PRINT November 1991


WHAT DO AEROSOL CHEESE, Liberace, tattoos, chihuahuas, and feminine hygiene spray have in common? Those who consider them bad taste. The diverse social locations from which they come make Spam, ant farms, face-lifts, low riders, and Lawrence Welk incommensurate as a set. They have nothing in common other than their relationship to the canon of good taste, which is what gives bad taste its coherence as a category. Bad taste is one of the ways in which good taste announces itself—the finger that points to the breach points to the rule. The connoisseurship of bad taste reveals more about the arbiter than about the offender. As Meyer Shapiro is said to have said, “Kitsch is chic spelled backwards.”1

Like Velcro, the capsule histories in Jane and Michael Stern’s recently published Encyclopedia of Bad Taste attach leisure suits and accordions to different constituencies at different times. Pink flamingos move up and down the cultural escalator as rampant recoding transforms their meanings; far from homogenizing all those who consume them, leisure suits and happy-face decals redraw the terrain of taste at every turn.2 Taken as a set, Hummel dolls and heavy metal are unified only by the guardians of good taste—the high priests of Milan Kundera’s “theodicy of shit.”3 Tupperware and Frederick’s of Hollywood are both perfectly atrocious in The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste and the perfect commodities in Quintessence: The Quality of Having “It,” the Encyclopedia’s mirror twin, a good-taste catalogue from 1983 by Betty Cornfeld and Owen Edwards.

According to the etiquette books, it is a mark of good taste that it never calls attention to itself except in the breach; bad taste, then, has a constitutive power, so much so that Miss Manners must warn her readers, “To keep a house in which every object, down to the smallest bibelot, is in perfect taste, is in shocking taste.”4 Nuance and detail articulate good taste into an elaborate code of distinctions that governs everything from the shape of wine glasses to works of art.5 Much of this code is arbitrary, its sole purpose to signal difference—black tie, for example, as the marker of formal attire. As distinctions exhaust their power to distinguish, new ones must be employed: Emily Post counseled her readers in 1940 that since “the term ‘lady,’ which once denoted elegance and cultivation,” has descended to mean respectability and then to “no meaning at all,” “a real lady . . . speaks of herself and her friends as women.”6 The tendency is toward finer and finer discrimination and increasing attention to detail, to the point of decadence—20-plus pieces of crystal, silverware, and china for each person at a formal dinner.

The civilizing process is directed toward self-restraint, as Norbert Elias so clearly shows.7 The ways in which this restraint is marked—the specific forms, details, and nuances—give class culture its peculiar tenor at each point in history. Habituated and internalized, the emotional economy of social nicety creates thresholds of embarrassment that shift; practices once perfectly acceptable—wiping the hands on the tablecloth—are later experienced as disgusting.

AS LATE AS 1941, The New American Etiquette advised its readers on the disposal of chewing gum: better to swallow it than to “eject” it from the mouth, even if only to wrap it before throwing it away. Readers were also instructed in “Invisible Eating. . . . It is a matter of disguising the process.”8 Nowhere is taste so vividly inscribed as on the body, which good manners systematically deny. The body in good taste is complete as given (or is discreetly altered to appear so). It derives from Enlightenment values—reason, moderation, classical formality, individual autonomy and self-sufficiency—transmitted in no small measure through the northern European austerities of Protestantism. Blue is the color of blood in the chilly latitudes. But there is also a grotesque body, which, according to Mikhail Bakhtin in his study of Rabelais, is “not a closed, completed unit; it is unfinished, outgrows itself, transgresses its own limits. The stress is laid on those parts . . . through which the world enters the body or emerges from it, or through which the body itself goes out to meet the world. This means that the emphasis is on the apertures or the convexities, or on the various ramifications and offshoots: the open mouth, the genital organs, the breasts, the phallus, the potbelly, the nose.”9

