"[A] case could be made for the seeming lack of moral values or intellectual stimulation on these many shows…[which seem to be] popular for their pure entertainment value. "

essays

Jorin Dworshak

learnedJorin Dworshak grew up in Arizona, but has adopted Alaska as his home state. He is currently an active duty Senior Chief Petty Officer in the Coast Guard stationed in Virginia, and has over twenty years service between the USMC and USCG. He is currently working towards his AA degree with the University of Alaska’s Kodiak College, and plans on pursuing a Bachelor’s degree upon its completion. He is married with three children. He developed this essay in a class taught by West Los Angeles College English professor Nuala Lincke-Ivic.


Cashing in on the Kardashians

TIn this age of constant connectivity, pervasive social media, and instantaneous news, there is a huge market for those seeking nearly constant entertainment. People have the opportunity to see worlds they wish they could be members of; and conversely, worlds they feel comfortable laughing at and mocking. Most of us are familiar with the socialite, persons who are apparently famous for nothing more than being born rich. Some in this group have recognized that they can use this constant need for entertainment to their advantage. By promoting themselves via a variety of means they’ve found a way to gain further income, as well as fulfill their need to be in the public eye. One family who has been very successful at this is featured in the reality television show Keeping up with the Kardashians, and they have used this as a means to promote themselves to all types of success. It could be asked if this is a positive development for society. It is a question New York Times television critic Neil Genzlinger (2011) asks in reference to this:

Are hoggers, ghost-chasers, hillbilly handfishers, hairy bikers, disobedient pets, garrulous cake bakers and obnoxious residents of New Jersey overrepresented on American television and thus giving a misimpression of our species to those on otherplanets who may be receiving the TV signals emanating from our satellites, inevitably leading to an intergalactic attack intended to exterminate us?

While a case could be made for the seeming lack of moral values or intellectual stimulation on these many shows (though morality is at best a contentious and subjective issue, and lessons can undoubtedly be learned even if they are not intentional), I feel these shows are popular for their pure entertainment value. It may be for the feeling of escape from one’s own conditions; or possibly to derive a sense of satisfaction that comes with the derision of others, particularly those perceived as vain enough to seek the spotlight. The Kardashians’ show is one of many in this category.

Keeping Up, or Cheapening?

Mark Grief, Assistant Professor at Eugene Lang College and co-editor of n+1 magazine says in his article The Reality of Reality Television, “We need myths, not only of our ideal, and our average, but of our fallen extreme” (Grief, 2005). A case could be made either way for the Kardashians’ show. Some will see it as an example to strive for (the ideal), while others will see it as an example as the end of civilization (the fallen extreme)—I think it is somewhere in the middle (Grief’s average). The show’s title is a play on the old cliché, keeping up with the Joneses. This implies that those who don’t keep up are somehow not up to par, whether it be socially, financially, or in some other aspect. Of course, most people don’t have the financial means from birth that these people do; so, to reinforce what I said earlier, this leads to two extremes as to how they’re seen. Some people idolize these socialites, like the fans who went to see Kim Kardashian at an event in a Nordstrom department store in California. In reference to those gathered, Lynn Hirschberg wrote in an article for fashion magazine W : “ The group was diverse: racially varied and all ages but consistently worshipful” (Hirschberg, 2010). However, other people see this show in a completely different light; the Parents Television Council (2006), in a special report concluded that:

The statistics compiled in this study suggest that reality programming contributes significantly to the already high level of sex and foul language on television – particularly on expanded basic cable. Reality-based entertainment programs aren't going away any time soon. We can expect them only to become more common, and sadly, increasingly outrageous.

So, the Kardashians have their fans, and they have their foes. As with most things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle—the family’s success in this realm is noteworthy, but hardly worth worshipping… or condemning.

Kardashians and Benjamins

The Kardashians have recognized that the phenomenon of reality television has a niche for their day-to-day lives. The rules of supply and demand dictate what is on television, just like every other product. Taking this into account, Keeping up with the Kardashians looks like it definitely has the demand. It has won at least one of the People’s Choice Awards two years running, as well as one of the Teen Choice Awards three years running (Internet Movie Database, 2012). Also of note are three of the Kardashian siblings’ incomes surrounding this show are significant. According to an article in the New York Post (2010):

The ubiquitous Kim Kardashian earned the top spot as the highest paid reality TV star…the 30-year-old "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" star raked in $6 million from her TVshow along with a slew of endorsement gigs… sisters Khloe, 26, and Kourtney, 31, joined their sister on the list of the top 10 highest paid reality stars – landing in the No. 7 and No.8 spots with $2.5 million each.

