Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Kitsch and Aesthetic Education II (J. Morreall & J. Loy)

Postindustrial Culture

"Today, of course, we are far beyond the Industrial Revolution. The vast majority of workers are now in the service sector, using their hands and eyes to enter data into computers, drive trucks, and put cheeseburgers into paper bags. And because few work with materials such as wood, fabric, and metal, and fewer still do anything artistic, most are unable to appreciate or evaluate things aesthetically, or in many cases even functionally. [...]

The self-deception purveyed by the "craft stores" is bad enough, but most people today don't even get as far as feeling a need to make anything with their hands. Nor do they see the connection between the general lack of such skills in our culture and the prevalence of bad taste. Indeed, they don't see the taste all around them, especially their own, as bad taste. Whatever the advertisers say is in vogue, they simply accept as in good taste. Their choices of home furnishings, for example, do not spring from any knowledge of how such things are made, nor even from any personal set of preferences. The furnishings in their homes are mere purchases dictated by advertising. Their "taste" comes from magazine articles and catalogs or, if they have more money, from a decorator. When next year new items, styles, and colors are declared in vogue, they are only too happy to replace the current contents of their home. Indeed, if their supply of money permits, they may buy a whole new house.

Most people today don't see planned obsolescence as a marketing gimmick; they embrace it, for it gives them a chance to make new purchases, and a good part of their identity lies in the act of purchasing. The bumper sticker "Born to Shop" and the Bloomingdale's motto for sales "Shop Till You Drop" are only partly ironic. For many people who make nothing themselves, shopping represents at least some connection to the world of material things and-perhaps a greater boon-some structure to their daily lives. They can shape their identities, too, of course, by their association with what they buy, the Rolex watch, the Calvin Klein jeans, the BMW.

The lack of taste so prevalent today results not only from people's lack of skills in making things, but also from their lack of skills in any of the performing arts. Consider music, which used to be something that ordinary people did-they played instruments, they sang, they danced. In the last half-century music has become less an activity and more a commodity to be passively consumed. Manufacturers and advertisers know that they can make more money by selling us records, tapes, compact disks, concert tickets, nd all the T-shirts and other paraphernalia that go along with today's music business than by selling us musical instruments and sheet music. And so that's what they sell us. Instead of getting together to play music and sing, we go to a concert to hear someone else play and sing, or worse, we clip the miniature tape player to our belts, the earphones to our heads, and we listen individually. The producers of popular music, and mass entertainment generally, of course, have a vested interest in a public that cannot play music or sing and has no fixed standards or personal taste; that is just the kind of malleable people who will buy whatever they are told to buy."

Morreall, John & Loy, Jessica (1989) Kitsch and Aesthetic Education
Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 23, No. 4 (Winter, 1989), pp 66-67.

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