A Santa with a Butt Plug: Paul McCarthy and the Obliterating Violence of Positivity

Natasha Lushetich (Lead / Corresponding author)

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Kitsch is often seen as the denial of shit. Kitsch excludes from view everything that is unacceptable in human existence. In Paul McCarthy’s oeuvre, there is no such dichotomy. For forty years, his scatological work – wallowing in shit, pissing on food, fucking mayonnaise jars, walking on broken glass, re-coding revered artworks as trash porn, and dropping huge piles of shit on cities – has dissected the violence of positivity. This article suggests that McCarthy’s 1970s performance work, his 1990s interactive architectures, and his 2010s automated environments articulate three distinct stages of this violence: libidinal, participatory, and automated, as enmeshed with the spectacular, experience, and information economy, and the aesthetics of the interesting, the zany, and the cute (Ngai). Pinpointing the devastating working of the late-capitalist symbolic order-disorder—an order that perpetually disorders—I argue that McCarthy’s oeuvre articulates the passage from biopolitics (Foucault) to smartpolitics (Han).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-223
Number of pages21
JournalBody, Space & Technology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 19 Feb 2020


  • biopolitics
  • existential refrains
  • invisible violence
  • performance art
  • remediation
  • smartpolitics
  • Performance art
  • Invisible violence
  • Smartpolitics
  • Biopolitics
  • Remediation
  • Existential refrains

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design


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