MARK TAPSON- At the end of July, President Obama participated, for some reason, in a “Kindle Singles Interview,” a new interview series for Amazon.com’s e-reader. In the course of discussing the need for increasing government involvement in our lives, lamenting the increasing polarization of American politics (which he personally has exacerbated beyond measure), and whining about increasing Republican resistance to his disastrous agenda, Obama also commented dismissively on the cultural impact of super-rich celebrities – among them the famous-for-being-famous Kim Kardashian. Kim’s mama bear Kris Jenner responded by publicly calling him out for his hypocritical and anti-capitalist jab.
So what? Why is a little spat between the President and a reality TV maven important? Because when a celebrity as widely known as Jenner not only doesn’t slavishly heap adulation on Obama, but actually challenges and chides him on her talk show, the cultural impact is potentially huge, and that trickles down to the political. She reaches a wide swath of low-information voters who otherwise might not follow politics at all, or ever hear any criticism of the President in the left-leaning cultural realm. The fact that Jenner’s audience cheered in support of her defense of her daughter against Obama is revealing and significant.
Things began when Obama, reflecting on how his own childhood differed from the world his children face, said, “There was not that window into the lifestyles of the rich and famous… Kids weren’t monitoring every day what Kim Kardashian was wearing, or where [her rapper fiancé] Kanye West was going on vacation, and thinking that somehow that was the mark of success.”
In one sense, he’s not wrong about the culturally degrading impact of contemporary shows like Keeping up with the Kardashians, the wildly successful reality TV series that chronicles the mind-numbingly petty and uninteresting existence of young, beautiful people living in a bubble of impossible wealth (exactly the kind of bubble that wealthy socialist actor Matt Damon attacks in his new sci-fi movie Elysium, but I digress). The hoi polloi have always envied and idolized the rich and famous, but today’s ubiquitous entertainment media have instilled a warped, shallow, celebrity-obsessed perspective into the consciousness of young people everywhere, many of whom now fantasize about living large like “Kimye.”
However, that having been said, if any of those young people work hard to achieve that level of financial success, they have every right to live any way they choose and spend their money as they see fit.