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Saturday, October 06, 2007

And speaking of kitsch, it's good to see Kundera being name-checked in discussions about the ne plus ultra of bullshit Fox News controversies, the sad, stupid tale of whether or not Obama should be wearing a flag pin on his lapel. Too bad it's only happening on blogs.

I very much supported, and was personally very moved by, the displaying of flags after 9/11. I think it was important, after the shock and trauma of that day, to grieve and to spend time considering who we are, together, as Americans. Very quickly, however, display of the flag metastasized into a mawkish symbol of tribal identification for the right, which is what it remains. If you front the flag, you're with us. If you don't, you're suspect. I think this obsession with things, furnishings, accoutrements, flag pins, commemorative plates, songs about boots in asses, is perfectly emblematic of patriotism as it exists for much of the right. It's become essentially a form of kitsch. Milan Kundera described this in The Unbearable Lightness of Being:
“Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass. The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! The second tear makes kitsch kitsch.”
The flag pin has little to do with actual patriotism, has much to do with getting misty eyed over the idea of one's patriotism: "Yes, how wonderful that I am a patriot, with other patriots." Conservatives may willingly acquiesce to Bush's dismantling of the constitution, they may cheer for his ceaselessly disastrous foreign policy, but at least they're wearing their flag pins!

Obviously, by eschewing flag pins, Obama's not "ceding the flag," he's ceding the kitsch, and good for him.
UPDATE: It occurs to me a few minutes after posting that Seinfeld may in fact be the more necessary reference here: