Fourth Article

Whether kitsch is material or spiritual?

We proceed thus to the fourth article:--

Objection 1. It seems that kitsch is purely material, grounded only in the cynical exploitation of the gullible masses for sheer financial gain. It has no spiritual, let alone soteriological value.

Objection 2. In addition, kitsch directs the thoughts and desires of the consumer to a purely material realm of money and worldly success, and thus distracts him/her from the proper pursuit of otherworldly goals.

Take Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, a kitsch movie if ever there was one. Its primary audience seems to be know-nothing teenaged boys who love heavy metal rock--a sure sign of kitsch. Bill and Ted traipse around San Dimas, California, and various parts beyond (the future and past in their Excellent Adventure, heaven and hell here), speaking a "Whoa, dude!" teenager lingo that does not bode well for high art; Bill wears his baseball cap backwards; Ted's greasy black hair hangs down to his nose; their high-top sneakers are untied. Most of their best lines come directly from heavy-metal lyrics; they show enthusiasm by doing heavy-metal riffs on pretend guitars. Believe us: it's kitsch.

Hence: no salvation; no spirituality.

But okay, dude: the whole thing's about a rock band that saves the world; still confident in your categories? Bill and Ted form Wyld Stallyns at the behest of a visitor from the twenty-seventh century, one Rufus, for the express purpose of saving humanity from nuclear war, pollution, mass starvation, and other assorted horsepeople of the Apocalypse. The movie is eschatological in other important ways as well. Bill and Ted die, are most heinously murdered by evil Bill-n-Ted robots from the future, early in the movie, and meet up with the Grim Reaper, whom they escape by Melvining him [i.e., yankin' his boxers up around his ears]. They are, however, quickly sent to hell by Missy, Bill and Ted's successive mother-in-law, and a group of other "New Age dudes"; in hell they are subjected to infernal torment, mostly consisting of personal nightmares; to escape hell they call on Death, a somewhat fruity character played by William Sadler who steals the show. They challenge Death to a contest, and best him four games out of seven--Battleship, Superstar Ice Hockey, Electric Table Football, and Twister--and he takes them from hell to heaven and from there back to earth.

Having been through death (hell/heaven) and rebirth, then, having domesticated Death (transformed him into a lip-syncin rapper), Bill and Ted transform the world. Their music burns nuclear weaponry and improves the crop harvest. This is deep hero myth shit, of course, the stuff of high art (not that one would want to make a case for this movie being high art, or any other case based on the hero myth for that matter; just mentioning it): the hero dies to the world in order to enter the place of darkness, where he does battle with the dragon and retrieves the boon that saves the world (and makes the wasteland fertile).

There is also a most ugly Martian character whom Bill and Ted pick up in heaven and bring back to earth to make good Bill and Ted robots to totally kill the evil ones (the "evil metal dickweeds," as the human Bill calls them). His name is Station, which becomes a kind of spiritual mantra in the movie, repeated even by Winger, whose song "Battle Stations" plays while Station builds the robots. Station is introduced to the crowd at the end as "the dude who can make one word mean anything"--all he says is his own name, which thus becomes not only a mantra but a logos, God's Word that is everything and means everything, the many in the one. Station himself can metamorphose from one to two and back, split into two separate beings or merge into one, an ancient spiritual image for the godhead; and in fact Bill and Ted are directed to Station in heaven by God, who also only says one word: "Station." Station is etymologically related to "stand" through the Latin stare "stand." So "station" is ground, where you stand. It's also a stopping place along a route traveled, a temporary stand (like Custer's), as in the medieval Stations of the Cross. At the end of the movie De Nomolos, the bad guy from the future (sit-up champion of the twenty-seventh century) who built the evil metal Bill and Ted ("we're total metal heads, dude!" they cry), appears to deliver the coup de grace to Wyld Stallyns and their messianic mission; and pursuant to that end sends into the local TV cameras broadcasting the Battle of the Bands an electric pulse that unifies all TV stations worldwide into one, all broadcasting to every corner of the earth the eschatological battle (of the bands) between good and evil; this consolidation of the many stations into one precipitates the paradise on earth with which the movie closes. The ultimate ground, the ultimate station is rock and roll--which has the effect of transforming guys like Beethoven (pronounced Beeth-oven) from the Excellent Adventure and Bach from the Bogus Journey into protorockers. Or perhaps all music is soteriological?

Objection! Objection! You still haven't said whether kitsch saves souls or not! You go on and on about this movie you've seen, which probably ignited some repressed teen fantasy in your kitschy psyche when you saw it (nothing spiritual there), and you never once say how this saves anybody's soul! Didn't the producers and such make a lot of $$$ off this flick? Is that what saved them?

Whooaaa, dewd. First of all, who to say that we're talking about saving "souls"? We never said that--or, if we did, we didn't mean souls. Anyway, who's to say that it wasn't the unlocking of these "repressed teen fantasies" you postulate that saved our soles (fillets of soul)? Only we know what we need to be saved from. The critics don't know. The artists don't know.

But--what about whether kitsch is material or spiritual?

Who ever said those categories were in any sense mutually exclusive?


Go directly to the Fifth Article and stand on it.

Go back to the Articles screen.

Think of this as the intense personal property of the most Bogus Humans Bill and Doug (copyright it).