Notes on News: The Kardashians – swapping ignorance for influence?

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They are the family taking over all forms of media – from the worlds of television, social media, music and fashion. The Kardashian/Jenner clan is ruling all.

The Kardashian family first hit our TV screens in 2007 with their reality show, Keeping Up With the Kardashians which has spurned into ten series, with a further six spin-off series including I Am Cait – the current show following Caitlyn Jenner as she courageously enters her transition into becoming a woman. But does their domination of the entertainment industry help or hinder cultural minorities?

Khloe Kardashian poses in a traditional native american headdress

Khloe Kardashian poses in a traditional native american headdress (Image via Instagram)

One could argue that the ‘famous for being famous’ Kardashian family are hindering minorities by exposing them, rather than supporting and using the position of power that they have as celebrities to set a more positive outlook. For example, last year Khloe Kardashian posted a series of photographs of herself on Instagram, in a native American style headdress. In native American culture, authentic headdresses are sacred to the plain tribes – with only male members, who earn the feathers on the headdress, allowed to wear them. Khloe, meanwhile gave no response or explanation as to why she was wearing it on camera during a conversation with her sister Kim on an episode of the reality show.

In response to this obvious cultural appropriation, a Native Appropriations website deemed the act extremely offensive: “The image of a war bonnet and war-paint wearing Indian is one that has been created and perpetuated by Hollywood and…furthers the stereotype that Native peoples are one monolithic culture, when in fact there are 500+ distinct tribes with their own cultures. It also places Native people in the historic past, as something that cannot exist in modern society.”

Once the episode had aired, Khloe was accused of being ignorant and displaying cultural appropriation. Many viewers argued that in her position as a reality celebrity, she should be supporting and educating viewers rather than discriminating against minorities and their beliefs.

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Kylie Jenner has been accused of exploiting African American culture in this recent photoshoot. (Image via Instagram)

Similarly the youngest of the brood, Kylie Jenner, has also been accused of cultural appropriation for wearing her hair in cornrows multiple times. After posting an image of herself posing with the incriminating hair style, The Hunger Games star Amandla Stenberg commented on the photo: “you appropriate black features and culture, but fail to use your position of power to help black Americans by directing attention towards your wigs instead of police brutality or racism #whitegirlsdoitbetter.” Kylie responded with an ‘I don’t care’ kind of attitude, confirming that she did not take her position of power as a role model to millions seriously. She has also given a similar response when wearing bindis – a traditional Hindu head decoration. Kylie has also been accused of doing ‘blackface’ in a recent photoshoot.

However, in the last year alone, the majority of the Kardashian-Jenner brood have tried to take these criticisms on board and improve the way they promote themselves. The recent special entitled About Bruce is perhaps the most astute example of the family’s progression in helping minorities. The show focalised on Caitlyn (then Bruce) coming out to her family and trying to educate them and their audience about transgender issues. This episode was one on the most watched episodes of the series ever and has catapulted Caitlyn into a whole new ballpark as an LGBT activist.

The purpose of her new series, I Am Cait, is to show Caitlyn’s transition and her own personal journey into womanhood – in the hope that it will educate viewers on transgender issues, such as high suicide rates, discrimination and the regular misuse of correct pronouns. The series so far, has been a hit for the E! network with many celebrities praising Jenner and her family. Eddie Redmayne, who is set to star as pioneering transgender artist in The Danish Girl –  saluted Jenner’s courage, while The Late Show host Seth Meyers supported her movement by not making jokes in his monologue about her or her family.

Meanwhile, The Kardashians – particularly Kim – are also embracing the idea of educating their fans and followers. One way they have done this is by highlighting the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide – the systemic elimination of Armenian citizens by the Turkish government during World War I which deported and murdered 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1923. The Kardashian’s late father, Robert, was Armenian and “really outspoken about [their]history” according to Kim. In an Instagram post,  Kim wrote: “I am proud to now say I have been to Armenia. I have seen the memorials and the people who survived and I am so proud of how strong the Armenian people are! I am saddened that still 100 years later not everyone has recognized that 1.5 million people were murdered. But proud of the fact that I see change and am happy many people have started to recognize this genocide! We won’t give up, we will be recognized by all soon!” In a contrary move to her step-sister, Kim’s efforts to educate and encourage young people about their own heritages/privileges is decidedly inspiring.

This educational stance is just one example of how the Kardashian/Jenner brood are trying to learn from their past mistakes of being ignorant to cultural minorities. While the young Kylie Jenner may be impervious to her status, her family are making efforts to help minorities. Especially in the case of Caitlyn, who is trying to raise awareness on a very controversial subject in the United States – a place that only very recently allowed gay marriage – by using their power as reality TV queens and airing shows that highlight the issues they believe in abolishing.

If the Kardashians continue on this path of awareness and education, they could indeed grow into universal role models and icons of minority communities and use their unbelievable wealth and power to make actual change, not only in the landscape of television and social media, but also the real world that we all live in. They could be the perfect example of how the entertainment world infuses into and improves our reality.

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Third year Film student, Head of External Relations for The Edge and Vice President of FilmSoc. I love tea and I also love Disney. A lot.

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