While we were in Minnesota over winter break we stopped into a couple of book stores to pick up cheap books. I grabbed a two-dollar copy of George Carlin's When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?, and it's been paying dividends ever since. Here's a passage that really resonated with me:
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said that changing the name of Newark Airport to Liberty International Airport would be a way of honoring "the more than 3,000 heroes who died for their country in the World Trade Center." Pardon me for pointing this out, folks, but stock traders, clerks, receptionists, cooks, waiters, and building maintenance people in the World Trade Center didn't die for their country. They died because they went to work. Not one of them would have shown up for work that day if you had told them that they would have died as a result. Try to get your heroes straight.
I was asked recently to explain Kunderan kitsch. This is a prime example of the sentimentalism that leads to totalitarian kitsch, and the kind of meme conservative America barfs out to distract people from the fact that they're being screwed. This isn't kitsch itself, but it has been employed in that way. The attempt to romanticize things rather than to look at them as they are--sad, but otherwise not notable--is the root of kitsch.
And then I wonder about myself. Why do I care how people hold these memories? Why do I care how they express their sentiments? And then I answer: because as these shithead sentiments take hold they veneer reality with a sugary coating that keeps us from looking at reality--we'd rather have the sugar coating. And who wouldn't? Why wouldn't we rather talk about how the soldiers in Iraq are "defending our freedom" rather than how the president sent them into an uninvolved country, deployed them to destroy that country, and still can't justify our presence there? Why wouldn't frightened heterosexual Christians fall back on the nonsense of using the definition of a word to determine how other people can conduct their romantic lives, when no dictionary anywhere pretends to be prescriptive? Why wouldn't we want to identify "those people," whoever they are (immigrants, minorities, poor people, lazy people, etc.) as unworthy of getting my money (My Money!)?
Comfort is nice. Reality is better.