“Kitsch is the absolute denial of shit,” writes Milan Kundera in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. We scorn kitsch for its exultation decoupled from realism, its lazy pseudo-beauty innocent of struggle. But giving Kundera’s quip more thought, I wondered: what is the opposite of kitsch — in other words, what do you call that which is the absolute denial of anything higher than shit? My answer: the word for that is “pornography” — the salacious kind, along with the other kinds of porn. You know it when you see it.
Someone asked me what I think of the comedian Louis C.K., prefacing his question with “You gotta love his self-deprecating humor, such as the one about his annoying daughter or his rants about being a fat middle-aged man.” “I’m not a fan.” I replied, adding that his act begins and ends on reveling in being a latter-day Ignatius Reilly. The pornographic world of C.K.’s failing fathers and exhibitionistic slobs never transcends mere shit.
So where is that elusive intersection of idealism and candor that is neither kitsch nor porn? You can see it when witnessing greatness, be in in art, in character, even in personal appearance. For example, the Trump family presents itself as aspirational in looking like the best a man, a woman, and even a child can be. This photo was taken at the conclusion of Donald Trump’s formal announcement of his presidential candidacy. Earned pride (and a bit of fatigue in the case of the children) glows on everyone’s face:
But many voters don’t like aspirational. Camlost explains:
Yes, the self-assuredness of the Trumps definitely clashes with the parade of grievance whiners that the DNC threw on camera last night. It was an endless stream of remarks by people whose message amounted to little more than “gubmint ain’t doing enough for me.”
There is a growing chasm between people who want to aspire to a higher standard in the important facets of their lives, and people who see higher standards as an affront to their comfort with low expectations. Camlost continues:
PA’s “aspirational” theme reminds me of the puzzlement that you see from Democratic Party leaders when they talk about rural whites often refusing to make use of welfare and not supporting more the politicians who campaign on expanding big government solutions, when NAMs of their same economic class vote emotionally for the handout -promising politicians every time. Democratic leaders just don’t understand that even the poorest whites are still “aspirational” and want to see an America where the self-made and the hard working are the ones who get ahead, and they regard successful businessmen like Trump as they best of that strain of striving American, even if they themselves aren’t able to achieve as much
Funny thing, how some people aspire to more than feed at the trough. And here is a fragment of Suburban_elk’s comment about a different type of people:
The way that white women of the un-aspiring classes dress now. (An analogous criticism exists for the men.)
“Un-aspiring classes” is a useful neologism. Elk elaborates:
The women are afraid to look elegant, and the men don’t want to look competent. Because they’re not. […] They are not taking themselves seriously. Their lives are not taken as something worthwhile. Someone put up a quote by Auster that said it very well, that people (adults) are not dressing with a “larger sense of self.”
And then points to the larger picture:
In the old days, back before we (as a people) were going nowhere — people had a larger sense of themselves, and where they were going. They were on an adventure of life, and though it was usually and often grim and frightful, and disfiguring and agonizing – there was a sense of something Out There.
Whereas now what is out there, where is there to go?
Good question. What is the answer?