The grotesque is about paradox, ambivalence, mixture. During classical antiquity it was expelled “from the sphere of official art to live and develop in certain ‘low’ nonclassic areas,” which in our own period means that we can see something of its carnival spirit in the marketplace, where it has always been at home.10 The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste offers a kind of shopping list of parts for the grotesque body. Its prostheses are provided by cosmetology (artificial nails, hair, lashes) and medicine (face-lifts, nose jobs, breast implants) as well as body-building and tattooing, arts that apply the finishing touches to the ever unfinished body in the state of becoming hypergendered (or androgynous). There are also sartorial enhancements, the fetishes of erotic arousal—the animal lust of leopard skin, spike heels to cast the calves into a bulge and shift the body’s weight, elevator shoes to extend it upward, brassieres to point, plump, and otherwise extend the breasts, hot pants to sheathe the thighs, buttocks, and crotch so that they form a single, sinuous plastic unit. We have here Bakhtin’s two bodies in one—the dying and the being born—not in a uterine mode, not through a kind of hatching, but by painting over an existing canvas. This is not the “unfinished and open body” of Rabelais, which proceeds, from an egg, through a cycle of birth and death, but living putty to rework.11

The grotesque body comes to a head, so to speak, in professional wrestling, where the forces of good and evil thump flesh to the mat. Athletes use their bulky bodies to simulate physical violence, the art of which is to inflict no physical damage. In novelty wrestling, the ring is filled with chocolate pudding, Jell-O, spaghetti marinara—as if the entire body were a mouth awash in food—or with mud, as if the body might drown in its own waste. Bakhtin traces the historical process by which images of fundamental bodily processes like “eating, drinking, copulation, defecation, almost entirely lost their regenerating power and were turned into ‘vulgarities’”—the gags and novelties of our own day, the rubber vomit, fart cushions, and plastic turds that bring the lower body—“the bodily grave”—into focus.12 An index to the differences is the quality of laughter each elicits—ribald belly laughs, mild amusement, sardonic smile? It might therefore be useful to think in terms not of good and bad taste but of classic and grotesque, which would signal the madeness of all categories—the “real” and the “natural” no less than the “artificial.”

MORE THAN AN EMBARRASSMENT, bad taste is a crime. There are neighborhoods where property values will plummet with the appearance of clotheslines, satellite dishes, birdbaths, and the wrong types of mailbox, awning, siding material, and color. Restrictive covenants legislate good taste by ensuring that “your neighbor isn’t going to paint his house chartreuse.”13 Mary Douglas defines dirt as matter out of place;14 bad taste is social dirt. Zoning maintains social hygiene by ensuring the correct disposition of social matter. Propriety is also proprietary.

Good taste speaks in the moral language of honest lines, truth to material, form following function. Explaining why the Stetson hat and other mass-produced objects are perfect, Quintessence describes them as “faithful.” The Spalding rubber ball offers the “promise of a true and noble bounce.” Ivory soap is “cheerful,” “innocent,” “clean.” But “taste” is a language too anemic, the Encyclopedia at once too clinical and too tongue-in-cheek, gloves and tongs too finicky, to contain its less amusing “offenses”—Holocaust video games, Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, televised executions (let alone capital punishment), media coverage of the Ethiopian famine (to say nothing of famine as a weapon of civil war), or the gulag, defined by Kundera as “a septic tank used by totalitarian kitsch to dispose of its refuse.”15

In what emerges as a recycling of post-Modern sensibility for the masses, retro catalogues like the Encyclopedia and Quintessence are “fun.” What they know they have learned from Las Vegas rather than from Hermann Broch’s or Clement Greenberg’s critiques of kitsch in the ’30s—during the rise of fascism in Europe—or from the irreverence of Puerto Rican chuchería and Chicano rasquachismo, punk, camp, cool, hip, and hip-hop (though those too have been commodified and codified in their own manuals).16 Is imagination, in its “inherent, incontrovertible tendency toward excess, amplitude, and abundance,” at war with taste?17 What is the nature of the imagination at work in the creation of the Mince-O-Matic chopper, or of the plastic honey bear—“poetry in plastic,” according to Quintessence, “a bear filled to the eyebrows with his favorite food”—or, most recently, of molds that grow vegetables in the shape of Elvis?

WHO IS THE HOMUNCULUS—the golem—configured by the Encyclopedia? When not consuming junk food or surf ’n’ turf, the person of bad taste likes to eat out at Hellenic diners, Polynesian restaurants (Trader Vic’s), and other places where the waiters bring a giant peppermill to the table.

Her body is subjected to extravagant grooming—bouffants, white lipstick. When not in the buff at a nudist colony, he wears bell-bottoms, Hawaiian shirts, Nehru jackets, jogging suits, zoot suits, and loud ties.

