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Kim or Caitlyn? Breaking Boundaries in Fame

June 12, 2015

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A question that often comes to our mind: why is fame an important area to reflect on? For me, fame has had a pervasive presence in how fans engage in pleasures and identification, and in how they develop para-social relations with celebrities. The relationship is both material and symbolic. Fan practices such as circulation and re-mixing of celebrity images and texts have physical components. The practices also reflect and reinforce imaginary relations that hold affective and cultural values

While the Kardarshians offer pleasures of hybrid identities, they also silence articulations of and intersections among race, class and sexuality. In fact, they reinforce the stereotype that non-white bodies offer examples of sexual excess and opportunities for consumptions. That’s not true. But dominant consumption practices re-create an imaginary space where racial identities can be on the margin. Kim Kardarshian’s “Breaking the Internet” is a good example of this consumption. She reinforces sexual consumption of racialized bodies by replicating the pose of a 70’s black model, and continues narratives of gratification around it. For people of color, fame may offer both limitations and opportunities. Arbitrariness of ethnic identities and blurring boundaries look promising in celebrity culture. However, racial hierarchies prevail in fame.

Can social boundaries be blurred in celebrity culture? Can we bring social change and innovation in the context of fame? I think so. Celebrity activism is on the rise. As I mentioned on Shannon Skinner Live, the elevation of celebrity activism is related to the rise of social media usage and the visibility it offers. Additionally, it offers agency to what Francesco Alberoni would call “powerless elites.” Unlike celebrities in the past, contemporary celebrities are able to offer more visibility to their voice and awareness. Whether celebrity activism helps promotion of their causes or the promotion of self, it helps branding them as individualistic and authoritative figures to follow.

Caitlin

Caitlyn Jenner’s representation can be an expression of activism. As any form of activism, it is as complex as the issue she is supporting. In some ways, the image is sexist – it reinforces women as objects of desire in a normative heterosexual context. At the same time, it subverts the repression of alternative sexualities and attempts to mobilize the production, circulation and reception of transgendered subjects through the lens of popular culture. The hashtag #myvanityfaircover has particularly fuelled diverse expressions of transgender identities. The impact of Caitlyn Jenner’s representation is hence noteworthy.

As I mentioned in my lectures in Portugal and Canada, selfies can be expressions of social advocacy as well as narcissistic emotions. The question of authenticity is central to the contradictions in selfies, and is heightened in the aesthetics and politics of fame. Kim’s selfie book raises questions on excess of self, immediate gratification of it, and ways in which it shifts attention from social issues. At the same time, it aims to normalize the practice of selfies and enables personal agency, which is often subject to contradictory responses.

Critical conversations on celebrity culture have something that the mere consumption of fame does not have – your ability to think, feel, and make a difference.

Aren’t stars supposed to do that as well?

Tell me what you think on Twitter and Facebook!

More coming soon.

Samita Nandy
Photo credits: Jeremiah Hill Photography

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