As seen on TV!
Sometimes an object can be so unabashedly, so unselfconsciously, and so deliciously tacky, that its tackiness becomes its most endearing feature. That is the soul of kitsch.
The problem with the term is that it's often wrapped up with class connotations. Today's kitschy treasure was yesterday's un-ironic symbol of a striving lower middle class. Some of kitsch's power comes from our knowledge that, once upon a time, somebody actually liked this stuff! True kitsch is a monument to someone else's lack of refinement. So we chuckle at it. And that's okay. But let's not forget that behind every piece of kitsch lies a more personal story.
My maternal grandmother, Gladys, had a black panther lamp crouching on the top of her television set until she passed away at 94. She certainly wasn't the only one with a lamp like this. It was marketed as a TV lamp, because it supposedly wasn't good to watch television in the dark. I can remember seeing the panther on her set from the 50’s through the late 80’s.
I always hated it but loved it at the same time; when she passed away, no one in the family wanted the lamp because it was so tacky. Except me.
It now sits on the top of my early 19th Century, English pine chest of drawers in a place of honor. I love it because it's so awful, and also because it reminds me an awful lot of Gladys.
Gladys Schisser began working for the Denver and Rio Grande railroad in 1918, cleaning Pullman cars for the very wealthy.
She lived in a boarding house, saving her money. With the help of the railroad union she purchased her home feme sole, meaning she was an unwed, single woman. She also had two young daughters. Scandalous for the time.
She retired from the D&RG in 1959, a proud, unbending woman of the West. She passed away in her home.
Yes, my grandmother was a member of the working class who loved her black panther TV light. Here's a woman who, through sheer force of will, carved a life for herself. And if she wanted to indulge by buying a stylish lamp for her TV, well, she damn well earned the right to.
I am proud to own it and happy to call it kitschy. Because -- let's face it -- it's kitschy! Thanks Gladys.
Now you can see why I was so delighted to find a chartreuse panther TV lamp. You seldom see them in any color other than black, so when we found this bright green gem I figured it was a cheap, modern reproduction.
But it's the real thing. No chips, no cracks, and the light still shines. I wonder where it's been all this time.
I call it The Big Fun Kitschy Chartreuse Panther TV Set Light, or the BFKCP TV SL.