Cultural Identity Theft
SO WHY IS THERE so much kitsch? Is there more kitsch now than there’s ever been? A lot of cheesiness has been around in popular religious art, and Caligula is probably the kitsch champion of all times. Enlightenment brought kitsch (then contained in Baroque art) to a temporary halt but it seems that we are catching up again. American screenwriter Kevin Williamson has called Donald Trump in the National Review “the worst taste since Caligula.”
Trump goes back to the pre-Enlightenment taste of Absolutism: his gilded Manhattan penthouse is replete with marble, Louis XIV furnishings, and haphazardly assembled historical themes.
According to my analysis, this attraction for kitsch has to do with the phenomenon of “deculturation” a phenomena in which a particular group is deprived of one or more aspects of its identity“. The term emerged in sociology in debates about the effects of colonialism and subsequent loss of culture, for example in Pierre Bourdieu’s early work Sociologie de l’Algérie.
Humans have always needed truths to believe in. Whereas in the past those truths tended to be transmitted through cultures, they are now increasingly produced instantaneously without cultural mediation. Kitsch employs this mechanism in the realm of aesthetics. In today’s world, kitsch is redefining our perception of truth; it is a truth devoid of culture or context.
The production of immediate, pure, and decultured truths is most obvious in the sphere of fundamentalist religions. Islam scholar Olivier Roy has shown that religious fundamentalism arises when religion is separated from the indigenous culture in which it was embedded.
Radicalisation occurs when religions attempt to define themselves as culturally neutral and “pure”. When religions are disconnected from concrete cultural values, their truths become absolute; fundamentalist religions tend to see themselves as providers of scientific truths.