They like limousines, monster trucks, muscle cars—accessorized with vanity plates, bumper stickers, and fuzzy dice—and Harley Davidsons. Destined for Las Vegas, the Smoky Mountains, and, ultimately, Forest Lawn Cemetery, they set out in motor homes. Muzak is a music of choice, along with Wayne Newton, Dolly Parton, and Charo. The bad-taste crowd loves celebrities like Tammy Bakker and has a penchant for perky nuns, both singing and flying. Their children—Ashanti, Jason, Babette, Ryan, and Tiffany—play with Barbie and troll dolls. Their poodle wears clothes. They shop at malls or from the home-shopping television network, and their favorite pleasures are bowling, miniature golf, roller derby, game shows, and charity telethons.

The golem of Quintessence, on the other hand, consumes the things in “our claptrap age” that are the “good news shining through the bad.” In his Lacoste shirt, Levi’s jeans, Bass Weejun loafers, and Ray-Ban sunglasses, the Quintessence golem pauses—shall he wear his Cartier Santos or his Timex Mercury 20521, both watches, neither of them digital? He tosses Jockey briefs and Pro-Keds high-top sneakers into his Ghurka Express Bag No. 2 and is ready for the weekend. Checking his wallet for his American Express card, he makes a quick stop for Bayer aspirin and Kleenex tissues, which he carries away in the classic brown paper bag.

The days of Checker cabs long gone (though fondly remembered), he zips in his Volkswagen beetle to the shore. There he’ll tool around on his Harley Davidson—when he’s not entertaining on his Cigarette Hawk speedboat. Frosty Budweisers and Coca-Cola on deck, Nathan’s Famous hot dogs on shore (with Heinz’s ketchup, of course), and junk-food classics for the kids—M&M’s and Hershey’s chocolate kisses.

Back at the house, he whips up egg creams, with Fox’s u-bet chocolate syrup, in his Hamilton Beach mixer. The kids enjoy their Oreo cookies and Barnum’s Animal Crackers, the English bull terrier his Milk-Bone dog biscuits, and the adults their martinis. For a quick supper, the golem opens a can of Campbell’s tomato soup with his Swiss army knife, lights the stove with Ohio Blue Tip matches, serves the soup in Wedgwood white bone china, and stores the leftovers in Tupperware.

Finally, a game of Monopoly. The adults light up Camels with Zippo lighters, the children enjoy El Bubble Bubblegum Cigars. The little ones play with their Crayola crayons and Silly Putty. The big kids hit Spaldings with Louisville Sluggers. The toddlers cuddle their Steiff teddy bears.

CORNFELD AND EDWARDS mystify taste by lodging it first in the instinct of the well-bred—“You know it because you know it. To the receptive soul, quintessence reveals itself”—and second in the objects themselves, which have a “magical rightness” and reveal the classic markers of good taste—universality, singularity, timelessness. With a pedigree that extends back almost a century, the Coca-Cola bottle, through sheer survival and little if any change in form, has stood the test of time. The quintessential object is not subject to revision because it is perfect—and vice versa.

The “abiding objects” in Quintessence supposedly approach the older, aristocratic value of patina—the quality that attests to the continuing power of an object to confer status on its owner—and to the “aura” associated with original works of art.18 Nothing specially new or trendy here, no carnie “flash”—just the classics, as good today as the day they were invented, and even better if they have been owned for a long time and passed down through the family. This tepid refusal of the fad becomes a high-minded elevation of the low: Milk-Bone dog biscuits will “hold their own on any shelf of pre-Columbian art.”

In that they are said to have the “rare and mysterious capacity to be just exactly what they ought to be,” the things in Quintessence are perfect examples of what Elaine Scarry calls the “made-real.” For Cornfeld and Edwards, these commodities have a “numinous nature”—language that suggests they were created by God, not by humans, and that enshrines them for worship. The trick is possible because the objects are anchored not in the social space of their consumers but in the conceptual space of the inventory, the list, creating the fiction of disinterest and authority. At the same time, the book’s historical snapshots expose these commodities as the inventions of named people by attaching signatures to things normally without them.19 The moment a historical portrait makes its human inventor “real,” an object previously experienced as “made-real” and inevitable is apprehended as “made-up.”

