Imagine walking several hours into a serene forest through densely clustered pine trees. Stepping over roots and jagged earth covered by dry needles on spotty grass, sweet smells of pine and fresh air fill your lungs, and the rustle of trees and wildlife ring in your ears. Then, in the midst of the forrest a small reprieve from the dense trees opens into a beautiful green meadow. Perhaps it’s a place for a contemplative walk or summer-time picnic. In contrast, four stories down from a hotel-like apartment complex a “master planned” community dominates the landscape, and right in the center is a kitsch-like “meadow.”
Surround by trees? Yes.
A place for a picnic? Maybe.
A place to encounter nature? Certainly not.
Robert Solomon says kitsch causes a “cheap, or easy” expression of emotion or sentimentality ("Kitsch" in Aesthetics: A Reader in Philosophy of the Arts, 344). At first glance, the planned park seems calm and tranquil, surrounded by a winding path, ivy growing up large beams making a fragrant canopy. Upon closer inspection, a broken sprinkler head causes flooding and storm drains gurgle along the “scenic path.” The large grassy center of the park would be a cliche’ spot for a quiet picnic; if only sounds of squeaking brakes would silence themselves for more than a few minutes. The illusion of nature causes many of my neighbors great joy as dozens of people walk the quarter mile loop several times or take their kids or dogs with them. Solomon might say the imitation or the manufactured elements of the park bring joy to people who might not get outside the city often. It is nature-like and perhaps it calms and pleases them. Why does it matter if this pleasure is simplistic or superficial? What’s the harm?
A ten minute car ride from my apartment takes you to a untouched wildlife preserve, full of natural imperfections. All trees don't grow perfectly vertical or in rows. grass isn't always short and dense contained by concrete paths. Shrubs aren't placed to guide the eye and casual walkers to circumambulate a meadow. The park in my community enforces an artificial sense of idealized nature, turns people into cattle, directed to walk in circles several times a day for “exercise.”
Solomon’s concluding words from his article “Kitsch” sums up the intent of my community park “...Presenting a well-selected and perhaps much edited version of some particularly and predictably moving aspect of our shared experience, including, plausibly enough, innocent scenes of small children and my favorite pets...” I don't reach the conclusion that Kitsch is harmless as Solomon does. I believe it often cheapens real experiences, or in the case of my community park, kitsch pitifully resembles the beauty of nature to faintly and cheaply deliver an experience of nature to a lazy or busy community, far removed from the true beauty found in nature.
Comment from Tom Leddy: Jake has captured an area of kitsch I have never considered before. Although Solomon's examples do not include certain kinds of parks, I find the Jake's application is apt. I also agree with Kirk that kitsch can harm by cheapening human experience.