They are most definitely doing something right, to the tune of millions of dollars. A case could be made against the merits of striving for material wealth and all of its trappings; but the fact is, life is better any many aspects with a higher income. If it were not, the majority of people would not be striving to get more. It’s what our capitalist society is based upon—get ahead however you can (within the law of course). If people don’t agree with this and dislike the show and its content or feel that it is detrimental for any reason, there is a simple solution. It’s pretty extreme so it’s not for everyone… wait a moment… here it is: Change the channel or turn it off! I suppose those so disenchanted could instead go to their blog or message board and rail against it with like-minded individuals if that makes them feel better; whether they stand against the social injustice, the unfair distribution of wealth, or the corruption and vulgarity of modern society. Speaking of this, one thing is truly apparent about this show…

Kim As the Catalyst

The honest truth is much of the show’s success rests in one thing: Kim Kardashian’s looks. Much can be made about body image issues with women, young and old; but the fact remains that sex sells. It is a fact of life, and it may never change. Kim and her family understand this, and even commented on it in an interview with Oprah Winfrey (Winfrey, Wishom & Montgomery, 2012). Attractiveness is an advantage in life, and anyone who has it is not wrong in using it as leverage to improve their lot. This is not shallowness or some type of character flaw as some would make it out to be, it is simply good business. For some reason a lot of people correlate using one’s looks as a principal means of promoting themselves as some type of social injustice—or worse, as being someone who is immoral, mindless, or deluded. Looking at it differently, you may find that they are in fact intelligent enough to use what may very well be their greatest commodity to make themselves rich (not to mention those they care about as well). I’ve always felt there was a more than a little bit of jealousy behind the whole dislike for women who are successful because of their looks. It’s not fair, but many things in life are not; just because somebody else has an advantage of some type and exploits it doesn’t make them wrong or bad. It doesn’t matter if that advantage is wealth, intelligence, or physical beauty. Those who have more than one of these (or all three) are just luckier and owe nothing to anyone else; least of all an apology of any type.

Celebrity As the New Royalty

Ultimately, the influence of the media is only growing more powerful. The rich and famous are more than happy to take advantage of this to keep their position favorable. This is but one of the ways they can stay on top. The world of reality television is an industry unto itself, and can be used to influence people in more ways than they realize. Shows that are billed as spur of the moment are not necessarily so; they are edited for effect in post production using standard industry methods. Many may not fully realize this and believe all is up front and honest, leading them to feel strongly about their television heroes. Of course this allows for ever increasing exposure and more opportunities, including linking themselves with other celebrities, as it is mutually advantageous. Kim, and several of the Kardashians have done this (indeed Khloe is married to NBA star Lamar Odom, sports being a similar avenue to fame). An example would be Kim’s photo shoot with Justin Bieber; fashion site Elle said of this, “Teen sensation Justin Bieber and glamour girl Kim Kardashian met cute at the White House Correspondents’ dinner, and the Twittersphere went wild. But when they meet again on The Bahamas’ sun-kissed beaches, the pop star plays it sweet” (Rosenblit, 2010). Nothing like a little cross-exposure to possibly open new doors. Thinking of the White House, where Kardashian and Bieber met according to the article, it is no accident that they were both there. Celebrity is indeed the new royalty, and many striving for political office have realized this. National Public Radio critic Bob Mondello (2012) had this to say about the latest vice presidential debates, “We've been conditioned. But the things reality shows have conditioned us to look for — polish, brashness, engagement with the camera — are all surface, not things that have much to do with governing”. I’d say the biggest take away from this is to be careful who you idolize and why; otherwise, before you know it you’ll be looking at a future voting ballot and find you have a choice among celebrities like Kim Kardashian, based upon popularity alone, for your next Congressperson, Senator—or even President.

References

  • Genzlinger, N. (2011, October 07). An Old-Fashioned Date Can’t Beat a Night Out Debating Reality TV. Retrieved from New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/08/arts/television/reality-tv-debate-critics-notebook.html
  • Greif, M. (2005, September 16). The Reality of Reality Television. Retrieved from n+1: http://nplusonemag.com/reality-reality-television
  • Hirschberg, L. (2010, November). Kim Kardashian: The Art Of Reality. Retrieved from W Magazine: http://www.wmagazine.com/celebrities/2010/11/kim_kardashian_queen_of_reality_tv?currentPage=
  • Internet Movie Database. (2012). Awards for Keeping up with the Kardashians. Retrieved from Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1086761/awards
  • Mondello, B. (2012, October 12). How Reality TV Turns Debates Into 'White House Idol'. Retrieved from National Public Radio: http://www.npr.org/2012/10/12/162819982/vice-presidential-debates-mirror-american-idol
  • Winfrey, O., Wishom, A. & Montgomery T. (Producers). (2012, June 14). Oprah's Next Chapter. Chicago, IL. Retrieved from http://www.oprah.com/own-oprahs-next-chapter/Oprahs-Next-Chapter-The-Kardashian-Family-Part-1
  • Parents Television Council. (2006, November). Harsh Reality: Unscripted TV Reality Shows Offensive to Families. Retrieved from Parents Television Council: http://www.parentstv.org/PTC/publications/reports/realitytv
  • Rosenblit, R. (2010, August 10). Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian's Island Escape. Retrieved from Elle: http://www.elle.com/pop-culture/celebrities/justin-bieber-kim-kardashians-island-escape-463628
  • Unknown Author. (2010, December 7). Kim Kardashian highest paid reality TV star of 2010: report. Retrieved from New York Post: http://www.nypost.com/p/entertainment/kim_kardashian_highest_paid_reality_Ym3muzXwTnySKRpBBeQGeL

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