Sunday, April 11, 2010

Scott L. Montgomery - Science as Kitsch: The Dinosaur and Other Icons, Science as Culture, Volume 2, part 1, No. 10, 7-58, 1991.

The word ‘kitsch’ may come from ‘verkitschen’, which means ‘to turn out cheaply’, but regardless of its origins, it represents a style of mercenary aesthetics.  For Montgomery, it connects aspects of the role that images play in modern society, and the ability to turn thought and feeling into formula, and hence into products for consumption.  The resulting power of this connection between images and the consumer industry helps ingrain and recycle the existing modes of thought and helps stabilize particular institutional structures.

When applied to science, as in science as kitsch, he is referring to pseudo or crank science and to the use of science to legitimate political ends or culture prejudices.  It also refers to mass-media science (including some popularization), science as myth and as effect, such as tabloid science.  Even the scientist as celebrity falls under the heading of science as kitsch, as does the notion of a national mission of science, or the use of science as intellectual deputies of the state.

(So to popularize anything is to vulgarize it?  Popular culture is obsessed with images and consumption, and to popularize science is to sell out, to turn it into a mass-market consumable, the appearance of which has little if anything to do with the reality?)

According to Montgomery, kitsch is society’s favored discourse about itself, it is ‘integrational propaganda’, and acts through textbooks, films, TV, toys, and any other mechanism that helps to condition or otherwise limit one’s curiosity about and critique of existing concepts and social realities.  The result is that kitsch blocks the will for new insight by dominating our images.  We do not move past the old myths and legends and the inaccessibility and mystery of science is maintained.  “It keeps alive concepts and beliefs that are false and closed, that dazzle or distract with an appeal to distant expertise, and that attempt in every case to satisfy without the benefit of substance.” (56)

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