertisements. In fact you can find it in anything that makes us go “awwwwwwww” or “oh,soooo sweet” or reach for that box of tissues while watching the Television. Thanks to the influence of popular American culture, we have store chains (hallmark and archies)and special days (we just had one last month – the red hearts’ day!) that symbolize and celebrate“kitsch.”

Milan Kundera has a whole chapter devoted to Kitsch in his “Unbearable Lightness of being”:
“The feeling induced by kitsch must be the kind the multitudes can share. Kitsch may not, therefore, depend on an unusual situation; it must derive from the basic images people have engraved in their memories :the ungrateful daughter,the neglected father, children running on the grass, the motherland betrayed, first love.”
“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 mankindby children running on the grass!
it is the second that makes kitsch kitsch.”

Courtesy our visual media that thrives on kitsch, the current generations have problem distinguishing kitsch from real feelings. How else can you explain problems in agony aunt columns where young women report issues such as : “I know he loves me but he never shows it. He never buys me flowers or gifts except on my birthday and our anniversary. He expects me to know he cares for me and loves me.” And the wise woman replying “you should have a open discussion with him and tell him how this hurts you” blah…blah…blah…Thanks to the power of advertisements, people grow up mistaking these symbols or external manifestations for the real thing and absence of this causes a lot of heartbreak. I have actually known several relationships break purely because one person did not believe in kitschy display and the other did!

80% of what comes out of bollywood and hollywood makes money on Kitsch.Karan Johar for instance is the king of kitsch and people love his films and lap it up and yong people want to live and love like that. I guess Kitsch is here to stay and if one wants to go with the tide, it is better to embrace it gift wrapped with shiny gold paper and a pink satin ribbon along with a red rose!
14 Responses
  1. Très interessant Ush, (comme d'habitude)! Alors en français, c'est kitsch ou kitch (nom et adjectif).

    Peut-être Kundera a dit qu'il y a deux larmes après un 'lump in the throat' - le galé mein kitch-kitch.

  2. Usha Says:

    Ah bien! c'est un mot français aussi!! et qu'est-ce que ça veut dire en français?? le même sens?
    le galé mein kitch-kitch.!!! - Drôle.

  3. her Says:

    Oh..then I am an undaunted, incorrigible Kitschian!

    Yeah you're absolutely right about the kitsch factor in relationships...

  4. Mahadevan Says:

    As corrrectly pointed out by you, kitsch is promoted by Films and glossy Magazines and 'Page three' in newspapers. To get true feelings, one should read through the pages of "Tess Deuberville" or a "Wuthering Heights"'.

  5. Now a serious posting for a change: Most Germans, intellectual or with the pretention, often use the word Kitsch. Gabo refered to the poem, La Marioneta, as Kitsch. Kundera mentions "Kramer vs. Kramer" as kitsch, which it is! I think, Crap could be a good substitute!

    However, personally, I am all for kitsch. I think what harms society the most is intellctual stuff, and not kitsch!

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Kitsch is what makes one's ordinary days seem extraordinary. And makes everyone of us feel like we are living an enchanted life. And God knows we could do with a lot of it in todays' stressful world.And I don't think anybody is deluded enough to mistake it for the real thing. We just play along that is all.
    - Sahana

    (P.S.: hey this was posted twice and while trying to delete one I deleted both accidentally. And when I tried to repost it , it appeared under my name. Now rectified, Hopefully!! Sorry!)

  7. Paavai Says:

    Anything done in excess probably results in Kitsch.

  8. Ram Says:

    In my experience, in one state in the southern peninsular region, life imitates art whereas in an adjoining state, it is the other way round. Therefore, folks in the former are overly animated ("kitschy") and, in contrast, the ones in the latter appear dull. While I have a bias towards the kitschy kinds, I have to confess that I find it very difficult to reciprocate kitsch. And, in the public arena, kitsch has just ensured that one can never call out another person by just the name but by an array of high-sounding adjectives. (There is, in fact, a very famous case of a senior political leader taking offence to anyone addressing him directly by name without prefixing it with some--totally unmerited--title or the other!) But the most piquant part of this non-stop vaudeville show is when someone switches sides, he also switches his repertoire of adjectives and expletives suitably, in a jiffy! What's more, with enviable felicity, he also fishes out a suitable quote for each such somersault.

  9. Usha Says:

    Lioness: most of us are, although few would be low brow to accept it.

    Mahadevan:And I have heard people argue that characters like Heathcliff are a "freak" and "Normal" people do not display that intensity of passion!!

    Pinchas: funny you should mention"crap" In fact Kitsch is , according to Kundera."the denial of Shit" - Of course I know what you are trying to say but could not resist That one there. I loved La marionetta _ did Marquez call it Kitsch. Then I am Kitchy too.

    Sahana: Hey, sorry, I monkeyed with your comment. Ya kitsch is fine as long as it is practised knowing it is Kitsch and not mistaking it for the "real" thing.

    Paavai: I agree - it is the excessive exhibitionism that can make it difficulot to put up with.

  10. Usha Says:

    Ram: I like your description of these politicians and the adjectives that precede the address of the person. Hahahah. But nobody takes these seriously, do they?

  11. I ain't remember what Kundera says no more. I read that book 7-8 years ago, the first book in a series of books I read over a year; perhaps I read 50-60 books during that year, at the nedir of depression.

    Gabo said (sic), "I would have never written something kitschy such as that poem."

  12. Visithra Says:

    that would make me kitsch too ;) loved the post - n like someone commented kitsch does less harm than the serious ;)

  13. A.R.Malik Says:

    Brilliant post, Ush. Einstein (of all people!) said that he was convinced the majority of cases of poor mental health (read nutcases) occur because people are brought up on "love lyrics". Kitsch by another name. And he has a point- u've reiterated the same in your referral to the stuff pop culture churns out and which breeds expectations of a certain kind.

  14. Usha Says:

    Visithra: I guess indulging in kitsch knowing it is kitsch can be quite fun!

    Abhilash: That is a very interesting perspective and thanks.