Master of Arts (MA)
Semester of Degree Completion
Aside from a recently published compendium of happy stories by Dan Rather and a few real estate agencies in Florida, the American Dream has been considered dead. The most common poison deemed responsible for this death has been, not the lack of success, but, the "kitschiness" of the reward. Postwar novels such as Henry Miller's The Air-Conditioned Nightmare and Edward Albee's play The American Dream declared that the Dream was no longer genuine and, therefore, no longer functional or valid.
Horatio Alger's blueprint for American prosperity began to lose its momentum to a generation of skeptics who rejected the idea of chasing glamour, riches, and the "beautiful illusion." Rather than killing the American Dream, however, kitsch works as the saving power which reinvigorates the dynamic of irony at play in the Dream of the contemporary era. A new generation of fiction writers and critics, ideologically powered, in part, by the philosophical postmodernists of the past few decades, have begun to affirm the force that kitsch possesses in our cultural context.
I begin with a brief history of the American Dream, particularly its formation and early progress as rendered by literature. I then utilize Friedrich Nietzsche's analysis of the life and death of ancient Greek myth and how that particular process reflected his own era. Certain parallels between the Nietzschean-built dialectic of Apollo and Dionysus and the dichotomy I have constructed of kitsch and shit become valuable lenses for the purpose of exploring the development of the American Dream. I use both Milan Kundera's definition of kitsch as well as kitsch's etymology to reveal this concept as the lynchpin and source of vital energy necessary to expose the surprisingly healthy face of the American Dream today. In the age of entertainment, repetition, veneers, parody, and irony, the search for authenticity or genuineness is so often irrelevant. As purported by current fiction writer David Foster Wallace, this simulation is what deserves our sincerity. Kitsch now demands an attentive, earnest analysis of itself; for neither we nor the American Dream can live without it.
Gerling, Daniel, "American Kitsch: Dreams of Vegas and Apollo beyond Aporias" (2002). Masters Theses. 1410.