Kim Kardashian and Lena Dunham. Compare, contrast, explain.
Prize: a Minerva prize and statue
Who may enter: anyone may enter. Just send us an essay that answers the question. Send your answers to email@example.com.
Deadline for submissions: December 15, 2013
Designers, anthropologists, strategists, ethnographers, writers, artists, activists, musicians, digitists, and other cultural creatives live or die by their knowledge of culture. The more we know, the more adroitly we know it, the deeper our mastery of this knowledge and the forces that produce it, the more surely we will flourish.
So here’s a test of your knowledge. Who are Kim Kardashian and Lena Dunham? As young American celebrities, they are conspicuous parts of popular culture. They express trends already in motion “out there.” This makes them cultural “effects.” But they also shape and clarify things that are beginning to emerge. This makes them cultural “causes.”
Who are these women and what do they say about our life and times? What are the causes (trends, events, developments) of which they are effects? And what are the effects (trends, events, developments) of which they are causes? What shaped them, what are they shaping?
You’ve got lots to work with. These women have made many stylistic choices, in voice, language, clothing, emotional style, music, make-up, hair, homes, bars, neighborhoods, restaurants, rituals, ceremonies, friends, boyfriends, husbands, celebrity. They have fashioned detailed, vivid, public personae. X-ray these, please. These are very different public performances. Review them, please. At the very least we are looking at very different visions of femaleness. Give us the what and the how. And the why.
We are not looking for ridicule. Kardashian and Dunham are high profile and attract lots of comment and some derision. That’s not our job. Nor is this a popularity contest. We don’t care if you like one of these women more than the other. Your job is to write a beautifully thoughtful, balanced, dispassionate, detailed, insightful piece that might help someone in the year 2113 figure out who these women were and “what they stood for.”
The differences will be readily apparent. The similarities perhaps not so much. But it’s worth remembering that these women come from the same culture, they live in (roughly) the same moment. Honor the differences but see if you can spot the commonalities. (And marvel that American culture can produce two entirely credible woman who are so dramatically different.)
Tell me what the world looks like if you are Kim Kardashian. Tell me what it looks like if you are Lena Dunham. Report what their experiences, and views of the world, are from the inside out. Feel free to comment on any or all of the following; voice, language, clothing, emotional style, music, make-up, hair, homes, bars, neighborhoods, restaurants, rituals, ceremonies, friends, boyfriends, husbands, and/or celebrity.
This is the “identity” version of the question. Some people found Assignment 1 inaccessible. My fault. So, if you prefer, treat this second assignment as your question. One way to do this is to give us a 300 word diary entry for Kardashian and a 300 word entry for Dunham. Give us 400 words (give or take) of annotation for things in the diary entry. As in “KK prefers to shop here at [Tiffany’s?] because…” and “we believe this hairstyle became fashionable in the south of France about 12 months ago. It entered the US style scene and KK’s world through the dance scene and specifically Club [X] in Los Angeles. We believe this style matters because…”
What should the question have been here? What was the best way to invite people to compare, contrast and explain Kim Kardashian and Lena Dunham.
In both cases:
We only want 1000 words. Because if it’s good enough for a Oxbridge college, it’s good enough for us. The winner will win a Minerva statue and a measure of immortality as a Minerva winner. (Hey, it will look good on your c.v.)
The Minerva Judges:
Caley Cantrell, BrandCenter, Virginia Commonwealth University
Noah Cruickshank, AV Club
Janet Kestin, Swim
Leora Kornfeld, Harvard
Adrian Ho, Zeus Jones
Ruby Strong, Lord Byng
Nancy Vonk, Swim