Should influence alone make someone a role model?
A few weeks ago Rebel Wilson recounted the story of how she was asked to present an award with Kylie and Kendall Jenner but refused on the basis that the Kardashians as a whole stood for something she very much did not; she had worked hard for a living but Kim had simply made a sex tape. I have been in many a meeting or conversation when the subject of the Kardashians as role models has arisen and tempers have flared. It’s definitely a polarising topic and on Monday Oprah waded in, to say that no one could deny how very hard the Kardashian family worked. Interesting…
See here’s the thing, No one can deny how “very hard” the Kardashians work. Their work ethic is admirable and, yes, they are influential, but, besides making money, what are they using that influence for? And…does it even matter?
Ultimately it does. Coca-Cola works hard – to flog us cans of unnecessary sugar. And the villains in superhero movies work hard – to take over the world. Neither parties are adding something positive. Regardless of hard work and ambition, what we are looking at is the decline in public favour of the superficial and vapid to a rise in the meaningful. As well as being influential, we want our role models to actually represent “something.’
And that’s where the protagonists come in looking to exert change. The culture “bubble” of authenticity, substance and female worth that extends beyond beauty is pushing against the vacuous and female-limiting model in existence. Think of it like a giant see-saw of cultural influence. At one end you have the Kardashians whose value lies in self-promotion, vanity, cultural influence (along with that hard work). At the other end you have Rebel Wilson, Amy Schumer, Jennifer Lawrence, Lena Dunham and a few others whose values lies in talent, positive body image, feminism and, again, hard work. In this instance they are the protagonist “bubble” demanding a fresh perspective on what’s deemed aspirational for women. But do Rebel’s bunch have enough power in their movement to usurp the Kardashian brand? At this point in time the answer is likely no. In fact drawing further attention to the Kardashians, results only in making their bubble bigger and pushing their level of influence higher.
When Oprah chimed in – one of the most influential, accomplished female role models in US history – with her formidable power, influence, fame and hard-working ethic, it was possible for her to swing the balance either way and you may have assumed she would align herself with the protagonists. However, she came out in support of the Kardashians. So if the Kardashians, culture savvy as they are, are beginning to realise that influence and fame alone won’t keep you on your pedestal and are looking to make the move into this “purpose” space, Oprah, who straddles both worlds, may have just held open the door for them.
Think about the Beckhams. Arguably the Kardashians of their generation, respected for their individual careers and initially treated as cultural royalty, they became ridiculed and parodied to the point where their “bubble” was on the verge of bursting. However due to their respective careers, charity work, relatable family values and all-round likability, they gave the Beckham brand new meaning beyond simply fame. They reinvented themselves with new purpose. Indeed, they now both individually and collectively serve as respected role models for modern day culture.
The smartest strategy for the Kardashian clan, is to publicly align the brand with a cause or speak out in support of culturally relevant issues. And silence the naysayers who say they stand for nothing. However, when you’re narrative has always been just about the fame, what will be interesting for the Kardashians is whether they can change that narrative sufficiently so that it is not perceived as yet another self-aggrandising promotional tactic.
I’m talking to you…”President” Kanye.
Image @ oprahwinfrey.com