May 26, 2010

The Kardashians: Toxic Pop Culture Diet

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , — Melanie @ 7:08 pm

Despite taking a trained and critical eye at pop culture, it is no big secret that I also consume aspects of pop culture with relish and delight. With that said, I try to make somewhat healthy choices off the pop culture menu, or at least consume the more toxic choices consciously and in moderation. So, I want to come clean about something: yes, when Kim Kardashian left Paris Hilton’s side and “launched” out on her own after her infamous sex tape was “leaked” I was slightly intrigued to see how her brush with fame would play out. As the years went on I became a sort of pop culture lookie-loo, peering at the expanding Kardashian empire, an empire that came to include her entire family, in the form of clothing lines, diet pills, perfume, nude photos and, of course, their various reality shows. It was horrifying to watch unfold on so many levels but I continued to peek with a bizarre fascination.

But, I can’t take much more. I am force fed so much Kardashian that I am ready to vomit. You practically can’t escape; billboards, commercials, tabloid and magazine covers at the checkout stands, television shows and advertisements. And, they’re usually in bikinis and stilettos talking about their bodies or their boyfriend (baby daddy or husband, as the case may be these days). Haven’t they ever heard the term “over-exposure?”

In a male-dominated industry women continue to hold a “diminished presence” in various forms of media from print and radio, to television and film. The bottom line, women do not hold a large percentage of positions actively creating media content. Not only do women not make most of the decisions about what is created and disseminated, women have little diversity in the ways they are portrayed in the mass media; the roles they take, the range of representation from age, race, class,  and sexual orientation to size and weight. So when I see the Kardashian women (Kim, Khloe, Kourtney and mother, Kris) taking up all this cultural space and talking about “empowerment,” I just groan and begin to feel a bit queasy. Lots of young women look up to the Kardashians and claim “they’re different from the other pop culture divas.” When I ask how they’re different they rattle off several things, none of which leave me convinced: they’re a tight family, they are succesful business moguls, they don’t need men to buy them things and…and…? And nothing.

First, there would be no fame and no businesses without Kim (and her sex tape) and they don’t deny it. In fact, they agree ( see 3:32 in the video below).  Second, they launched most subsequent businesses with images and products that continue to reinforce the most superficial, unintelligent and money grubbing stereotypes about women, all while donning bikinis or minis. Lets face it, they don’t talk much else but beauty, boyfriends and money. Different? I don’t think so. In fact, lots of other women have branded themselves and become media commodities, including Jenna Jameson, the first porn star to successfully cross over into the mainstream media.

As for the claim that they’re a tight family, well I’d love to give Stephanie Coontz a call and bend her ear on this one. Let me preface by stating, I am not an anti-sex feminist. I’m an early third wave, Gen-X feminist that came of age with positive and empowering notions of female sexuality. But I’ll admit, listening to and watching this family, I feel like a damn prude. In fact, it is the video below, their recent interview on “Nightline” with Cynthia McFadden, that sent me over the edge crying “enough!”

Let’s take a look, shall we?

This interview clearly displays the ways  the Kardashian women don’t stand for female empowerment but, in fact, stand counter to it despite their various claims. It also highlights the reasons I have had my fill of the Kardashian clan.

After discussing the opportunity that was presented by Kim’s sex tape, McFadden asks them about the Playboy shoot that followed at 4:27, a shoot that was encouraged by mom, Kris Jenner.

Kris Jenner, at 4:33, states:

I think it would be an awesome experience for you, if nothing else. On top of that, it’s a ton of money.

When questioned about her role in Kim’s Playboy shoot, she replies:

Well, I thought it was a good idea. I thought that so many iconic women have done Playboy and I thought from, you know, Marilyn Monroe, from, you know, all the different women who were so fabulous and beautiful… and well respected.

Iconic women? Who is she talking about? What iconic women have posed for Playboy? Well, that is where Kris Jenner and I have vastly different definitions. The list of non-Playmates featured in Playboy’s past include the women of Hooters, Ashley Dupre, Sasha Grey, Heidi Montag, Jenna Jameson, Pamela Anderson and, yes, Marilyn Monroe. Iconic, Kris? Sadly, to a growing number of girls and women this list would qualify as iconic, a definition infinitely narrow and one-dimensional, a list of women whose sole merit is based on effervescent, in-your-face sexuality defined in patriarchal terms. I’m sorry, I’m not seeing empowerment there.

But, Kim seems to think so and she defends her mother’s push to pose for Playboy by saying that she decided to pose to show women that she’s curvy and not like all the “stick skinny models” on magazine covers, including Playboy. As I said in my recent article on Kim’s nude and unaltered photos, this is less about empowerment than it is about “empower-tainment” and spectacle, a cash cow that poses as liberation. It is another disappointing and predictable example of women who have been taught to believe that nudity and self-imposed objectification is the way to be empowered, a manifestation of “do-me feminism.”

From the clips of the youngest Kardashian daughters twirling on stripper poles to conversations in which the family negotiates the range of offers, I am left feeling disgusted and sad. I feel sad for the thousands of girls and women who believe these women are role models, their younger sisters who will most likely follow in the stiletto-prints of their older sisters and the adult Kardashian women who have come to believe in the narrowest definitions of female empowerment and encouraged to bare their bods over and over again for big payouts.

The Kardashians are our pop culture reality, a postmodern nightmare in which the reality we’re presented is a manufactured, artificial and superficial landscape.  As women, we are not left empowered by their weight loss claims, nude photos or their flagrant pursuit of wealth that includes exploiting their family. Feeding off  this toxic pop culture diet we’re left with diminished aspirations, our imaginations and possibilities narrowed and confined. Empowerment and liberation equal freedom, not further confinement.


  1. […] I have been quite vocal about my issues with Kardashian’s rise to fame, her incessant focus on her body and her mixed […]

    Pingback by George Clooney Is a Bachelor, Kim Kardashian Is a Spinster : Ms Magazine Blog — September 24, 2010 @ 3:59 pm

  2. Very mature, insightful outlook. It is also sad how many young adults are exposed to their toxicity on a daily basis.

    Comment by Anna — January 8, 2012 @ 2:10 pm

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