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Are the Kardashians Gaslighting America?

Posted by Axis on May 19, 2021


  1. Planning a Post-Panny Party 

What it is: Some cultural observers are predicting a Roaring-Twenties-esque post-pandemic party atmosphere where young people engage in risk-taking behavior and fully embrace the freedom of life after lockdown.

Why it’s still a 50/50 shot: Data collected (paywall) by YPulse indicates that, yup, young people in the 13-39 demographic are very much looking forward to a “normal” summer. Outdoor BBQs, going to the movies, and traveling on vacation all ranked high on the list of warm-weather to-dos for survey participants. Gen Z may be particularly anxious to return to activities that they feel they have been unfairly restricted from them during the critical, once-in-a-lifetime period when they are meant to be establishing their independence. (And they do have a point; you’re only 16 once.) However, this doesn’t automatically mean that teenagers everywhere will be throwing caution to the wind in their efforts to make up for “lost” time. People who love and care about teens should have this collective cultural restlessness on their radar, but not necessarily make assumptions about what their teens will want to get up to. 

  1. The Prank Industrial Complex

What it is: After a series of bad (like really bad) viral mea culpas by YouTube influencers, the “YouTuber apology video” has almost become a genre all its own. So much so that the “Endless YouTube Apology Video” was a popular sketch last weekend on Saturday Night Live

Why it’s a window into YouTube culture: The skit does have some mild language and a sexual innuendo at the end, so we can’t recommend it for family viewing. (It’s SNL, after all). But what’s perhaps most interesting about the skit is the way that it skewers the popular “prank posse” trope on YouTube, where a group of young adults film themselves doing something outrageous or dangerous, then edit and post the video so that it just seems like pals having hilarious fun. The engineers of these kinds of pranks seem to always be seeking to outdo each other in how over-the-top wild or raucous their actions can get, so it shouldn’t be surprising that they end up going too far and needing to apologize publicly. Of course, each apology video is followed in short order by yet another zany and ridiculous prank, until the cash flow from high-profile brand sponsorships finally, inevitably, dries up.  

  1. Khloe’s Photoflop 

What it is: An unretouched photo of Khloe Kardashian was inadvertently posted to social media channels over the weekend, and the Kardashian family spent the week trying to scrub the photo from the internet. 

Why it’s a little incoherent: The incident culminated in an IG Live from Khloe where she tried to showcase what she looks like without a filter while also defending her efforts to delete the photograph from public view. Along with the IG Live, in a slideshow-style series of captions, Khloe explains how she’s been conditioned to feel like “the ugly sister” in her family and viciously picked apart by the American media commentariat for her entire life. She writes that this makes her especially self-conscious about unflattering photos, reminding readers that she is human and she is allowed to dislike a photo of herself. Fair enough. But it seems odd for Khloe to choose to build an entire career off the same beauty standards that she says make her feel like a victim, and stranger still to present an image to the world that seems to engage with and even glorify these same “impossible” standards. We’re not expecting philosophical soundness from reality television show stars, but it is worth noticing how Khloe believes her individual insecurities are a license to present an airbrushed and filtered visual fantasy version of herself, as if that won’t in turn breed the same insecurities in her fans.

Slang of the Week:

Redpilled: having become “enlightened” (or at least thinking you have become enlightened) about how the world really works, as Neo famously did in The Matrix movies. (Ex: “I used to think social media was just helping us connect with others… then I got redpilled.”)

Jordan Peterson, Red Skull, and Identity Politics

This week, it came out that in his Captain America comics, Ta-Nehisi Coates has been using parodies of Jordan Peterson’s teachings to characterize Red Skull’s motivation. One panel shows Red Skull shouting his “Ten Rules For Life,” an obvious reference to Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life. Another panel shows Captain America saying about Red Skull’s (male) followers, “He tells them what they’ve always longed to hear. That they are secretly great. That the whole world is against them. That if they’re truly men, they’ll fight back. And bingo—that’s their purpose. That’s what they live for. And that’s what they’ll die for.”

Anyone familiar with Peterson’s work may find it ironic that the “whole world is against you” mentality he often criticizes (promoting instead the idea that meaning comes through voluntary adoption of responsibility) is being ascribed, via Captain America, to his own teaching. Still, part of Peterson’s appeal to thousands of young men has been in his assertion that masculinity is being unfairly disparaged today—and that criticisms of patriarchy in the U.S. often don’t take time to acknowledge how well Western culture works on the whole (compared to, say, North Korea or Honduras).

Gen Z cares a lot about social justice, and social justice is often conceived of in terms of identity politics, i.e. the notion that group identity is more important than individual identity. As Caitlin Flanagan wrote for The Atlantic, “The left is afraid not of Peterson, but of the ideas he promotes, which are completely inconsistent with identity politics of any kind.” A common criticism of Peterson’s emphasis on individual responsibility is that it doesn’t sufficiently account for systemic injustices like racism and sexism. Fans might argue that even given systemic injustice, personal responsibility is still what’s most important—but we’ll leave that conversation to you and your teens. Here are some questions you might ask them: 

  • Do you think group identity (i.e. race, gender, etc.) is more important than individual identity? 
  • Do you think emphasizing personal responsibility makes it hard to address systemic injustice?
  • What do you think are the positive and negative side effects of focusing on group identity more than individual identity? 

Keep the Faith!

The Axis Team

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