Kim Kardashian - You made that b*tch famous
Keeping up with the Kardashians.
I once dated a girl obsessed with Kim Kardashian. She explained to me how she felt this and that way about what Kim does. This made me realize something shocking. I was exposed to so much information about the Kardashians that I had formed a script in my head relating to them. I knew their every move. Starting with Kim getting pounded, to her breaking the internet, to her step-dad being Kaitlyn Jenner.
When I realized that my thoughts became polluted with so many random stories related to Kim Kardashian's life, I felt like my judgement and choice in relation to these stories were somehow limited. While talking to my girlfriend and actively participating in the conversation, I realized we are the reason Kim Kardashian exists. We're the reason she is so popular and known by everyone.
Celebrities become celebrities by the careful construction of narratives. Celebrities are produced not only by the media but also by the audience. Passive participants like me and my ex-girlfriend tell stories about celebrities and offer our two cents about their lives to entertain ourselves. Celebrities are brands constructed largely via stories.
What is a brand?
A brand is the label we assign to something to differentiate it from competitors. Consumers need labels to identify the product of their choice amongst alternatives. Producers need labels to differentiate themselves and also focus on certain aspects of their products. Brand is just a perception, brand is simply a collective impression some have about a product. Advertising of brands serves the function of facilitating competition, informing consumers, funding projects, creating jobs, but most importantly; influencing your perception to make you act a certain way.
In order to grow their Brand, Celebrities like the Kardashians carefully look for scandal to increase their media coverage which leads to us talking about them. Regardless of how fucked up the situation may be, it can result in their popularity skyrocketing. The natural consequence of this is that their brand value rises and that this process repeats itself.
The purpose of celebrities (they have reason to exist).
The main goal of a celebrity is to transfer whatever they're associated with that makes them a celebrity to an end consumer. The end consumer market is a set of people in a constant search of spectacle and entertainment. We readily see a loop where spectacle triggers consumers to engage in a routine where we consume the media feeding frenzy, and are rewarded by having something to talk about or in some cases something to emulate. Producers create spectacle to trigger an increase in consumption which is a rewarded by an increase in brand value. Celebrity and scandal thereby became two sides of the same coin.
Through our storytelling of these spectacles and scandals, through people ripping celebrities apart, becoming a celebrity is then a process by which people become things to be consumed. These things are produced more often than not by some scandal and then consumed by people like my ex-girlfriend and I who enjoy ripping the latest American Idol apart. It's like we build them up, to knock them down, and watch them crumble like Britney Spears when she shaved her head.
The ordinary celebrity became in effect a reality TV star and a brand manager employing business strategy and seeking a competitive advantage through fictional creation. By becoming a desirable object sold through stories within the capitalist market economy, brand managers have been able to become richer than the tycoons of the early 20th century! Some data from the US federal reserve shows that profits have increased across the board since 1998.
Take anyone you idolize. Take any idea you think is pure, take your most servile and tolerant Zen master sage. It's more likely than not that you'll find that behind their purpose is a piece of business. Behind their ideal is also something subject to the practical laws of fictional creation.
The creation of business moguls.
Muhammad Ali is a great example of a person who was a civil rights leader and stood for all those ideals we find inspiring. But behind the scenes he was much more of a business brand manager than anything. This is a quote from a 1963 Sports illustrated article by Huston Horn:
“In the salt-and-pepper-carpeted, walnut-paneled, fiberglass-draped conference room of the law offices of Wyatt, Grafton & Sloss in Louisville, the meeting came to order—all business. Along the sides of the glossy, oblong table sat half a dozen captains of Kentucky industry—tobacco, whisky, horses, communications, transportation and banking—and at one end sat an attorney noted for his agility in the conundrums of tax law. An outsider stumbling in might have thought it the board meeting of any corporation tussling with its problems of management. He might, except for that anomaly shedding an irradiative light at the head of the table: a pecan-brown young Negro, the heir apparent to the throne of heavyweight boxing”
Athletes today making hundred of millions of dollars have none other than Muhammed " The Greatest" Ali to thank. He was one of the first athletes to see himself as a business and more importantly, a brand. Perhaps his competitive advantage was simply believing he was more than a guy who takes shots in the face for a living.
The people we observe through the media are a business whose value proposition is to give us a never ending stream of entertainment. Brands are not real in and of themselves. That's not to say that's always a bad thing. Ali's value proposition was positive. Muhammad Ali's brand was that of the greatest, and it required standing up for justice and equal rights. He was the Greatest for a reason.
Now, lets look at rap music.
Business executives constructed it to feed a passive audience of white suburban kids constantly looking for a spectacle. By playing off negative stereotypes of black men, business executives used what is called racial capital to sell music. Not only that, but they used market segmentation to conquer different parts of the market. Creating "black" and "white" rap music allowed for greater profit, as described in White America by Eminem.
