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  • Arts & Culture
  • Issue 41

A Load of
Crap

The sanctity of cheap stuff. Words by Katie Calautti. Photograph by Arch McLeish.

Filling personal spaces with purely decorative, cheaply made trinkets—or tchotchkes, knickknacks, bric-a-brac, junk—is as American as apple pie. “Over time, Americans have decided—as individuals, as members of groups, and as a society—to embrace not just materialism itself but materials with a certain shoddy complexion,” writes author Wendy A. Woloson in her book Crap: A History of Cheap Stuff in America.

The country’s proud heritage of excess began during the consumer revolution of the 1700s, when artisans created inexpensive replicas of in-demand exotic goods; faux-wood finishes and paste gems imbued a sense of luxury. Soon, traveling salesmen were hawking cheap goods to people on the lower rungs of the social strata. All of those unnecessary baubles became “conduits through which Americans could envision better lives, ” Woloson writes. Items easily discarded and replaced also lowered the stakes of ownership—people no

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This story is from Kinfolk Issue Forty-One

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