Congratulations, Mariu Rodriquez
The What, How and Why Behind Kim and Lena.
As I grabbed my binder full of random article about the different trends, artifacts and currencies of our culture, or at least the microcosm that I am part of – one filled by people’s magazine subscribers, WSJ’s marketplace readers, movie theater frequenters, and Rottentomatoes.com customer base – I thought to myself: I got this, I know her story, I watch her show and I’m fairly perceptive. Little did I know the place where both of them where about to take me.
Let’s start with the most striking differences. Kim; girly, curvy, sexy and glittery, resembles the classic full glam Hollywood style when women lived their everyday in perfect makeup. Lena, ladylike as well, presents herself in a colorful and quirky Brooklyn style.
Kim’s tone of voice is soft, she is poised, doesn’t swear much and is neutral and almost laconic about many things, from voting (her first-time vote was in Obama’s initial run) to even her haters’ nastiest comments. On the contrary, Lena is completely outspoken, spontaneous and opinionated. She speaks her mind out in an “I’ve always found paella kind of pretentious…” kind of way.
In terms of social class, it seems fair to say that Kim belongs to a “lower-upper” segment, often characterized by the need to get attention and “guard” their status through material possessions. Lena belongs to an artistic elite, both her parents are artists, a couple of her writings have appeared in the sophisticated and notable “The New Yorker,” and she even appeared in the “super snob” Vogue magazine at eleven, as part of a reportage about fashionista teens.
Another radical difference between the two is their stand on feminism. Lena is an openly feminist and Kim approved the idea of posing for Playboy because “sex is powerful and I think it’s empowering.” (Brockes, 2012)
Lastly, Kim could teach us all a master class on branding; every aspect of her persona – including her businesses – is consistent with her value proposition: “the full glam experience.” Dash – her store – does not have many items, but it is strategically stocked with products that attract girly teens that collect bottled water with the sister’s pictures in them. This is by no means a marketing trick because Kim is herself the personification of the full glam experience.
In terms of branding, Lena is not there yet. Even though her show, writings, movies and even twitter account share the same honesty and soul search, I do not think she is purposely committed to make her offering a revenue generating machine.
Loaded with differences, I am now ready to pass the torch to my deeper observer and unifier. From a personal standpoint, Kim and Lena are both relatable. Yes, Kim is financially well off and her lifestyle is completely aspirational to most of us, yet the dynamics inside her family, the sometimes rivalry and more often alliances, respect and closeness between each member are aspects one can relate to, either by experience or by wishful thinking.
Her type of show, classified by Susan Murray as a “docusoap,” is scripted and filled with artificial locations but it gives us access to real people, a family that is genuinely close and whose members at some point get tired of posing. This makes Kim as a brand, human and approachable.
(Murray & Oulette, 2009)
At the same time, Lena represents that stage in life when we need to find who we are at our very core and need our friends to share the journey with us. Be it to end a relationship, to find a job or just to go down the spiral of self-discovery, this is a stage we all can relate to as well. Aware or not, we all want to be as true to ourselves as possible.
From a sociological standpoint, they both serve as social factors in the socialization process of millennials. According to Durkheim, “individuals internalize cultural models of society and after assimilating these rules, they convert them into their own personal rules of conduct and behavior in life”. In this sense, Lena and Kim are opening the path of authenticity and family closeness for millenials to follow, and in a broader sense, are helping society rethink these values. (Farzaneh, 2013)
Perhaps in the future, we might see more closely tied families, nurtured by authentic relationships, which main challenge would be finding a technological bridge between generations.
They are also modeling our vision of entrepreneurship. Murray said that a reality star is an entrepreneur trying to establish a brand. However, I would argue that only when these stars have enough reach to impact a portion of their audience’s behavior and when its proposal is innovative enough is when they jump from being an independent business owner to being an entrepreneur.
Some wonder what is Kim’s innovation? It is definitively not a product or service, but rather an ability to cut through the judgmental clutter of being famous for nothing and build her persona around the fulfillment of accumulating experiences in life. Her show, her marriages, her brands, her latest Christmas Card photo shoot are not mere eccentricities but an urge to cease every opportunity that enriches life, her proposal is about accumulating interesting experience.
Perhaps this value proposition is made out of thin air, but it is a successful representation of what many millennials stand for today, especially when the Great Recession of 2008 made them rethink about what’s important in life.
Finally, let’s revisit the infamous narcissism of millenials. In a recent article, Emily Asfahani and Jennifer Aaker pointed out how new data is shifting this perception and showing instead that “millenials appear to be more interested in living lives defined by meaning than …happiness.” (Emily Esfahani Smith and Jennifer L. Aaker, 2013)
Meaning is about having a purpose, value, impact and connecting to a higher purpose, others, even the world. The key though is that “there are many sources of meaning…that we all experience day to day, moment to moment, in the form of these connections.” (Emily Esfahani Smith and Jennifer L. Aaker, 2013)
So yes, Kim and Lena are big time narcissists, but don’t we all need to see the light in ourselves in order to connect to the light in others, thus create meaning?
