Bad Kitsch is Worse than Bad Karma

I purchased a wrought iron hanging plant basket, filled it with mini-lights, dangled crystal ornaments off the underside and then hung it from the ceiling. I plugged in the lights and stood back to admire my new chandelier. Soft lighting, pretty and inexpensive. I might even describe it as classy.

I suspect my carpenter cringes at my cheesy attempts at home decorating. Rand and his family are extremely gifted people. His wife has her Master’s Degree in Fine Arts. He paints, sings, plays the guitar and violin and built his daughter’s Celtic Harp that she cut her first CD on at age 11.

As for my own creativity, I discovered mini-lights.

One day last fall, Rand and I were pouring concrete for the back entryway of my house. I said I wanted to press some of the leaves into the wet concrete. Rand said, “Oh, you don’t want to do that, that’s kitsch.”

“Kitsch,” I said, “What’s that?”

He said it was tasteless art or decorating. I told him l still liked the idea, to which he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well, it’s your kitsch.”

I thought about kitsch over the next few days and then talked to a co-worker about it. She said bad kitsch was worse than bad karma. I pondered that thought for a couple more days and then put up mini-lights in the kitchen.

Karma is an eastern philosophy that says that the quality of one’s life is determined by his or her behavior, or as the old saying goes, “What goes around comes around.” Theoretically, the thing about Karma is that you have some control over it. If you do good things, you will have good Karma, which means you will have good things happen to you. If you don’t tip the scales too far toward the bad side, you’ll probably do okay in life.

Kitsch is different; it turns bad on its own. The dining room wallpaper, with lime-green leaves, bright red and hot pink flowers the size of dinner plates, might have been pretty back in the seventies but was grotesque twenty years later when my sister purchased her house.

My friends and I have come up with some acronyms to describe kitsch. The first one is N. E. F. B., pronounced “Nefbee,” and meaning “No Excuse for Being.” Imagine that you are walking around in an antique store and you see something quite ghastly. “Why?” you think to yourself, “Would someone spend the time, the energy and the money to create this ugly thing in the first place? Why, again, would someone save it from the junkyard, put it on display and put an outrageous price tag on it? Why? Because, it’s a Nefbee.

Now, imagine that for some stupid sentimental reason, you buy it. Once purchased, the acronym is S. U. Y. G. H. I., pronounced “Sweegee,” and meaning “So Ugly You Gotta Have It.”

It happened to me once. I noticed on the sale rack in an antique store, a small ceramic pitcher with six tiny cups. It was purple and green and shaped like a cluster of grapes. You can’t use the pitcher, for if you try to pour liquid into it, it will spill because the neck is too small. You can’t see down inside the tiny opening, so how can you tell how clean it is. This pitcher with the cups had been drastically reduced down to $5.00. I shook my head and walked away. It was a Nefbee.

A couple of weeks later, I was back in the store. I saw that the price of the stupid purple hand grenade-shaped pitcher had been slashed to $2.50. Again, I shook my head and turned to walk away. That’s when I heard the Nefbee pleading for its life.

It was saying, “Save me please! Don’t let them throw me in the junkyard!” I looked at it with contempt and turned again to walk away when it spoke again.

It said, “Okay, so I’m ugly and I’m worthless, but look at my cute tiny cups. You love miniatures! Don’t let them be destroyed! Please!” I bought the stupid things and the pitcher, took them home and changed their names to Sweegee.

Twenty years later, they are still taking up valuable storage space. Sometimes I think I hear them laughing at me because I was duped into saving them. When I have thought of getting rid of the pitcher, it screams, “No! Please! You’ll break up the set.”

This brings me to another aspect of bad Kitsch. It’s the “set” or the “collection” argument. You can put anything together and make a “set” out of it, as long as the kitsch doesn’t wind up in the junkyard. Nefbees and Sweegees are masters at survival.

A friend of mine collected hundreds of decorative tins. When it was time to sell her house and move into something smaller, there came the inevitable problem of what to do with the tins. She tried selling them at a garage sale, but because she valued them so much, the price tag was too high. She ended up saving a few and the rest went to charity. Did you notice that she didn’t throw them away? It’s because these bad kitsch pled for their lives, convincing her that they were too valuable and someone would like them as a “set.” I wonder what they would have sold for on E-Bay?

Back to my carpenter, Rand. It was cold and dark before he finished the concrete project. He did such a professional job that I decided to keep my mouth shut about the leaves. Three days later, after pulling the plastic and form away from the new landing, I spied a very large and beautiful maple leaf, where he had tastefully placed it in one corner. Now that’s kitsch done right.

The more I tried to figure out this kitsch thing, the more mini-lights I put up. I wondered why Judy gave me such an ugly Christmas gift. Could she not differentiate between my artistic decorating and a tasteless dust catcher?

If you have bad karma, do you get punished by having to live with bad kitsch? I once knew this woman who liked frogs. I like frogs too, but no one deserves what happened to Sally. Somehow, the world found out that she liked them. Eventually she owned every size and shape of fake frog. Not only did she spend time dusting them, but she also spent too much money on shelving and lighting. One day, she told me she secretly hated them and believed these frogs were involved in some evil plot to take over her living room. Sally must have done some pretty bad things to be cursed with such bad kitsch.

Every room in my house twinkled as I pondered the bad kitsch/bad karma enigma. If you placed a bunch of small Sweegees and Nefbees in a basket, would you call it a kitsch-all, instead of a catch-all? If you stole an art object in one life, would it come back to you in the next life as bad kitsch? If you lived with someone with horrible decorating, would that suffering be enough to turn bad karma into good? Could you go to a therapist or an exorcist and be treated for B.K.S. (Bad Kitsch Syndrome)? Does karma and kitsch recycle at the same rate? If they’re bad, do they break down as slowly as radioactive material with long half-lives? If I try to change or destroy kitsch, am I tampering with the order of the universe? Will I be inviting bad Karma? My brain is overheating; I need to put up more mini-lights.

I know people give away their unwanted gifts, sometimes for fun and sometimes to get them out of their house. These are their “White Elephant” gifts. I wonder how many of these barely got out of their wrapping paper before they were rewrapped and passed along, hoping to reincarnate into not so bad kitsch.

There may be an answer to this over abundance of junk. For New Year’s next year, I have decided to invite all of my friends and family together. We will each bring one piece of our worst kitsch. We will wrap them and exchange them. Now this is where the idea differs from what has already been done. We will open our gifts and vote on which one rates as the baddest of the bad kitsch and then we will ceremonially destroy it. In destroying this one piece, we will have rid the world of one more tasteless piece of trash. We will also add to our New Year’s resolution to try really hard not to amass more of the same.

This would be our great moment of redemption, our good Karma! (Unless, of course, the Nefbees and Sweegees convince the guests at the party that this piece of kitsch is “the” piece that has been missing from a rare and valuable collection).

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