CM213- Research Proposal
For sale: Celebrity Lifestyles
In 2007, Keeping up with the Kardashians aired for the first time following the lives of the combined Kardashian-Jenner family. An entire hour once a week dedicated to the daily lives of this family in the spotlight, not including reruns of previous episodes, which are aired surprisingly frequently. Of course the family was wealthy but what significance had they had in society at that point? Other than their deceased father, who represented OJ Simpson during the infamous trial in the 1990’s, and aside from stepfather Bruce Jenner who was an Olympic athlete, Kim was the real star of the Kardashian clan. Kim debuted a sex tape earlier in 2007, ironically eight months before the show aired and so began her family’s fame in the entertainment world, which also opened up doors for all of them in other industries. Kourtney & Khloe, the other Kardashian sisters, have received their own shows and clothing store, DASH, after their premiere on the original show. Kim’s brother Rob was not forgotten, as he began a sock line for Nordstrom, and half sisters Kendall and Kylie even got modeling contracts, celebrity friends and internships with Seventeen magazine. All this and so much more, not because they worked hard and earned it but simply because of their last names. The names Kardashian and Jenner don’t entail talent in any specific industry (with the exclusion of Bruce & his Olympic career), but rather having money and a sister who’s sex tape leaked. Unlike the average celebrity leak, Kim’s fame has lasted for years as opposed to the usual short time these scandals appear for celebrities who are famous for actual talent. It is 2014 and Kim has created an entire empire for herself, and her family for the past 7 years, all from one bedroom video “leak”.
Kim is not the only celebrity cashing in on her fame wherever she can. Many other celebrities who are well known in one industry are taking advance of that fame throughout other markets. Essentially, these celebrities are trying to get their fans to support them in whatever they do apart from their original career. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, founded in 2008, is described as a wellness-blog-cum-travel-and-cooking-tip-sheet-cum-shopping website. Paltrow, originally noted for her acting and singing career, is credited with opening the door for celebrities, mostly actors, to begin brands of their own. Goop was described as a “lightning rod” for attacks on privileged and tone-death celebrities and noted as an unlikely model for career development among a certain swathe of Hollywood (Friedman). The list of other celebrities who have followed in Paltrow’s lead by starting their own lifestyle brands or cosmetic lines, are most common amongst female actresses. Drew Barrymore started Flower, a cosmetic brand, Jessica Alba founded the Honest Company, a natural baby products line, and Blake Lively began Preserve, a “Made in America” crafty vision brand. Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres started E.D., a holiday home ware line, that debuted on QVC and Reese Witherspoon plans on starting her own lifestyle brand titled Draper James in 2015 (Friedman). These brands are just examples of the many celebrities that have started a brand or beauty/fashion line that does not relate to their career.
Of course Kim’s situation is different, she didn’t start out with a talent, attract fans and create her brand from there, rather she was “victim” when her sex tape was revealed and that was what put her in the public eye. Specifically, what sets her apart from every other talentless girl who’s sex tape was released (that wasn’t a porn star), was that Kim came from a family of money. When you take into consideration her late father’s respected career, one might predict that Kim would be an embarrassment to the family. Instead her style and her image (aka her brand) were soon envied by woman ranging from all ages across the world, not to be confused, they did not want to be sex tape stars themselves they just wanted to be as attractive and desired by both men and women as Kim was, and still is. Which is where Kim relates to the rest of these celebrities that have turned their lifestyles into a brand. An image that becomes a brand that sells the lifestyle of said celebrity to anyone who idolizes that celebrity enough to pay, even amounts of money they can’t afford, just to have a product that relates their lives to that of their idol.
Do certain individuals in less fortunate economic situations feel that if they buy into the lifestyles of celebrities they can somehow feel more valuable as a person? A report by The Heritage Foundation, a D.C. think tank with a perspective favored by political conservatives, titled “Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox: What is Poverty in the United States Today?” discusses the definition of poverty and how it has changed over time (Schechter). The report compares what poverty used to be considered: people who could not afford basic necessities like food, running water and electricity as well as a roof over theirs and their family’s heads to how it is considered more recently, with people who can afford their rent, grocery and heating bills but can’t afford items that are considered luxuries, like smart phones, designer handbags and other brand name items. “You’ll be surprised to learn that many of the 30 million Americans defined as “poor” and in need of government assistance aren’t quite what you’d expect — rather than homeless and on the streets, the average poor American household has luxuries like air conditioning, cable TV, and Xbox video game consoles.” (Schecter). What does this have to do with Kim Kardashian and other celebrities who are selling their lifestyles? In a way, they’re part of the problem. By trying to increase their income by creating cosmetic companys, lifestyle brands, and other self-titled products, they’re increasing the amount of money people are paying for these products as opposed to more affordable items that serve the same purpose but without the title. A black tank top by the common under garment brand Hanes would cost one about $3 (Walmart). A black tank top from Kardashian Kollection, only varying from the Hanes one in that it has back-to-back uppercase K’s on the front, would run about $34. Oh, and that’s on sale (Sears). What is it that’s so valuable about the logo that convinces people it’s worth all the extra money, especially for people who can’t afford basic necessities and based on their income are considered in poverty? There’s multiple answers to this question, but they are mostly centered around the idea of rankism.
