Blame it on the advertising industry, the American Dream, or even human nature, but our society has a tendency to resort to looking at the world through an overtly positive and kitschy frame of mind. The idea of kitsch is everywhere and, due to that, is almost unrecognizable in the modern mindset. So what is the meaning of this (slightly pretentious) notion? According to painters such as Nerdrum and authors like Kundera, kitsch is the denial of anything negative, painful, bodily unpleasant, or troublesome-it excludes all that is essentially unacceptable about human existence. While art and literature are typically outlets to expose the gritty, natural realties of life and the human experience, kitsch doesn’t always follow that path. All of the imperfections, tragedies, or corruption of the world are simply ignored and denied. As humans, we seem naturally to choose this kitschy frame of mind when given the choice, and why not, right? It’s easy to dismiss certain realities because they may not pertain to your life and thus deny that the world is wracked with pain and suffering. Now, I’m no cynic-well, at least not most of the time-but I challenge you to take a moment and look around at all of the kitsch in your life, especially at a school like Boston College.
BC prides itself on being socially aware and loyal to the Jesuit ideals of men and women for others and a lot of other buzzwords about social justice and education (Which I definitely support-it’s great to aim high to set the world aflame with passion, knowledge, and human understanding! No sarcasm intended here). Take a look, however, at the way BC presents itself to the outside world and to students. Admissions pamphlets with smiling, eager-looking students sitting on a picturesque Quad; scholars who always seem to exude happiness, care for the world, and a lot of over-involvement; and an exterior of classic, collegiate, gothic architecture. What isn’t shown, however, is the student who just failed his first chemistry exam and is now reconsidering his life path, or the group of students who have been up studying all night and whose cathartic remains are sprawled out over a desk cluster in O’Neill, or even the girl who had to spend the night at St. Elizabeth’s getting her stomach pumped after a crazy night in the Mods. The school doesn’t want those things to be known, it wants the kitsch. We all seem to want the kitsch. Why? Because it’s easy. It doesn’t push us out of our comfort zones, and it doesn’t make us engage reality if we would discover that maybe life isn’t just like the movies and the advertisements on television. Maybe life is more difficult for many people in the world than we’d like to think.
The same mentality goes for a view of the world. It is the general attitude of the elite of the world to assume that the poor and marginalized are an isolated group of people. In reality, however, the poor compromise a vast majority of the world’s population, and perhaps it’s the developed world that’s the anomaly in the situation. We have a “first world” tendency to think that our reality is this kitschy American norm, yet mass suffering still exists in the world at large. Through the plethora of service trips and immersion programs available on campus, BC students seem to be generally aware of this fact, yet the cycle still repeats itself. By investing in a kitschy world, we’re denying these realities that we should be engaging in. What I challenge myself and the rest of the BC population to do on a daily basis, however, is to: 1) check your privilege, 2) engage reality in the fullest way possible, and 3) tear down these ideals and boundaries that our culture has set for us. Only then can we start to build a new world together that acknowledges the realities of pain and suffering while discovering a way to incorporate that into a true understanding of the human condition.