The Eyesores That Unite Us

Some years ago, in a flash of inspiration while in Istanbul, I had an idea of a kind that occurs to me infrequently: I thought of an entirely new institution, the National Museum of Kitsch. I would collect particularly egregious examples of kitsch and display them in a gallery, thereby performing, in my own imagined estimate, a public service of some magnitude. By showing what was bad, I should point people in the direction of the good.

Throughout my life, unfortunately, I have never been able to follow up on my imagined projects. They are like dreams; I forget them shortly afterward. There is another obstacle to my project: I could collect examples of kitsch all right because kitsch tends to be cheap, and I could even call for donations from a public wishing to rid itself of its hideous ornaments—but I am not rich enough to buy or construct the large building necessary to display them (the collection, I fear, would soon grow to enormous size, indeed become untenably large).

The object that inspired my idea was an alarm clock in the form of a pink plastic mosque with gold-colored decorations on sale for three Euros on a street-stand. Its alarm was in the form of a muezzin’s call, and if it went on for long enough, if the sleeper failed to wake and to turn it off, the verses that the muezzin recited changed and his tone grew more urgent. I thought I detected a note of moral disapproval entering his call.

There were four colors of mosques to choose from: apple green, baby blue, lemon yellow, and shocking pink. It was the latter that I chose because it was the worst, if judgments of good and bad could be said to apply to this particular genre of object. A real collector, I suppose, would have bought all four.

The mosque alarm clocks were made in China. I suppose you can say that a country with a manufacturing sector has reached maturity in the economic sense when it subcontracts the manufacture of its kitsch to another country.

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