9, No. 1, November 2007
Me If You Can, Doughboy
University of Notre Dame
Back in the day, kitsch got a bad reputation as bad art. Not
only those dogs-playing-poker paintings by C. M. Coolidge, immortalized
on black velvet, or Mona Lisa t-shirts, but any stilted work
would qualify. The epitome of this tendency was expressed by
Clement Greenburg, who once stated of academic painting, “All
kitsch is academic, and conversely, all that is academic is kitsch.” Now
this seems to me an overly restrictive view of academic painting,
even though I like it as an apt description of academic life.
But kitsch is worse than bad art; it is a whole way of being.
It tends to be underappreciated how kitsch is one of the system
requirements of the Great Dehumanization Machine of globalizing
capitalism. In America, Big Zombie merrily ingests kitsch in
the varieties of ways it is constantly beamed at him and her:
eat‑kitsch, ad‑kitsch, franchise‑kitsch, mall‑kitsch,
Big Zombiemobile‑kitsch, lawn‑kitsch, Big Sport‑kitsch,
War kitsch, Holiday kitsch, and let’s not forget Academic
kitsch, with its textbooks and bureau-indoctrination techniques,
also known as graduate school.
Kitsch, as Milan Kundera has put it, is the denial that shit
happens: “the absolute denial of shit.” Of course
all that kitsch is invisible to Big Zombie. The beauty of the
dehumanized living‑dead is found in their faint smile as
they are pulverized by advertisements. It is the look of unaware
as ads creep ever more deeply into schools and homes, undoing
their local life, softly gutting their souls with minidramas
projecting one's basic inadequacy until the magical commodity
is consumed, undoing their bodies as they widen into what I term the
doughboy complex. The doughboy complex is that puffy, rounded
pre-pubescent face, visible in someone like Karl Rove, but by
no means limited to males. It is the materialization of the smiley
face, “livin’ large” as the living dead.
The consumptive culture of American automatism is a much greater
threat to American democracy than terrorism: Big Zombie on auto‑pilot
overeating, overdriving, overconsuming, overtelevisioning, undersleeping,
heavily medicating, does not a democracy make. Quite the contrary.
Smiling doughboys and girls do not happiness make either. Beneath
the doughboy and doughgirl’s smiley face lays the fear,
the insecurity, and the dread of being vulnerable to life. Doughboy
and doughgirl incarnate the mask of the absolute denial of shit.
But whoever said that propaganda can't be fun! The old style
communism, with its grim and earnest face, its punishing negative
re‑enforcement methods, lost out to the smiley face, not
to democracy. Now China has put a smiley face on its grim party
apparatus, not yet understanding that you do not need the communist
party to exert rigid control over people, you only need the smiley
face, seemingly perpetually partying. The appearance of
humanity makes the best substitute to induce the disappearance
Beneath the smiley face of globalizing capitalism, however,
is the unsmiling face of the rational schizoid automaton, manifest
not only in rational systems and technical devices, but also
in the generalized mechanical other internalized: Automatons-R-Us.
The alien automaton we have been busily building is the great
social construction of our time, intent on colonization, neutralization,
and eradication of humanity. And we're almost there.
HAVE A NICE DAY!
>>> back to Consumers,
Comodities & Consumption, Vol. 9(1) November 2007.