Most of the objects in The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste, on the other hand, are precisely those that are “so unreal as to be immediately recognizable as ‘made.’”20 It is their facticity that is fascinating. This is accounted for in part by a certain consistency in the selection, which favors the patently synthetic, plastic, simulated, fake, recycled—in a word, the flagrantly made-up. And lest the madeness of these objects recede as they establish themselves as given in the world, lest they become “real,” they need only be experienced as out of joint with the moment to recover their quality of madeness. Without their pedigrees, such objects bear only the general signature of human manufacture. To emerge fully as made-up, they require specificity of attribution. That we do not generally know who invented artificial Christmas trees is what helps them to “function as ‘real’ or self-substantiating.”21 Historical factoids, by affixing specific signatures to them—“Day Glo colors did not always exist . . . [they were] first synthesized in the thirties by the brothers Bob and Joe Switzer of Cleveland”—intensify their “unreal” nature, their made-up-ness, and help to translate them from tools into artifacts.22

Unlike the plates in Diderot’s encyclopedia, however, which, as Roland Barthes suggests, favor a visual narrative that variously shows the object, its parts, how it is made, and how it is used, the illustrations in the Sterns’ book show only the finished product.23 There are virtually no images of manufacture in the Encyclopedia. Photographs and drawings taken from commercial packaging and catalogues illustrate what are actually little histories of marketing—itself a sign that bad taste here resides somewhere in the unhealthy relationship between an unbridled commercial imagination and an undiscriminating consumer. The technology that produces these commodities remains mysterious, which partly accounts for its “magic.” So inventive are these synthetic novelties that the precise details of their manufacture are a trade secret.

BAD TASTE COULD be said to be bad timing. While good taste stands the test of time, being independent of fashion, bad taste comes and goes. Subject to the wild fluctuations of fad, the will of the herd, it spreads like lightning and almost as quickly ends up as a mountain of discards, thus suffering the double stigma of mindless acceptance and massive rejection.

How can objects that seemed so alive come to seem so dead? Rapid spatial saturation succeeded by rapid evanescence, a deliberate case of hit and run—the effect is stunning. Among the most valuable items in the retro business, perhaps because they epitomize this convergence, are commodity oxymorons—old stuff that is brand new, complete with original price tag and packaging. This is not about patina, for these objects were never “owned.” Rather, this is fashion cryonics. The mint-condition, still-in-the-box Barbie doll has been removed from circulation and frozen in time only to reappear thirty years later as if born yesterday—perhaps the legacy of forgotten overstock, an abandoned warehouse, inventory recovered in bankruptcy, or some other vagary of the market.

It is the precision of its entrance and exit, the sharpness of its discontinuity, that makes the temporal location of a fad so clear. Commodities give shape to time—not the slow curves of archaeological eras but the abrupt swings between the page boy and the ducktail.24 There is more than one test of time, and evanescence is as important a principle as durability. Sharp discontinuities in fashion cycles are engineered by a fashion clock that is set too fast for objects to wear out before they are replaced, so exhaustion of novelty exhausts the object even as the physical substance refuses to biodegrade. Planned obsolescence, then, must be made perceptible in design, the look of the commodity signaling that one version is different from another.25 But with product cycles ever shorter and more rapid, and with constant repetitions (recycling, reissues, reprints, knockoffs, clones, sampling, and other forms of appropriation), pervasive recursiveness prevails. No longer do fads and fashions fade permanently from view: vintage cars come back to drive time, Frisbees escape the cycle to float free in the nirvana of quintessence.

Think of time as harboring a lengthy process of semiotic saturation so powerful as to cancel out, uncook, an artifact like denim jeans.26 Such saturations are so overdetermined they become underdetermined: as they loose their semantic center, rawness—the plenitude of potentiality—is restored. (No one can have a firm, authoritative grip on the meaning of jeans.) The more elaborate and variegated the object’s history, the more the object’s location in space and time is destabilized. But what is raw has yet to be coded—better to say, then, that the richness of what has happened to the object becomes part of its raw material. This is the richness that commonness can produce. As commodities go in and out, up and down, hot and cool, they show the power of semiosis to make and remake meaning and value. The commonplace, it turns out, is not so general. The low is not common. The surface is not depthless.27

HOW IS IT THAT OBJECTS that attracted fashion victims in their first life can be tokens of rebellion in their afterlives? Walter Benjamin noted that the outmoded is a source of revolutionary energy—precisely because to pick it up after it has been discarded is a potentially radical gesture.28 What some fads lacked in exclusivity during their first life they gain the next time round through the recoding operations that consumers (low riders, punks) produce. There are many forms of refusal. Timing is a way to set them in motion—to get out of step, to syncopate the cultural clock, to establish stylistic arrhythmia.

