One small, simple Google search for the word “Kardashian” reveals a whole other world of the media. When I entered the word “Kardashian” into the Google News tab, I was met with headlines that revolved around these types of things:
“Kim Kardashian Will Tell You Her Instagram Secrets”
“Kim Kardashian Has North West Photographed From Four Different Angles While Dressing”
“Khloe Kardashian Rubs Down With Pregnancy Beauty Products, Explains More of Her Makeup Routine”
The search for the word alone yields about 221,000,000 results. Just process that for a second.
Not only has the show following their lives; “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” garnered a cult-like following, that viewership has spilled over to the point where every single move they make is covered by every angle, and every person with an opinion (who has any interest at all in the life of celebrities) finds it a necessity to chime in on what they think of whatever minuscule situation the Kardashian family gets themselves into. This raises a particularly interesting notion – is the public sphere changing for the worst?
The man behind the original idea of the public sphere is Jurgen Habermas, who imagined that the public sphere was similar to an 18th century coffee house; a place to debate the news and ideas of the day, in an “egalitarian and open” environment.
So where do the Kardashians and 18th century coffee houses come into all this?
Well to put it simply – while there is still debate (albeit slightly controlled) on shows such as Q and A concerning hot button issues such as climate change, feminism, or the latest political agenda, Habermas’ idea of the “coffee-house” public sphere is now being dominated by what Khloe Kardashian wore to a restaurant, or debate on whether or not to buy Kim Kardashians new book comprised entirely of selfies, aptly titled… Selfish.
While it can be argued that the main demographic the Kardashians target is women, it’s also right to say that apart from some men who enjoy the lives of the Kardashians, there’s an equal amount of men who enjoy talking about how much they detest the whole idea of the Kardashians; creating a whirlwind of opinion that circulates relentlessly around the public sphere.
Why is this changing the public sphere? And why for the worst? In two ways:
Firstly, the mainstream media and society in general hasn’t seen something as powerful and widespread as the Kardashians currently are. This is something that CAN change the dynamic of the public sphere.
Secondly, as previously shown, the headlines that are related to them are, at their core, utterly ridiculous. But the mainstream media controls what is funneled to us, and anything related to the Kardashian phenomenon is something that media outlets want to be able to “report” on first. This idea of wanting to be the first to document the latest situation of the Kardashians has created a whole separate culture of reporting, the public sphere, and public debate.
Another example of the Kardashians changing the public sphere is actually tracking the evolution of the sphere itself; the idea as we know it today originally started as a forum for the elite to discuss the topics of the day, later the middle class (bourgeoisie) got involved, and then eventually became a feature of capitalist societies.
The public sphere is much more widespread than it used to be, and the Kardashians are a bigger celebrity phenomenon than anything else in recent history – a perfect marriage of factors that lead me to this conclusion.
There is one view on the current public sphere, claiming that consumer capitalism is ruining the whole idea, conversely, there’s an idea that the high number of newly formed public domains can only help the idea, however…
I feel that the Kardashians epitomize the idea of consumer capitalism, and the quantity of newly formed public domains only adds to the problem that consumer capitalism brings. This is the sole reason why I believe that the Kardashians are completely ruining the integrity of the public sphere, by drowning out media texts that actually make an attempt to bring to the public arguments about pressing issues such as homosexuality, net neutrality, terrorism, and a range of other political issues that definitely matter more than the latest Kardashian scandal.
However, it’s ironic that writing a whole piece detailing how the Kardashians are ruining the public sphere actually contributes to the problems I am concerned with… with the Kardashians as big as they are, it’s hard not to complain without being hypocritical.
Sue Turnbulls Week 5 Lecture: “Big Brother is Watching You”