Our columnist Kirsty Logan has an ambivalent relationship with the monarchy – she doesn't like the royal family, but she does like tacky Jubilee souvenirs. Here, she writes about the power of kitsch...
If you’ve left your house in the past few months, you will have noticed that it’s the Queen’s Jubilee. Woohoo, monarchy! Many years of queenery! Excuses for parties with pots of tea and flowery bunting! Etc.
You will also have noticed that most shops contain things with the Queen’s face on them. All sorts of things: tea towels and crockery, Top Trumps and jelly moulds, and even a tiny paper throne meant for holding a cupcake. How very useful.
I’ll admit it: I love that shit (well, maybe not the cupcake throne). I recently got a cushion with a Union Jack cross-stitched on the front, and now I want that tea set with a photo of the Queen looking like she’s a demon about to suck your brain out through your nostrils. It’s kitsch, and the part of me that waffled on about postmodernism at uni still loves glittery Virgin Marys and velvet Elvis pictures and – yes – Queen-themed tea sets. But lately I’ve been wondering: do we underestimate the power of kitsch?
I’m sure there was a time that someone could make a tea set with the Queen’s face on it, and young folks wouldn’t all chortle knowingly and use them to serve gin cocktails during their dress-up Downton Abbey parties. (Please note that there is a chance I have a hopelessly unrealistic version of the average person’s social life – I’m a writer; we don’t get out much.) But that time has passed. In this self-conscious, sarcastic, postmodern world, I’m not sure it’s possible to do things with such sincerity. It’s too late. And I’m glad about that. In the case of the Queen’s Jubilee, I am heartily pro-kitsch. The naffer the better.
Among all this Jubilee tat, it’s easy to forget that the monarchy is the centre of a furious debate. Not everyone in the UK considers the Queen to be some benevolent, charming, slightly doddery old lady who likes dogs and finger-sandwiches. Many people – particularly here in Scotland, but in Wales, Northern Ireland and England too – have been questioning what exactly the Queen has got to do with us, and why so much of our already-stretched national budget is being given to keep the monarchy. The most common argument is the tourist pound, as well as some vague notions of nationality and tradition (tradition, by the way, is just a way to describe something that we realise is stupid but want to keep doing). But I’m just not sure.
If you’re currently shouting “Too bloody right!” at your computer screen, then I don’t need to tell you how to protest. You go out and make a big placard of Prince Charles’s face with a big red line through it, and I’ll be cheering you on. But cautiously, because I’m in another group of people: those who feel faintly uncomfortable about the monarchy, but aren’t quite sure what to do about it.
Kitsch is a way to approach difficult subjects. Jokes and satire have long been used to political ends, and kitsch is an important part of that. I’m not a staunch anti-monarchist, but there is something vaguely unpalatable to me about the royal family’s place in modern society – and even if I’m not be ready to hoist a placard, I can laugh at a demonic-looking queen on a tea set.
Kitsch is not art, but like art it can allow us to show our feelings for difficult and complex subjects. Or to show our ambivalence – not staunchly in support, but not ready for a protest. And that is why although I don’t particularly like the Queen, I do like kitschy shit with the Queen’s face on it.
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