“Cool” does just this—what’s out for the mainstream is cool for the subculture, except that some rejects are cooler than others. In and out, sub and counter. There are many ways of being out: counter-coding is not strictly reciprocal. Cool may recode bad taste, but what is uncool is not necessarily good taste. What is uncool is a failed attempt at coolness—the perpetration of squares, puppetheads, nerds, dorks, and drongos. The esthetic of cool cannot be predicted from what it rejects, an indication that taste has been decoupled from cultures and styles.

“Subculture,” as conceived by Dick Hebdige, is more than the marketing niche targeted by the woman wearing mink and denim in a Revlon campaign. It is produced by style. Has style replaced taste, or so relativized it that it loses its power? As the meaning of “style” shifts from “stylish” to “life-style,” from “fashion” to “culture,” style comes to signify the choices people make in constituting a way of life. No domain is too humble. While taste tends to be invoked most explicitly where the stakes are highest, that is, in the realm of the “legitimate” arts, no medium is impervious to the distinguishing process—not dog biscuits, matches, water, or plain white T-shirts (extra large, all cotton, thick weave, very white, no pocket).29 The codes are arcane to the uninitiated up and down the cultural escalator. Unintelligibility, however it is induced—whether through the understatement of good taste or the recodings of its subversions—is a gatekeeping operation, signaling at once to the inside and to the outside, rattling the bars in both directions.

The relations among taste, culture, and style are reconfigured. First, taste is disentangled from culture (in the sense of cultivation and civilization), with which it has long been associated. Second, taste is teased apart from style. Freed from their old moorings, style and culture (in the sense of way of life) are recoupled.

THE DETACHMENT OF ART FROM BEAUTY and pleasure also destabilizes taste. In a programmatically de-estheticized world, what’s bad taste? Since the historical avant-gardes narrowed the terrain of the unacceptable—opened up la nostalgie de la boue—the curating of kitsch has become the supreme act of connoisseur-ship. The problem is no longer bad taste but good, which is conservative, boring, acquiescent.

Kitsch is to taste what superstition is to religion—somebody else’s mistake. Built into Modernist notions of kitsch is a theory of reception that posits either the autonomous individual of civilization or the uncritical herd of mass culture, seen as a staging area for fascism, but not the possibility of sub or counter-culture other than the avant-garde. Kitsch requires the abdication of critical judgment because it tells us what to think and feel—Theodor Adorno characterizes kitsch as a “parody of catharsis.”30 As a post-Modern concept the esthetic of kitsch incorporates the commodity and its consumers, the programmed response and its subversion. To the extent that kitsch is understood as all effect, all surface, depthless, it is the esthetic par excellence of post-Modernism.

Greenberg’s classic formulation of 1939 signaled a crisis in the reception both of Modern art—the public was basically unreceptive—and of historical works as their uniqueness and value were compromised by reproduction. Drawing the line around kitsch was one way that an embattled art world could defend itself against a public that refused Modern art and misread historical art—liking it for the wrong reasons.31 The problem is one of art and its publics—the avant-garde delivering the slap, kitsch the caress—and the ambivalent relationship of intellectuals to popular culture.32 Do not assume, however, that the slap directed at the bourgeoisie comes only from disaffected artists and intellectuals. It comes also from the side, from below, from over there.

