Connecticut has been determined to be the state with the highest percentage of Italian people. Although I live in the best area in the country for Italian food, I don’t go to any of those independently owned Italian restaurants. Being raised by my half Italian mother was enough to make me capable in the kitchen. I don’t like to brag… lol…but most will agree my sauce is better than any they’ve ever tasted, so why would I bother to go to a Italian restaurant? For years, I scoffed at the idea of going to one when I can just make my own food. Indian food is another story, I cannot make Indian food to save my life! It was rare that I ever went to an Italian restaurant until one day when they locally built an Olive Garden.
You see, I am a fan of all things kitsch, in my college days I drove around the country just to find our most outrageous attractions. What I got was Graceland, a wooden chair as big as a house, more than a few statues of Paul Bunyon and Babe the Blue Oxen. Regrettably on this trip, I did not get the opportunity to drive through Florida. What I really wanted to see in Florida was Holy Land. Holy Land is an “theme park” of sorts in Orlando. It’s a fabrication of Biblical Jerusalem complete with period actors like Jesus and Mary who complete a live performance of the passion every day at 5.
I first heard about this while watching Bill Mahers movie “Religioulous.” If Holy Land doesn’t quite qualify as classic American kitsch for you, than let me add that they also have “Celebrate Jesus Karaoke,” all day long for those of you who, “want to share your love for singing Praise and Worship with guests from around the world.” To me this place is the ultimate in kitsch and I can’t wait to go there. Next stop, the Creationist Museum (ya right!). I do draw the line somewhere…
So I love all things kitsch because it is what much of American culture is built on. Haven’t you been to a Texas Roadhouse restaurant? As soon as you walk through the door of that place, it’s as if you’ve left suburban New England and are in the midst of a Honey Tonk right in the heart of Texas, complete with waitresses who line dance every half hour. I am certainly not a fan of that place-as young waitresses tend to be exploited enough without having to dance for their customers- but have come to love the Olive Garden. Every time I walk in, I admire the prefabricated stone work and wonder to myself if this is actually based on the architecture of Tuscany. The authenticity pretty much ends there as my companions and I shamelessly fill up on copious amounts of garlic-flavored bread sticks -which origins are more likely from the house freezer than an experienced Tuscan chef- and their tasty salad full of peppercinis (yum), while awaiting dinner. The dinner, is ultimately taken to go because I ate too many bread sticks. The Olive Garden is kind of like going to an Italian relative’s house, in the sense that you always end up leaving with a enough food for the next couple of days.
I could definitely write a book about American Kitsch. It is what our culture is made of- think Route 66, Disney World, and every chain restaurant built in the US for the last 15 years a lot more. What’s your favorite example of kitschy American culture?? Please share in the comments section! I love to hear from you