Rankism is defined as what people who are considered somebodies do to people who are considered nobodies (Fuller). That’s not to say every famous person is abusive of their power, but for the most part celebrities have the similar goals to the average person- they want to make as much money as they can so they never have to worry about debt or poverty, and can achieve all the things they want, whenever they want. Celebrities use their high-ups in rankism to convince their fans to invest in them wherever possible. The most common example of this has to be actors, whose characters in film are adorned by viewers. Actresses who play sweet, girl-next-door characters become idols to girls in their adolescent to late teens. These girls will buy into anything the actress is doing- they become convinced in order to achieve her perfect hair, make-up, clothes, body, and boyfriend they must do everything the actress does, even if the actress is nothing like the character she portrays on TV. Celebrities are more than aware that they have this control over people and use it to their advantage as a money making scheme. They’ll sell anything because they know people will buy anything, at any cost to have some form of familiarity with these celebrities. While wearing lipstick and other make-up products she created won’t turn you into Kim Kardashian, there still seems to be some flame of hope for people as they’re still buying into her and her products are still selling (though we’ve yet to see any carbon copies of Kim walking around and we can only hope it stays that way).
A similarity between the celebrities that have these brands and their presence on social medias is interesting, as Paltrow, Lively and Alba’s followers amount from between 100,000 to 7.7 million on popular social media site Twitter (Friedman). Kardashian takes the cake with a whopping 26.4 million followers on Twitter. All these followers are potential customers, and all the tweets and pictures they send out on their news feeds for all those people to see are advertisements, wither direct of indirect advertisements, in some way they are attracting attention for themselves and their brand, simultaneously. Pretty much anything that Kim can fit into 160 characters will get her attention and tons of retweets (sharing the post to your news feed, so that people who follow you, but not necessarily Kim herself, can see things she’s posted based on what you choose to retweet) and favorites (the Twitter form of liking something, like you would on Facebook). All these tweets, posts, photos and notifications posted by celebrities gets mixed into the news feed of those who follow them with the persons friends family, and anyone else they follow. This combination of celebrity personal posts with the rest of the people in a social media user’s life makes the celebrity feel like a friend, or at least an acquaintance of the person. The ability to see everything they post on social media the same way they see their friends post, as well as being able to see the celebrities life on TV through the news or reality TV shows creates a one-sided relationship with the average person. The celebrity has no idea this person exists, but the person could tell you so many details about the celebrity’s life, it’s almost scary. Just by reading the weekly tabloids, watching the newscasts they’re featured on and following the celebrity on social media sites with access to frequent personal posts, almost anyone can know a portion of the celebrities life effortlessly. Being informed of the day to day lives of celebrities takes them from being distant strangers to almost a friend figure for anyone in the public. When they bring the celebrity down from the high horse society puts them on, and puts them at the average persons level it’s like they’re equals, but the celebrity is just a better, achievable version of the average person. Almost like they’re friends, and when your friend discovers a way to make they look or feel better, you’d probably trust them and do as they tell you so you can feel or look the same. Making the celebrity the consumer’s friend, and having them create a product is like your friend saying “you would look good in these clothes!” or “I use this product so you should too!” (Friedman).
While most celebrity’s social media sites are indeed personal, they also create false ideas of reality and set unrealistic standards for followers. Here you’ll see Kim Kardashian’s Instagram home screen.
All of her images are either edited to perfection, or editing is unnecessary due to the professional make-up and hair stylist, top of the line designer clothes, and what is to be society’s idea of a perfect body wearing said designer clothes. With these, the paparazzi can never capture Kim looking anything less than perfect. To see these photos on a regular basis, from multiple celebrities at a time, it almost isn’t surprising that the average girl will go to unreasonable lengths, like paying insane amounts of money for products they can purchase much cheaper elsewhere, just to attempt to look and in their minds feel like said celebrities.
Friedman, Vanessa. “How Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop Has Become a Role Model for Other Celebrities.” 14 Nov. 2014. The New York Times. Web. 18 Nov. 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/16/fashion/how-gwyneth-paltrow-goop-has-become-a-role-model-for-other-celebrities.html?_r=0>.
Fuller, Ph. D., Robert. “Why Do We Want To Be Famous?”. Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness Find a Therapist. 25 Sept. 2009. Web. 2 Dec. 2014. <http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/somebodies-and-nobodies/200909/why-do-we-want-be-famous>.
Kardashian Kollection. Sears. Web. 28 Nov. 2014. <http://www.sears.com/clothing-shoes-jewelry-clothing-women-s-clothing&Kardashian%20Kollection_Sears/b-1279778244?filter=Brand_storeOrigin&keywordSearch=false&sortOption=ORIGINAL_SORT_ORDER&viewItems=50&sName=View+All>.
Lipsy. Kardashian for Lipsy. Web. 28 Nov. 2014. <http://www.lipsy.co.uk/store/kardashian#pagesize=40>.
Sastre, Alexandra. “Hottentot in the Age of Reality TV: Sexuality, Race, and Kim Kardashian’s Visible Body.” Celebrity Studies. 1-2 ed. Vol. 5. 2013. Web. 26 Nov. 2014. <http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19392397.2013.810838#tabModule>.
Schechter, Dave. “Poverty in America: If Poor People Own ‘Luxury’ Items, Are They Really Poor?” <i>Newsroom</i>. CNN, 11 Aug. 2011. Web. 29 Nov. 2014. <http://newsroom.blogs.cnn.com/2011/08/11/poverty-in-america-if-poor-people-own-luxury-items-are-they-really-poor/>.
“United States Unemployment Rate.” <i>Trading Economies</i>. 5 Dec. 2014. Web. 6 Dec. 2014. <http://www.tradingeconomics.com/united-states/unemployment-rate>.