POV: Before You Decide to Keep Up with the Kardashians, Consider This
POV: Before You Decide to Keep Up with the Kardashians, Consider This
Reality TV and social media are making it hard to discern what’s real in our media environment
The names are familiar: Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Kris Jenner. You can’t avoid them, even if you really want to. Celebrities’ posts appear in our Instagram and Twitter feeds, and their latest activities appear in our news. Yet, celebrity gossip isn’t just gossip—not in an age of reality television, social media, and misinformation.
Reality television and social media make it hard to discern what’s real in our media environment. Most of us know that reality television shows are highly edited, with producers, editors, and even writers involved. But we don’t necessarily know which parts are edited—the same way it can be hard to know if an Instagram photo has been edited, even if we’re pretty sure it was.
Recent research I did at Boston University with a team of colleagues from Ohio State University shows the consequences of this blurring between entertainment and reality. We showed 312 participants one of two clips from Keeping Up with the Kardashians. We focused on an episode from season 11, in which Kim, Khloe, and Kourtney Kardashian, along with their mother, Kris Jenner, have genetic testing done. Half of our participants watched a 12-minute clip directly from the show; the other half watched what we called a “high accuracy version,” where we cut out all of the incorrect information that had originally aired.
All of our participants took an initial knowledge test about genetic testing. After viewing the low-accuracy (original) version of the Kardashian clip, we saw that people actually lost knowledge on genetic testing. There was a drop in scores from before viewing the show to after viewing it, which indicated to us that they now knew less about genetic testing than before watching the show.
It’s a consequence of viewing something that appears “real,” but that has been edited for dramatic effect. The Kardashians want us to feel like we have a front-row seat to their lives; what is more personal than health information?
It isn’t real. Yet people in our study took it as real and lost knowledge as a result. And this goes beyond television: this yearning for reality translates to their wildly popular social media presences. Kim Kardashian is one of the most followed people on Instagram. A quick glance at any given post, and you’ll see numerous people trying to get a response from Kim, taking that front-row seat a step further than the television allows.
It’s not just this consumption and interaction in television and social media that matters, though. We’ve grown accustomed to celebrities as part of our culture—a culture where we take them seriously. The Kardashians get genetic testing done, so I should, too. And, really, what’s the harm in encouraging women to take a superfluous medical test, suck on a lollipop to lose weight, or wear sustainable clothing that, well, isn’t?
Because this perceived celebrity access transcends into new, worrisome spaces when we see actions like those of Kanye West, Kim’s ex-husband and a hip-hop star, turn hateful.
In the past, Kanye suggested slavery was a choice and called the COVID-19 vaccine “the mark of the beast.” More recently, he’s shared blatantly anti-Semitic social media posts and claimed that the Jewish community is hurting his career.
Kanye has a massive platform with massive impact over his fans, so such claims often will be taken as fact by many of his most devout followers. Currently, fans have started a GoFundMe to help Kanye re-achieve his billionaire status.
If reality television makes a narrative appear real, what does that same content do when it is produced for our smallest screens, when the images appear alongside content from friends and family members? We scroll almost mindlessly across many channels; we don’t think as hard about what the content is. We have to stop our mindless scroll to consider the consequences of the content in front of us.
Celebrities perpetuate the echo chamber that has created such divisiveness in this country, even if they don’t mean to. It’s made worse when they create and share misinformation—about health, about politics, about social issues.
These people have massive influence in our lives—but we have to remember that they are people, too. We have to look beyond the “celebrity” to truly understand the content they create and share—like we would do with anyone else we follow.
Kathryn Coduto is a College of Communication assistant professor of media science. She can be reached at email@example.com.
“POV” is an opinion page that provides timely commentaries from students, faculty, and staff on a variety of issues: on-campus, local, state, national, or international. Anyone interested in submitting a piece, which should be about 700 words long, should contact John O’Rourke at firstname.lastname@example.org. BU Today reserves the right to reject or edit submissions. The views expressed are solely those of the author and are not intended to represent the views of Boston University.
I have been watching the Kardashians since I was fourteen years old and if i’m being honest, at that age I knew how it was scripted and never fell into their traps of making something seem like it actually is not. Due to being a “realist” with no space for a world of make believe, I was able to set myself apart from my teenage peers who fell into the traps of the Kardashian lifestyle by constantly comparing themselves and changing their views to whatever the latest trends the Kardashians have started. Many people dismiss talking about the impact this show has on our youth simply because it is a reality show. However, it has a lasting impact – when Kanye ran for president and made problematic comments, our youth started following his beliefs and chanting the slogan “Kanye for President 2020”. Now, with the recent Balenciaga campaign that insinuated child exploitation there was public outrage. Kim Kardashian however took a neutral stance to what happened and many believe it is because Balenciaga has shares in her brand Skims. The public are not happy with her comments and are actually fighting back. Perhaps the youth are finally waking up to this make belief reality the Kardashians have created.
I’m proud to say I haven’t seen a single episode of any iteration of any show put on but the over-exposed K/J family. Up until Kim’s sex tape scandal, the only Kardashian I’d ever heard of was Robert, one of OJ’s lawyers. After the so-called “scandal” then it was Kim, Kim, Kim in all the gossip “news” and somehow that turned into a billion dollar business empire.
How? I don’t know.
Why? I have no clue.
As the author stated, this so-called “reality” show is anything but, and is actually dangerous for those susceptible to these “influencers”.
Does Professor Coduto have links to the 2 specific genetic testing videos she references in the article? I’d love to see this example of lost knowledge.
Like “Not a Fan…” above, I would also like to see the genetic testing videos. I’m not a fan of the K/Js, but it hadn’t occurred to me that they were actually propagating misinformation, despite my knowledge that all reality shows are heavily edited. This adds to my already-deep distaste for them.
I recently contacted Shutterfly to tell them that I’m no longer ordering from them, after they partnered with Kris Jenner for their holiday promotions, under the guise that she is a great mom. Of all the truly great moms out there, they chose her? I choose not to patronize a company that would make that decision. I choose not to further line her greedy pockets by buying from Shutterfly.
I’m wondering if there was more research done on other reality shows like The Housewives of …. , I personally don’t watch the Kardashian but feel the because they are a specific case of regular people who became famous , so people have more tendency to relate to them. Thanks for the interesting article.
One has to be braindead to watch them. Their preoccupation with themselves and their bodies should have been enough of a red flag for any healthy-minded viewer. Yet…their show seems to be indistractable, which only testifies to the degree of our siciety’s brainless state.
People indeed like to follow those celebrities like Kim Kardashians, believe in the things they’ve said and incorporating those things into their own life.
However, just as what the author says, celebrities are also human like the rest of us, and they are not always correct in what they are advocating for. So it’s really important to hold a critical mindset towards what the celebrities said and what they’re advocating for.