Source: Deadline

The Educational Value of the Kardashians

Elena discusses what the Kardashians may offer to the academic field.

The anticipated release of the Kardashians’ new reality show, of the same name, aligned in April this year with a brief visit home to see my parents. This unfortunate coincidence led to what is probably one of the most heated debates my family, and I’m sure many others across the globe, have ever partaken in: is there any educational value to the the show and the family documented within it?

 

Although streaming platforms refrained from sharing viewer ratings, not a week later, Disney announced the very first episode as the “Biggest Launch Ever”, making it the most watched series premiere on Hulu in the United States, Star+ in Latin America and on Disney+ internationally. The original show, ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ grew its viewership from an original 898,000 tuning in to watch the first episode almost 15 years ago, to 2.4 total million viewers for its sixteenth season finale. As far as the shift into social media, it only aided their rise in popularity, with the family now boasting a combined following of 1.2 billion on Instagram.

 

Source: Heatworld.com

 

And despite my belief that neither viewing ratings nor follower counts equate to the pertinence of the content in our culture, it is worth noting the sheer number of individuals that willingly consume the turbulent private lives of these sisters. Moreover, there is a significant amount of academic interest that many of the aforementioned individuals have in the transition of the influencers from ‘just another rich American family’ into a cultural reset in and of itself.

 

This is the case made by Kimposium! – a symposium that first took place in November of 2015, and that six years later, with the end of the original show, would once again occupy the lecture halls of London’s Brunel University. The aim of the event was to examine the Kardashians as a powerful popular culture phenomenon and uncover the answers to some of the questions we’ve pondered regarding our fascination with them – what it implies about ourselves, our desires, and our values.

 

Meredith Jones, the mind behind Kimposium!, put it best when addressing the backlash that her academic interest in the family generated in the press, “I was interviewed several times for press and radio and each time was asked to justify the notion of taking the Kardashians seriously. I found myself wondering whether a symposium around, say, Bear Grylls would have caused the same furore. I doubt it because the broadcasting of Grylls’ overtly masculine set of skills and the cultural relevance of his labour as a professional wilderness survivor and adventurer seems to go unquestioned, despite their irrelevance to the lives of most people.”

 

Jones’s point has become, therefore, one of my key arguments in response to any attack on the academic validity of the reality show: the issue isn’t that of whether documentary-type programmes are acceptable academic sources, but instead, the root of the matter is how global audiences continue to diminish the feminine and seemingly niche concerns encountered in privileged and beauty-driven lives, activities like dieting, exercise, hair removal, ageing, etc.

 

Source: Whattowatch.com

 

When claims are made against the intellectual integrity of the widely acclaimed show, it is worth wondering – isn’t the mere emotional response to this stimulus a valid enough reason for it to be considered worthy of further study? Let alone the fact that this response is exhibited in millions of people varying in race, sexuality, ethnicity, age and nationality. This strength in numbers observed in both viewership and followings isn’t the cause but rather the effect of the Kardashian revolution, which continues to unite an increasingly divisive world. It is this very phenomenon that urges further insight into the KUWTK empire; insight that can prove psychological, sociological, economic, anthropological, or political, among other factors, thereby making a plot centred on “glamour labour”, the pursuit of love, female-driven business endeavours, friendship, and most importantly, family, so pertinent in our day and age.

 

All of which brings me back to April, a brief visit home to see my parents, and a heated family debate. The conclusion of this affair is simple: when it comes to educational value, every source can be academic when observed through a critical lens, and, The Kardashians, either as a business, as a family, or as a form of entertainment, are no different. It is not a question, at this point, of whether you like or dislike the women who carry the brand, but instead a calling to the intellectual within, who from an entirely academic standpoint, should maybe start considering keeping up with the Kardashians.

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