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From the Archive: The United States of AmeriKitsch


“Kitsch is the inability to admit that shit exists.” – Milan Kundera

Kitsch has the potential to unite all people, irrespective of culture, background, or elitist pretensions. Objects we acquire or accumulate have no meaning until we provide it. The uses for kitsch are infinite. Milan Kundera notes that kitsch is not just the “inability to admit that shit exists,” but also it is the natural aesthetic of all politicians. Last fall in a video interview for Fortnight Journal, I suggested that kitsch might just outlive us all – even the politicians.

Yet most moments of pure kitsch happen far away from electoral politics, geopolitics, and the global spotlight. Kitsch injects sentimental into the otherwise mundane. Bob Dylan said “even the President of the United States must have to stand naked,” yet how naked can you be when your person has become part of a larger cult of presidential kitsch? Does kitsch protect?

As I prepare to leave the USA for a Fulbright grant to Azerbaijan, I thought it was time to look back at some of those sentimental injects into the otherwise mundane. To Azerbaijan, with love from the USA:

A woman stares at a taxidermy squirrel at a booth at the Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis, Wis. on August 3, 2008.

Wisconsin cheesehead delegates at the Democratic National Convention at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Co. on August 25, 2008.

Miss South Shore in a parade at the Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis, Wis. on August 3, 2008.

Miss South Shore in a parade at the Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis, Wis. on August 3, 2008.

A young woman in a bikini announces the start of the next round of boxing at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago on August 15, 2008.

A lingerie shop window on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, La. on March 11, 2008.

An anti-abortion activists readies his truck a few miles from the XCel Center, site of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota on August 31, 2008.

Men pray on the street during Friday prayers outside the Dawood Mosque in Brooklyn, New York on May 11, 2007. Because of overcrowding at the small, apartment-sized mosque, many of the men must pray on the street during Friday prayers.

A man wearing an American flag leather jacket at the Detroit Auto Show on January 11, 2009.

American Flag gift ribbon faded in the grass in Illinois on July 3, 2008.

Signs lead the way to the American Gothic house in Eldon, Iowa, population 1,200, hometown of the American Gothic house, about one and a half hour southwest of Iowa City on April 23, 2009.

A “Ronald Reagan ‘Stept’ Here” welcome mat at the museum of the birthplace of Ronald Reagan in Tampico, Ill. on October 26, 2008, less than two weeks before the U.S. general election. Reagan was born in a modest apartment above a bar with no indoor toilet; when he visited as president, he did step here with photographic evidence beside the mat offered as proof at the museum.

Afghan-American bowlers listen to instructions from organizers prior to the kickoff of the Afghan Bowling Tournament in Annandale, Va. on February 28, 2010.


Wichita Wingnuts minor league baseball stadium in Wichita, Kansas on June 6, 2009.