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How do you define "kitsch"?

How do you define “kitsch”?

If your answer is “A savory, open-faced pastry crust pie with a savory custard filling of cheese, meat and vegetables,” then you need to consult a dictionary.

Conversations about kitsch are tricky business. What exactly is it? Can any art that makes you feel warm and fuzzy be called “kitsch”?

Usually, when the subject comes up, I end up going back to Gregory Wolfe’s editorial on the work of Thomas Kinkade. It’s always helpful.

Today, thanks to a Tweet and a link from Philip Tallon, author of The Poetics of Evil and co-editor of The Philosophy of Sherlock Holmes, I’ve discovered something else very helpful… 

In a post for Transpositions, Tim Gorringe ‎writes:

“In … The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera says two things about kitsch: first, that it represents ‘the absence of shit in the world’ – in other words, the refusal to be honest about pain and evil; second, that looking at kitsch two tears fall, one at the subject and the other which notes what a tender emotional being I am to be moved by this. Kitsch, we can say, is a particularly vicious version of emotivism.

Kitsch, in fact, is one of Satan’s prime stratagems to undermine the gospel, to turn it from something which turns the world upside down to a cheap tinsel decoration which helps us feel ‘good about ourselves’ (one of the mantras of our contemporary culture) whilst allowing injustice to go unchecked.”

Yes. What he said.

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Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet

Novelist and critic Jeffrey Overstreet teaches writing (Seattle Pacific University) and film studies (Northwest University and Houston Baptist University). He's written a memoir of moviegoing and faith (Through a Screen Darkly, Baker, 2007) and a fantasy series that begins with Auralia's Colors (The Auralia Thread, Random House, 2007-11). He's worked since 2001 as a film critic and columnist at Christianity Today, and he's been a regular contributor to Image, Paste, and Christ & Pop Culture. His writing has been recognized by The New Yorker and The Seattle Times. He regularly speaks at universities, conferences, and churches in the U.S. and abroad. Want to invite him to teach or speak? Email joverstreet@gmail.com.