This is winner 3 of the Minerva contest.
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.