Thursday, 29 January 2009

Garden Gnomes and the Banking Crisis

Last evening, the pilates-thin-cheekbones-to-die-for friend of Missmarketcrash was lamenting the times. She leaned over with gravity and said a friend had just lost his business. Nodding heads offered compassion all around. And then, she said, "Well, afterall, he was selling Garden Gnomes". The wine went giggling across the table.

With ponderance, the demise of the Garden Gnome in the midst of this economic crisis could be quite ominous. On an environmental front, the Garden Gnome is the great protector of wildlife, and might indicate the dwindling importance of green issues and global warming. Butterflies beware!

The gatekeepers of fine taste have banned the Garden Gnome from the Chelsea Flower Show for a few years, making the Garden Gnome a class issue, as Brits tend to do.

The Garden Gnome is kitsch, pure and simple. Kitsch has a particular appeal to little old women and gay men. Both groups represent a good amount of disposable income for folly. Kitsch lovers divide into two classes, with the former class, made up mostly of little old women, representing the original derivation of the word. The whimsy that provides an unsubtle sentimentality, a heart on a sleeve, a kind of un-intellectual aesthetic response of pure emotion. The second group of kitsch lovers, primarily gay men but with some seepage into other parts of the population, see kitsch as a kind of irony. The drama of badness is a mask for the same kind of sentimentality but with a ponderous element. In other words, they deconstruct their kitsch. It is a love of sentimentality as an idea rather than unedited sentimentality itself. And, the third rare group - the ultra-kitsch-ers, deconstruct it, lose the irony, and love it with a straight face.

So, why then, is kitsch out of fashion? Some say kitsch is aspirational - a mere copy of something that was extraordinary reduced to mass-production and offered to the masses. Which makes it a no-no in a class-based society. And a no-go for the new austerity as aspirational has acquired a particularly bad name of late. As for the sentimental element of kitsch - emotion was certainly out for a long while in the art world, post abstract-expressionism when conceptualism came to reign. In parallel, kitsch came backheavily into the art world, via Andy Warhol, and Jeff Koons amongst others. Following that, the ultra-kitsch-ers came into popularity in the art world in a big big way in the last decade. So where are we now, with a failed Garden Gnome business and what does that mean for the world-at-large?

Hegel saw kitsch as a kind of false nostalgia. I think that is where we are now. We crave real nostalgia in times of instability. If the Garden Gnomes disappear for long enough, they will be transformed culturally back into real nostalgia.

Now - will the same kind of thing work for banks?

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