Botz-Bornstein is a German philosopher and writer specializing
in aesthetics and intercultural philosophy. He is professor
of philosophy at the Gulf University for Science and Technology
in Kuwait and director of the Global Studie Center.
is the predominant aesthetic of the twenty-first century?
According to sociology professors Ruth Holliday and Tracey
Potts, “we are on the point of drowning in kitsch. A
casual survey of the British metropolitan high street offers
ample evidence of the kitschification of everyday life.”
can also be called cheesiness or tackiness. Specialists have
defined kitsch as a tasteless copy of an existing style or
as the systematic display of bad taste or artistic deficiency.
Garden gnomes are kitsch, just like cheap paintings for tourists,
which are technically correct but express their “truths”
too directly and too straightforwardly, often in the form
people play with kitsch by using irony, which can lead to
interesting results. However, most of the time, kitsch has
In politics, most dictators have attempted to reinforce their
authority with the help of kitsch propaganda. The former Libyan
leader Muammar Gaddafi was called “the kitsch-dictator
and Saddam Hussein, who designed his own monuments in a Stalinist
spirit, is one of the few turn-of-the-century leaders able
to debate his title. The tastes of the nouveau riches in Russia,
China, the Middle East, and the US excel in a kind of conspicuous
vulgarity that perfectly matches academic definitions of kitsch.
graphic images of which have invaded our lives in the past
two decades, prefers kitsch. Al-Qaeda propaganda indulges
in romantic presentations of sunrises, pre-modern utopias,
as well as Gothic presentations of skulls and bones. Sociologist
Rüdiger Lohlker, who analysed jihadist aesthetics, wrote
that the jihadi magazine Al-Qaeda Airlines displayed "a
fascination with gothic elements (skulls and bones) and kitsch”.
put out by the so-called Islamic State (IS) offer even more
explicit kitsch expressions as they cultivate the art of violence
for its shock value.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Studies have shown that kitsch has its roots in an intrinsically
narcissistic impulse. That’s why it thrives particularly
well in neoliberal environments determined by the dynamics
of the information society. Social media are narcissistic
because they enable individuals to recycle their own selves
without being confronted with the culture of the other.
Algorithms tell us which books we like, based on previous
choices. The narcissist structure of this model is obvious.
Through algorithms, signs are quantified and classified along
the guidelines of abstract forms of excellence. In a decultured
world, the self becomes the only remaining ethical reference.
there is no cultural other, only the “I” will
be taken for granted. In the worst case, this system produces
self-centered “alternative truths” and conspiracy
theories, which are “kitsch-theories” because
of their narcissistic, self-confirming structures.
truths” establish themselves autonomously by narcissistically
affirming their own truth. Along the same lines, alternative
truths and conspiracy theories do not misinform (misinformation
being the holding back of an existing truth) but they kitschify
truth. In the end, this leads to the total loss of truth.