Lil Wayne and Rick Ross are considered black rappers because they use the n-word and use it appropriately. Drake is considered "white," soft and almost emo. What makes Wayne and Ross's music more real or "black" than Drake's? The fact that they're proud of their poor communities? The Macho Man Randy savage attitude? The drug slangin' and gunplay? No, it's none of those things. It's actually just the perceptions we have of different brands and our tendency to form communities around brands we identify with.
The dark side of all this is that because of market segmentation and competition we judge others by the brands they identify with. The competition brands engage in creates market segmentation, where by on a large scale brand acceptance sort of resembles nationalism.
"White men — specifically young, suburban white men — consume around 80% of hip-hop music. This became a recognized industry fact in 1991, and since then, the music industry has crafted mainstream hip-hop culture to appeal to that demographic. Raps containing gangbangers, drug dealers, pimps, and hoes were pushed to the forefront, as executives believed that the sexiness and danger of these lifestyles were what white audiences craved from the genre. These stories were crafted, packaged, and sold as representing authentic "blackness." Other core attributes of early hip-hop music, such as its political critique, social commentary, comedy, and spirituality — represented by classic groups such as A Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy, Mos Def, and Talib Kweli — were pushed to the fringe and are now considered "alternative" uniquely socially engaged, and, sometimes, "white."
Power of market forces and brands.
In high school, kids believed I was white washed or was white on the inside (coconut). Imagine that, i'm a dark skinned dude, but kids called me white because I didn't resemble a market derived abstraction of "blackness". I'm dark, but yet I don't satisfy the criteria for being black.
This is the power of market forces and brands. Market segmentation and competition makes people judge others by the brands they identify with. Advertising and brands created a new world of synthetic knowledge.
Advertising and brands created forms and bodies of knowledge that grease the wheels of the market and induce consumption. Consumers, mostly young consumers, formulate identities and groups based on this knowledge of brand philosophies.
The 20th century power of philosophy and advertising.
The 20th century's greatest philosophers were the Executives, Management Consultants, Marketing Gurus, and Business Strategists. These people created the paradox where abstractions became the real tools to control our lives. Claude Hopkins was best known for a series of rules that detail how to create new habits among consumers. Michael Porter is best known for his rules detailing how to attain Competitive Advantage. Robert C. Kaplan is known for designing a feedback loop, a control mechanism where actual performance is measured.
These men's influence has resulted in brand management and strategic processes becoming efficient to a degree never before seen. The market has rewarded this new efficiency and sophistication since firms cannot compete without great brand management and advertising. Over the last 5 years the SP500 has had returns of +56.42%. Advertising firms over the same time time span have realized the following returns:
- Interpublic Group of Companies (IPG), New York, +99.6%
- Publicis Groupe, Paris, +55.36%
- WPPGY, London, +89.67%
- Omnicom Group, New York, +87.34%
- MDC Partners, Toronto, +82.65
Modern Advertising research mentions automaticity as the holy grail of advertising. Automaticity is automating a human being to respond in favour of social influence and comply to stimuli. The process of automaticity relies on techniques that target mindlessness. Academics have done research where they have shown that saying yes to a sales request is frequently an automatic response. They have studied how these social influence techniques rely on processes that are subtle, indirect, and outside the conscious awareness of the targeted consumer.
You can see this when you realize that people willingly spend countless hours of their lives in neatly organized straight lines. Every year people line up for the latest brand often in the cold harsh Canadian winter. People will endure cold, fatigue, hunger all in order to PAY for the newest brand to consume, or to see a Kardashian.
Be aware of the monsters you create.
Markets produce a great deal of material prosperity, but they turn people into puppets mindlessly pushed and pulled by market forces. When we talk about Kim Kardashian and rappers all the time, it leads to their growth, not ours.
My mindless interaction with brands over time created a set of scripts in my head that found their way out of me through stories. Often we don’t realize that our attitude toward something is synthetic and influenced by the number of times we have been exposed to it in the past. We want to live like things we observe in the market and gain social capital by being like a brand.
The normal way we conduct our lives in a market economy is then by analogy. We want to be like someone else and engage with the market to meet that goal. We model our lives so they're like predetermined unrealistic forms or scripts.
We become sad because living analogously makes us emotionally dependent on idealized versions of people we don't know. With analogies we can only be what the market is selling. We can only do as others have done. Living analogously prevents us from being original individuals.
The way to stop living and thinking by analogy is to think about first principles. We need to take things and distill them to their beating heart and bones. We need to see the self evident truths that form the beauty in life. We need to see that the equivalence of our humanity is much more real than the brands dividing us into their lowest common denominator.