Thursday, December 26, 2013

A History Of The Mud Flap Girl, or What Kitsch Means To Me

Kitschy means something that is retro-cultish-trinket-like. According to a simple Bing search, it's low-brow art that appeals to the masses. I like my definition better, but I have no qualms with being called low-brow. It's also a German derivative, and so am I, so it works. I love many things kitsch.

My jewelry style is mostly kitsch. I have a necklace that has an oval two-sided piece; one side has a drawing of a girl's head with a crown and says Fun Queen, and the other side says, Drinking and laughing...that was all they did. A different necklace is a silver version of a 45 adapter. You know, those yellow plastic thingies that you use to play a 45 on a record player when you don't have the large circle plastic thingie to put on the player. Usually, people ask me if I'm old enough to know what it is. If I didn't know what it was, why would I be wearing it? Still, it's nice to be mistaken for young. One of my prized possessions is a pin-up girl ring that I got in Hawaii. I wanted to buy the whole box of them, but I bought just the one.

My other prized piece of kitsch is my mudflap girl necklace. It looks like this:

Most times I wear it, I get a reaction. I like the necklace more than I like the reaction, but I don't mind the reaction. Obviously, if you wear something like that, you're going to get one. It's a conversation starter. I wore it to a bridal shower once, and one of the girls leaned over during the meal and said, I love your necklace!, and then all the other girls at the table were like, I was thinking the same thing! So it gets me into conversation in places where I'm socially awkward.

Sometimes women think it's a girl in a yoga pose. These are women who know I do yoga, so they just assume that's what's going on. I guess she could be doing yoga if she were in a studio that had one of those large fans they use in music videos to blow her hair back. 

Once, during my stupid single life, I was going out with friends to meet up with some guy who had asked me to visit while he was guest bartending.  I suppose this was his way of having a pre-date.  Or his way of having a date without having to pay, and in fact, having me pay him in tips.  Oh, and his parents were there.  Which I found out when I walked in with my group of friends and he said, my parents are at the other end of the bar.  If my memory serves correctly, they were here from Canada.  Why do I remember these things?

Anyway, we were all hanging out with him occasionally coming over to talk to us.  He indicated my necklace and was like, Who's she?  I was like, she's a mudflap girl--she's kind of iconic.  He'd never heard of one.  Maybe that's because he was Canadian.  Holy Shit.  If his parents were from Canada, he probably was Canadian.  I have nothing against Canadians; I just never realized I knew one.

Anyway again, he said I should ask other people to see if it's really something people would know.  All of my friends, of course, immediately said, Yes that's a mudflap girl. Sure, everyone knows that.  Then he nudged the guy sitting next to me and asked him.  I turned so he could see it, and then he answered loud enough for the entire Nautical Mile of bars to hear, That there is a sign of white trash!

Canada's face dropped and turned red.  I laughed hysterically and then mocked that I was offended.  The guy who said it was a sign of white trash seemed to be missing teeth.

Yes, that's irony.  English Professor Moment.  Take it in.

Canada then skittered down to talk to his parents and then came back and apologized.  I really wasn't offended.  Because she's kitschy.  Which means low-brow.  Which means me.

And that was the last time I saw that guy anyway.  Because he was a loser.

I guess that since kitschy isn't for everyone, not everyone knows what a mudflap girl is.  Well, she's called a mudflap girl because she appears on the mudflaps of big-rig trucks.  It started as a trucker thing, but then expanded to be one of those iconic kitchsy ideas that showed up on t-shirts, hats, and other things you can buy for five bucks at a souvenir store.

I recently wore my mudflap girl to work.  I’ve worn it to work a few times since I’ve owned it.  It’s not something I wear a lot because I don’t want to be that woman who wears the girl around her neck.  It can easily become a negative, so I know to pick and choose my moments.  

I was sitting in a meeting in a cramped up room, listening to people talk about books and writing and testing.  Then from next to me, I heard a short gasp.  It’s not the first time I’ve heard that gasp. I knew my colleague had noticed my necklace. 

So while this testing discussion is going on, he leaned over and whispered, I love that necklace! 

I answered in a hush, thank you! So do I!

Then he stage-whispered, Are you gay?

I hush-answered, No.

He responded that it would be a great necklace for a gay woman, so I said, Yes, it definitely would.
Then we went back to listening to the discussion about the testing.

When I arrived at my Creative Writing class a few hours later, they were all on their phones ignoring each other.  They rarely do that.  Usually, they are talking to each other about their day, their other classes, an assignment, something going on in their lives.  So I said, guys, put your phones down and interact.  They put their phones down but did not interact.  Figuring it was a slow day for coming up with something to say, I sat down and said, So today someone asked me if I was gay.  There were eight of them in the room, and all eight burst out laughing, two of them practically in tears.  They were all shouting things at once: Who? How? Don’t they know you have a husband?

Apparently not.  I gave them one guess.  One guy finally realized, Oh it’s your necklace.  I asked them, do you know who she is?  

This class never gets any of my references.  They have not seen any movie I’ve mentioned.  They don’t know any television shows.  They don’t know songs.  They don’t know books.  They don’t know current events.  They don’t know history.  They don’t know recent history.  I’m not saying they aren’t intelligent or talented or well-rounded.  I’m just saying they run their lives in bubbles different from mine.  So this question was a shot in the dark.  They answered with a kind of, well, I think I might have seen it before but I don’t really know…. And this answer is better than the normal, No I’ve never heard of it.

I began to explain by telling them that I like kitsch.  

“What’s that?”

And so the definition unraveled.  One girl suggested that kitsch is like tchotchke, and that was not helpful considering the rest of them were not up on their Yiddish.

So I called it retro-cultish-iconic.  That?  They understood.  They liked my mudflap girl.  And so do I.  It’s the best little piece of kitsch I have.

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