Friday, September 05, 2008

Nationalist kitsch and the GOP

By Michael J.W. Stickings

kitsch (n.) -- something of tawdry design, appearance, or content created to appeal to popular or undiscriminating taste. (

"[P]olitical movements rest not so much on rational attitudes as on the fantasies, images, words, and archetypes that come together to make up this or that political kitsch... Kitsch is the stopover between being and oblivion."

-- Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Watching the RNC this week, what came to mind was the phrase "nationalist kitsch," the authoritarian kitsch of the right. From the hyper-patriotic chants of "USA! USA!" to the hyper-patriotic symbolism and iconography to the hero-worship and mythologization of McCain and the military to the gaudiness and tackiness of the clothing and sets to the self-sacrificial message "Country First," the event's major slogan and theme, to the speeches and spin, what dominated this past week in St. Paul and in the GOP generally was unironic and unabashed kitsch.

It was the usual political theater, but worse, a largely substance-free affair rooted in vitriol and lies. We expect this sort of thing from Republicans, but, with the country mostly against them on the issues, all they had left was McCain's personal story, abridged for hero-worship, the excitement generated among the faithful by Palin, and the usual fictions they spin regarding the Democrats, the country, and the world beyond. Even on that last point, they weren't able to present their worldview at all effectively. It was a pathetic display, a failed attempt to reach out both to independents and to the base, as when McCain, last night, cynically presented himself as an agent of change with nothing more than Bush-style conservative policy proposals.

And, of course, they had the kitsch, the fantasies and images, words and archetypes, the package into which all of this went, the frame around which all of it is being sold.

There was anger and bitterness on display this week in St. Paul, as well as sarcasm and arrogance, bigotry and intolerance. But it all amounted to nothing but an excited base, with Palin overshadowing McCain and the party still uncertain of itself and its future. It was all quite revolting, really, spirit-draining and soul-crushing, a kitschy show that seemed as amateurish and incapable as Palin herself.

And yet, nationalism and hero-worship have worked before and may yet work again. And if they do, if McCain and Palin and the Republicans somehow pull this off, the next stop will indeed be oblivion.

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  • That describes the experience of watching the circus perfectly. It was so contrived and empty, it was quite revolting to watch.

    By Blogger Grant Haws, at 11:07 PM  

  • it was the display - but they "traditional" media always loves a parade

    and they got it

    watching CNN was worse than watching the RNC

    By Blogger Distributorcap, at 6:29 AM  

  • "America: Trailer Park to the World."

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:26 PM  

  • Shorter John McCain: "As a member of the party in charge of our administration (and all three branches of government for 6 of the last 8 years), I'm going to change the 'constant partisan rancor' in Washington with my running mate, the self-described 'pitbull with lipstick' attack dog, unlike our uppity (negro), elitist, effete, 'most-liberal leftist in the Senate' opponent."

    By Anonymous Harry R. Sohl, at 12:37 PM  

  • "Hey! You got your jingoism in my kitsch!"

    "You got your kitsch in my jingoism!"

    "Hey - they go great together!"

    "And we're more patriotic than you! Nyah-nyah-nyah!"

    Conservatives always brag and scold about how much more they love America than liberals, but then you look at the way they run the government - they've got a funny way of showing their love. It's time we had a conception of patriotism that entailed working hard and effectively for your country rather than just condemning other Americans.

    By Blogger Batocchio, at 2:12 PM  

  • By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:14 AM  

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