GOOD TASTE IS CULTURAL CAPITAL masquerading as the natural attribute of an elite. Greenberg argued that class was a precondition of culture—wealth was necessary for cultivation, and the lower classes provided the economic base for the entire scheme.32 (For the rich to exercise their leisure in self-improvement, someone had to work.) Whether they divide the terrain of culture into two parts, high and mass, the latter a degradation of the former, or into three—two forms of high culture (academic and avant-garde) and a rearguard of kitsch—cultural critics since before World War II have argued for the necessity of an elite with the wealth and the time to produce civilization. The crisis as they envisioned it, each in their own historical moment, was the blurring of boundaries between “the sublime and the paltry,” as Kundera put it.34 The domain of high culture was eroding as the working masses consumed poor imitations of it, and high-tone magazines like The New Yorker became a “stuffed shirt ‘front’ for kitsch.”35

This basic view of culture is exceedingly durable, reappearing in debates about the canon, the core curriculum, the preeminence of Western civ, Afrocentrism, multiculturalism, pluralism, affirmative action, political correctness, the “chilling effect.” We’re replaying the cultural debates of the century. This time the “low” talks back, but just how far have we really come in the debate? Consider Greenberg’s 1939 statement: “There has always been on one side the minority of the powerful—and therefore the cultivated—and on the other the great mass of the exploited and poor—and therefore the ignorant. Formal culture has always belonged to the first, while the last have had to content themselves with folk or rudimentary culture, or kitsch.”36 The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste reinforces the idea of a Greenbergian “great mass,” one as diverse as the thesaurus entry for “churl” will allow: gauche and ostentatious, they are rubes, bumpkins, cheapskates, vulgarians, potbellied sexagenarians, bimbos, parvenus. But these labels obscure the social categories to which the book attributes so many of its objects—ethnics of all colors, white trash, retirees, working-class Catholics, blue-collar workers, and youth subcultures. “Cultural subversives” are an undifferentiated lot, mentioned in passing in the entry on pink flamingos, where John Waters and Divine make a brief appearance.

The notion of taste as the privilege of wealth, leisure, and cultivation (and implicitly “breeding”—from which its racist flavor stems) is a corollary of Green-berg’s notion of culture. Greenberg views even “folk art”—before it was allegedly displaced by mass culture—as a survival of aristocratic forms that trickled down to the peasantry after its masters had abandoned them.37 What makes such views so insidious—they are most clearly formulated when most embattled—is their denial of the possibility of cultural production of any significant value anywhere but at the top. The payoff for class difference, they tell us, is civilization. How else could Machu Picchu and the pyramids of Giza have been built? Well-intentioned attempts to disseminate the cultural profits of this social arrangement are doomed, for the descent they entail is an inherently kitschifying process. That leaves to the top its preeminent role as custodian of civilization.

Is the upshot of eroding differences between “angel and fly” a world of kitsch—“the absolute denial of shit”?38 Or is it an affirmation of the possibility of creative expression in all quarters?

Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett is chair of the Department of Performance Studies at the Tisch School of the Arts. New York University, and a Getty scholar for 1991–92 at the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, Santa Monica.

The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste, by Jane and Michael Stern, was published in 1990 by HarperCollins, New York. Quintessence: The Quality of Having “It,” by Betty Cornfeld and Owen Edwards, was published in 1983 by Crown Publishers, New York.



