Kitsch – Refrain of the Right-eous

Lazzarato captures the concept of the commodified refrain of post-fordist culture industries most succintly:

The design of an advertisement, the concatenation and rhythm of the images, the soundtrack are organized like a kind of “ritornello” or a “whirlwind”. There are advertisements that reverberate in us like a musical theme or a refrain. You have probably already been surprised to find yourself whistling a musical theme from advertising (it certainly happens to me, at least). The Leibnizian distinction between actualization in souls and realization in bodies is very important, because these two processes do not coincide and can result in completely unpredictable effects on the subjectivity of the monads. […] The incorporeal transformations work well on the souls of the television viewers (of these countries, as well as on the souls of the poor in rich countries) by creating a new sensibility, because something possible certainly exists, even if not outside the medium of its expression (the television images). For what is possible, in this sense, it is enough to be expressed through a sign in order to have a certain reality, as Deleuze demonstrated to us.

Lazzarato notes that images have a materiality and this materiality circulates across the diverse media networks of the contemporary era. Refrains emerge through any rhythm when it becomes expressive; indeed the refrain is this rhythmic expression. The refrain does not have to be of a certain medium (song or images), but can emerge in the rhythm of any series. The complexity of modern politics means that a ‘series’ can exist across multi-medium and in fact can exist in the most diverse registers and scales.

Princeton Prof. Hal Foster has a very interesting article (sub. req. here is a thoughtful summary) in the July issue of the London Review of Books. He begins:

“In this age of heightened spectacle and surveillance, kitsch seems an innocuous form of cultural persuasion and political manipulation. Yet since 9/11 it has returned with a vengeance in the US, with an effective brand that might as well be called ‘Bush kitsch’.” (29)

Or it might aas well call it the refrain of the right-eous. Foster introduces the concept of kitsch’ locating its emergence with Broch identification of kitsch with the contradictory values of the bourgeois in Nazi Germany: “an asceticism of work on one hand and an exultation of feeling on the other.” In the current post-9/11 climate we are surrounded by “beautifying lies”: ” a ‘spread of democracy’ that often bolsters its opposite, a ‘march of freedom’ that often liberates people to death, a ‘war on terror’ that is often terroristic, and a trumpeting of ‘moral values’ often at the cost of civil rights.”

Foster then raises two examples. The yellow ribbons worn in support of US troops abroad and the strategic placement in civil and public spaces of actual stone tablets representing the Christian values of the Commandments. He writes:

“In the case of both the yellow ribbons and the Commandment monuments, exhortation slips into the imperative: ‘Support our troops,’ ‘Thou shalt (not)’. This is also the voice of the second anthem of the US, ‘God Bless America’ (also available as a flag sticker, only here it is God who is exhorted. Again, this stuff seems innocuous, but precisely because of this it acclimatises us to rhetorical structures that now suffuse political language, especially on the right, where policy positions — against reproductive rights, gay rights and so on — are presented as preordained, commands from on high, answers given in advance.” (30, italics added)

There are countless other examples of the propogating propaganda paraphrenalia of the right-eous. The quasi-transcendentalism of the refrain of the right-eous produces a self-legitimating circuit of punditry and critique. To put it another way, the right is very good at asking questions of itself and of the programs it champions, which produce a terrain of critique and answers. Self-fulfilling prophecy. As Lazzarato writes:

“It is enough to turn on the television or the radio, go for a walk in a city, buy a weekly or daily newspaper, to know that this world is constructed through a statement arrangement, through a sign regime, the expression of which is called advertising, and what is expressed (the meaning) is a prompt, a command, representing per se a valuation, a judgment, a view of the world, of themselves and others. What is expressed (the meaning) is not an ideological valuation, but rather an incentive (it gives signs), a prompt to assume a form of living, i.e. a way of dressing, having a body, eating, communicating, residing, moving, having a gender, speaking, etc.”