1. Emma Brockes. Kim Kardashian: my life as a brand. The Guardian, Friday 7, September 2012.
2. Susan Murray and Laurie Oulette. Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture. New York University Press, 2009. Pp 67
3. Arash Farzaneh. http://suite101.com/a/the-influence-of-society-on-the-individual-a70121
6. Emily Esfahani Smith and Jennifer L. Aaker. Millenial Searchers. The New York Times, Sunday 1, December 2013.
Daniel Saunders won a recent Minerva for his answer to a Minerva essay contest. It’s a really good answer but for some reason I forgot to post it.
Here, then, is Daniel’s answer to the question: "JJ Abrams and Joss Whedon, compare and contrast."
I’ve figured out what’s special about JJ Abrams: he’s the master of taking things away. He makes the kind of stuff I love most, which is genre fiction that is not stupid and childish. Of course genre’s roots are in the simple-minded and child-oriented, e.g. pulp magazines, comic books and action movies, so the first thing you have to do is to clear out a lot of the crap that comes with it. This usually includes racism and sexism, depending on how far back you’re going, but also the crushing repetitiveness of genre that makes it easy to parody. JJ Abrams realizes that if the audience knows exactly whats going to happen next, why not skip it?
I really noticed this skipping past the boring in a clever scene in MI:3 where Tom Cruise is going to do a complicated, time dependent heist in a building. I could feel myself start to go to sleep, but then was grateful to realize we were just seeing the outside of the building from the van – and then Tom Cruise sprinting the hell out of there. And there are countless other examples of that in Abrams’ stuff. Not only does it make you feel smart, and not deadened, but you’re more engaged, because your imagination is doing a lot of the work. You do get quite a few glimpses of the monster in Cloverfield, but most of the time you’re imagining what it’s up to and what it’s like – things are rarely overexplained. This is closely related to JJ Abrams devotion to creating a sense of mystery, that is earned, which he talks about in his TED talk, something that has led to great rewards in his non-franchise works like Lost and Cloverfield.
The limitation of JJ Abrams is that when you clear all the boring the crap from old cornball genres, you should have something to replace it with. You should be doing more than they tried to do. In fact, you should use that free space to create art: something that expresses a little of your worldview and ideas about life. I’m not convinced that JJ Abrams has those. Lost is actually, scene for scene, very sharply written, largely avoiding cliches and letting us connect the dots. But it’s a failure (as of partway through season 3) because it doesn’t have much to say. This is especially clear in the flashbacks that occupy half of an episode, which are a perfect storytelling venue in a way: peek into the soul of someone, learn the secrets of their background they don’t want you to know. But in practice, though they are well acted and all have little twists and surprises, they are stultifying, because they don’t add up to anything, they have no perspective on human nature. Some broader themes are emerging in the series, to do with authority and control, but they’re out of focus, and the flashbacks rarely contribute to them. Those flashbacks are truly just killing time. And the emptiness is extremely apparent in Cloverfield and MI:3 whenever they slow down for a second (which, fortunately, they rarely do)
So I will never care about JJ Abrams half as much as I do about Joss Whedon. Whedon clears out the crap, and in its place puts in urgent convictions about the world. Buffy is about growing up, Angel is about guilt and vengeance and negotiating with evil, Dollhouse is about desire and the desire to control others. Among many other things. Everything he’s done is packed full of rich themes, even the 45 minute Dr Horrible. I just read this today about Speed, by David Edelstein:
"Remember: Jack and Annie are on a runaway subway train heading for the end of the line, and she’s handcuffed to a pole. He tries to free her but can’t. Instead of leaping to safety, as she pleads with him to do, he settles down and hugs her tightly as they hurtle towards certain immolation. This might be the most romantic moment in any action picture, and it’s only because Jack is a risk-taker who faces death with stoicism."
Could this also be the cause of the other obvious difference, that his characters are far more loveable and memorable? Maybe it’s not enough for a character to be "well written"; maybe there has to be a point to them. Even Jack – even a Keannu Reeves character! – expresses something interesting about how you might approach life.
JJ Abrams might actually have the edge on some measures – the lack of heart might make it possible to be more streamlined and surprising. I will certainly check out everything he makes, as one of our few incredibly talented and successful genre writers. And I’ll bet there are themes out there that he could speak to deeply. James Cameron doesn’t understand people very well but made some of the best films ever about technology and the techno-warrior mindset, two things he does understand. Until then I doubt JJ Abrams movies will be more than skillful and creative amusement park rides.
Daniel Saunders grew up in Victoria, B.C., studied Computer Science at the University of Waterloo and he is now a graduate student in Cognitive Psychology at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.