1. Meyer Shapiro, quoted in Curtis Brown, Star-Spangled Kitsch, New York: Universe Books, 1975, p. 9.
2. See Stuart Hall, “Notes on Deconstructing ‘the Popular,’” in Raphael Samuel, ed., People’s History and Socialist Theory, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, pp. 227-240, and Arjun Appadurai, “Introduction: commodities and the politics of value,” in Appadurai, ed., The social life of things: Commodities in cultural perspective, Cambridge: at the University Press, 1986, pp. 3–63.
3. Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, trans. Michael Henry Hein, New York: HarperPerennial, 1991, p. 247.
4. Judith Martin, Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, New York: Atheneum, 1982, p. 384.
5. See Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, trans. Richard Nice, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984.
6. Emily Post, Etiquette, New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1940, p. 91.
7. See Norbert Elias, The History of Manners, New York: Pantheon, 1978, vol. I, The Civilizing Process, trans. Edmund Jephcott.
8. Lily Hayworth Wallace, ed., The New American Etiquette, New York: Books, Inc., 1941, pp. 677, 665.
9. Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. Hélène Iswolsky, Cambridge, Mass.: Press, 1968, p. 26.
10. Ibid., pp. 30-31, 10. Bakhtin notes that the 18th-century esthetic of the sublime and 19th-century romanticism, by internalizing the grotesque and infusing it with fear, attempted to restore to it a measure of the artistic respectability that had been overshadowed by “the domination of the classical canon” (p. 33).
11. Ibid., pp. 26–27.
12. Ibid., pp. 39, 12.
13. Stephen McKittrick, quoted in Ford Risley, “From Grass to Garages, a Litany of Don’ts,” The New York Times, 12 May 1991, p. R5.
14. Mary Douglas, “Secular Defilement,” Purity and Danger: An analysis of concepts of pollution and taboo, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966, p. 40.
I5. Kundera. p. 252.
16. See Hermann Broch, “Einige Benterkungen zum Problem Kitsches” and “Der Kitsch,” Gesammelte Werke, Zurich: Rheim, 1955, vol. 6, Dichten and Erkennen, pp. 295–309, 34–248; Clement Greenberg, “Avant-Garde and Kitsch,” 1939, in Greenberg, Art and Culture: Critical Essays, Boston: Beacon Press, 1984, pp. 3-21; Gene Sculatti, ed., The Catalog of Cool, New York: Warner Books, 1982; and Grandmaster Blaster, Rappin’!, Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1984, p. 323.
17. Elaine Scarry, “The Interior Structure of the Artifact,” The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World, New York: Oxford University Press, 1985, p. 323.
18. See Grant McCracken, “‘Ever Dearer in Our Thoughts’: Patina and the Representation of Status before and after the Eighteenth Century,” Culture & Consumption: New Approaches to the Symbolic Character of Consumer Goods and Activities, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990, pp. 31–43, and Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, trans. Harry Zohn, New York: Schocken Books, 1969, pp. 217–52.
19. See Scurry, p. 311.
20. Ibid., p. 312.
21. Ibid., p. 314.
22. Scarry distinguishes three stages in the transformation of the object: weapon, tool, and artifact (p. 310).
23. Roland Barthes, “The Plates of the Encyclopedia,” New Critical Essays, trans. Richard Howard, New York: Hill and Wang, 1980, pp. 23–40.
24. See George Kubler, The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962.
25. Brook Stevens, who claims to have coined the term “planned obsolescence,” said that his job as a designer was to give “life to the object.” The object’s appearance, in his view, is what “gives it its ability to be used. . . .You can’t see function,” and still less the small improvements inside appliances. Isabel Wilkerson, “The Man Who Put Steam in Your Iron,” The New York Times, 11 July 1991, pp. C1, 6.
26. See Iain Finlayson, Denim: An American Legend, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990, p. 42.
27. See Dick Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style, London: Methuen & Co., 1979, and Paul Willis, Common Culture: Symbolic work at play in the everyday cultures of the young, Boulder: Westview Press, 1990.
28. Benjamin, “Traumkitsch,” Ausgewählte Schriften, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1966, vol. 2, Angelus Novus, pp. 158–161.
29. See Barbara Ensor. “White T-Shirt Contest,” The Village Voice, 7 May 1991, p. 38.
30. See Theodor Adorno, in Matei Calinescu, Five Faces of Modernity: Modernism, Avant-Garde, Decadence, Kitsch, Postmodernism, Durham: Duke University Press, 1987.
31. See Lawrence W. Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988, and Joseph Horowitz, Understanding Toscanini: How He Became an American Culture-God & Helped Create a New Audience for Old Music, New York: Knopf, 1987.
32. See Andrew Ross, No Respect: Intellectuals and Popular Culture, New York and London: Routledge, 1989.
33. Greenberg. “The Plight of Culture,” 1953, in Art and Culture, pp. 22–33.
34. Kundera, p. 244.
35. Greenberg. “Avant-Garde and Kitsch,” p. II.
36. Ibid., p. 16.
37. Greenberg is repeating a version of the repudiated theory of “gesunkenes Kulturgut” espoused by Hans Naumann, Grundzüge der deutschen Volkskunde, Leipzig, 1922.
38. Kundera, pp. 268, 248.

Thanks to Liza Bear, Maxwell Gimblett, Michael Griffin, Charles and Jan Hinman, Judy Hugentobler, Katherine Krizek, Carol Martin, Brooks McNamara, Jane Pozybysz, Richard Schechner, Joseph Sciorra, Jeremy Wolff, and Connecticut Muffin for taste tips.