The Kardashians made their cash by trademarking their white femininity, their relationships with African American males and advertising Black magnificence aesthetics for white girls—a sort of recent mediated Blackface in a cultural house the place few precise Black faces truly grace U.S. tv screens.
It’s social media’s fault.
After a 14-year and 20-season run, Kim Kardashian of “Maintaining Up With the Kardashians” (KUWTK) fame introduced that 2020 would be the closing season of the household’s actuality present.
Elle and different retailers have reported the cancellation was motivated by Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner’s wishes to deal with their households. And in March, Kourtney Kardashian left the present reportedly as a result of an atmosphere she referred to as poisonous.
However matriarch and avowed “momager” Kris Jenner is flipping the script, blaming the cancellation on social media’s means “to get the message out,” fairly than points with the Kardashian’s themselves or the Kardashian-Jenner’s home relationships. (In line with Kris Jenner, her kids’s profit-making use of social media with its 24/7 direct entry to their lives made producing the present irrelevant.)
I’d wish to flip the script as soon as extra. Social media is the issue—not as a result of it made the present moot, however as a result of it allowed the Kardashian girls to make thousands and thousands by branding their tackle Black magnificence aesthetics. Certainly, their relationship with Black buddies and Black lovers usually drove the fact present’s most memorable storylines.
So due to that, as an Afro-Latina lady and feminist media scholar—and an individual who’s alive in 2020—I categorical my aid that KUWTK will lastly be off the tv airwaves occasion (even when it nonetheless seems as we scroll by way of our social media feeds).
Now I do know watching actuality TV doesn’t appear to be an enormous deal. For many of us, it’s a nice psychological escape from our on a regular basis lives. And have we not all relied on TV escapism through the pandemic?
The reply is a convincing sure. We’ve watched a record-level of broadcast, cable and streaming TV. Within the month of June, for instance, Nielsen reported that audiences spent a record-setting 12.5 billion hours watching TV, and we’re nonetheless watching at ranges greater than earlier than the well being disaster.
But, exterior our Netflixed-and-quarantined lives, a reckoning with systemic racism was ignited. One which makes the ways in which KUWTK (and other reality TV programs) play with race and sexuality much more troubling. KUWTK’s invitation to followers and audiences to have a good time of their white wealth and privilege makes the absence and stereotypes of not-white and not-wealthy others all of the extra pronounced.
KUWTK, like the vast majority of TV programming, is an instance of joyful white indifference. And due to KUWTK’s seemingly insignificant ubiquity, we didn’t even understand that we’d entered harmful cultural territory.
By the “Battle on Terror,” election of the primary Black President, the Nice Recession, and sure, the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kardashian girls have made thousands and thousands monetizing their social media presence, advertising their relationships with well-known Black males, and franchising their celebratory use of “Black” trend types, hair types, professionally-tanned pores and skin, cosmetically filled-lips and most significantly their voluptuous booties.
Courting way back to the enslaved African lady Sarah Hartman (aka the Hottentot Venus), whose buttocks traveled round Europe through the period of colonization, to modern-day celebrities like Lizzo, girls of coloration have been hyper-sexualized and plenty of occasions socially disciplined for celebrating their too-sexy, troublesome to “fashion” backsides.
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In contrast to the Kardashian sisters, full-sized curvaceous Afro-Puerto-Rican/Dominican girls like myself, grew up acutely aware of the methods our racialized our bodies could be sexualized by others, ensuring our pants weren’t too tight and our skirts weren’t too brief. What is widely known as engaging and sexually fascinating for white girls just like the Kardashians is usually depicted as sexually extreme and never socially acceptable in girls of coloration.
For the previous 20 years, Kim and her sisters have unabashedly objectified Black girls’s aesthetics and Black masculinity to market their very own white, upper-class, heterosexual our bodies. The impact is a self-propelled cycle of accumulating wealth by way of social media celebrityhood.
Would audiences proceed to tune-in if Kim wasn’t married to Kanye West, if Khloé hadn’t married basketball participant Lamar Odom and or had basketball participant Tristan Thompson’s child? Possibly.
What I do know is that the Kardashians made their cash by trademarking their white femininity, their relationships with African American males and advertising Black magnificence aesthetics for white girls—a sort of recent mediated Blackface in a cultural house the place few precise Black faces truly grace U.S. tv screens.
The Kardashian’s have been so profitable at appropriating Blackness that I usually use the present to begin conversations with my college students on the politics of cultural appropriation—an appropriation that has at all times been devoid of the real-world context dealing with Black and brown individuals.
Black and Brown Media Illustration Nonetheless Extremely Missing
Throughout KUWTK 2019 season, the UCLA Ralph Bunche Report discovered that for the fifth straight yr Black and Latina/o leads appeared in lower than 22 p.c of scripted Broadcast, cable and streaming programming—although we make up greater than 30 p.c of the U.S. inhabitants, and Black audiences watch extra tv than every other ethnic or racial group.
So to be clear, the tv we have now watched through the pandemic featured primarily higher middle-class white males and white households residing their greatest lives—with just a few exceptions—within the hundreds of hours of TV programming obtainable to audiences.
Why does it matter what and the way a lot tv we watch through the pandemic? Aside from the apparent well being dangers related to a stationary way of life, the tales and pictures represented in packages like KUWTK distort how we see weak individuals and communities. In brief, you are what you watch.
The present, like the vast majority of TV packages, symbolizes the U.S. cultural and sexual love affair with Blackness and Black in style tradition—at the same time as we battle with addressing systemic racism in our cultural and social establishments, as evidenced within the current declining support by white individuals for the Black Lives Matter motion.
To make certain, the present’s cancellation isn’t occurring as a result of viewers have began to reject all that KUWTK stands for. In any case, a median of three million viewers changed into the present final season—sufficient that NBCUniversal’s E! community executives confirmed the choice to cease producing KUWTK was not theirs.
However I nonetheless sigh in aid that, within the context of looping photos and movies of police brutality towards BIPOC women and men in information and social media feeds, the racial and sophistication escapism of KUWTK might be one much less distraction within the comparatively homogenous Hollywood TV panorama.
Possibly the departure of packages like KUWTK will open the bandwidth for packages like Netflix’s “Julie and the Phantoms,” primarily based on a Brazilian sitcom and that includes Afro-Puerto Rican actress Madison Reyes. Though this fictional Latina/o household story can be situated inside idealized upper-middle class life, the visibility and celebration of precise stunning Brown our bodies is a nice salvo in a second of political upheaval.
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