Time, Twitter, and Keeping Up with the Kardashians

We started this semester thinking about time and the ways time is structured, pathologized, and altered. And when it came to finding an access point for these questions, a project, if you will, we found it in an unlikely source:

A cover of Cosmopolitan in which the Kardashians are pictured. It includes the title

Cosmo names the Kardashians as America’s “First Family”

 

Initially, as serious grad students, we were a bit resistant/hesitant  to stake our entire project on such an unlikely primary source. However, after several elaborate, energized, and playful discussions, we came to the conclusion that  Kim Kardashian and her family (a.k.a “the Kardashians) are interesting set of figures who actively make and re-make their own history through a network of media platform (both new and traditional/”mainstream”). Because they loom large on the landscape of American contemporary culture and have connected themselves to so many people, the Kardashians are situated within a nexus of not only conversations about time and information dissemination, but also conversations about race, gender, and sexuality.  For our cohort, the Kardashians also are  an exciting place of research where we can pair intellectual play and rigor. So, eventually we all got on board. 

Brainstorming Session

Brainstorming Session

We decided that by looking at the ways their reality TV show, Keeping Up With the Kardashian (KUTWK), we can not only ask what it means to keep up with these people (what apps you must buy, what headlines you must read, what games you must play, and what places you must go to be a good fan/follower), but also (and maybe more interestingly) how “history” or cultural moments are visited and revisited through the conjuction of social media and television show.  Moments are first visited in tweets that are happening IRL (in real life) and IRT (in real time) and then revisited after a period of three months or time it takes for production to complete an episode of KUWTK
So this semester (and next) we will be asking: 
  1.  Why do people like the Kardashians? What do they offer?
  2. How does Keeping Up With the Kardashians move in and out of time? 
  3. This includes looking at “historical Kardashian moments” that seem to take up a great deal of historical narrative space. How are these stories told and retold? We think that if we pair two of these media timelines: Twitter and television (KUWTK) we can begin to uncover the way these narratives work together (or even against each other).  Here are some possible moments we might look to
    • The OJ Simpson trial (1994)
    • Kim’s sex tape (leaked in 2007) 
    • The Kardashian’s trip to Armenia (2015)
    • Khloe’s marriage to Lamar Odom and his very public illness (2015)
    • Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out (2015)
    • Kanye West’s ongoing beef with Taylor Swift (2009 – 2016)
    • The robbery in Paris and the possible retirement of Kim Kardashian from public life. (2016) In the ten years it has been on television, how has KUWTK move in and out of different genres?
  4. How do the Kardashians publicly enter and exit discourses: race, gender, sexuality, and class. On the other hand, how are the Kardashians situated in these discourses by fans, scholars, and journalists? 
It seems that nothing they do is uncontroversial and considering the public response to events in the Kardashians’ lives is also an important to understanding how they fit into the American historical landscape. 
Lastly, in thinking about the Kardashians we are interested to think about how their use and presentation of history funneled through different media platforms operates as a model for other kinds and forms of celebrity (both insidious and benign). How might we see their use of both mediums as a test case for the ways in which news cycles and history has possibly sped up in the 21st century
We are excited to see what we come up with and we hope you come along for the ride! 

Alyssa Collins is a PhD candidate in the English department at the University of Virginia. Her dissertation focuses on the intersections of race and technology as depicted in 20th century and contemporary African American literature, digital culture, and new media.

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