I spend a lot of time in my job on the Internet, observing what’s happening in the news and popular culture. Here at Plugged In, we pay especially close attention to how entertainment is influencing our society in general and young people in particular. Sometimes that means we have to engage—or are at least be exposed to—stories that, frankly, we’d rather ignore.
I don’t know about you, but one story I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to avoid the last few weeks has to do with reality star Kim Kardashian doffing her clothes for what I gather is a sort of artsy magazine called Paper.
Now, I hope and pray that this is the last blog I ever write about her, because, frankly, I’m not personally interested in Kardashian. I don’t really want to write about her today. But her presence has been practically inescapable online the last few weeks. And I think it’s safe to say that many a young Internet user may have stumbled across Kim’s pictures and been influenced in some way by them.
In an article at the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding (cpyu.org), Christian culture expert Walk Mueller unpacked why we need to take Kim Kardashian’s influence seriously. His blog “Nothing But Parts: Kim Kardashian and the Destruction of Our Selves …” says of the latest round of Kim K. photos:
Truth be told, I spent a good portion of last week getting sad, concerned, and even angry. That’s what happens when you see things. What I saw last week was Kim Kardashian’s presentation of her self … more specifically, her presentation of her self as a posterior. But that photo shoot wasn’t just about Kim Kardashian. It was about our culture … our girls … and our boys.
Mueller goes on to suggest that Kim Kardashian represents a particular distillation of our culture’s emphasis on our looks … specifically how our bodies look. And he ponders how the message that she’s selling with her unclothed images is shaping the hearts, minds and souls of young people gazing upon her:
In one sense, Kardashian is a product of years and years of our culture cultivating the belief that “you are what you look like. And, if you want to be valuable, then here’s the standard you need to meet.” So this week, that standard which is constantly morphing is all about the back side. Kim Kardashian’s choice to expose both her self and her beliefs is a reflection of who we are. But the millions of eyes that have and will land on Kardashian’s backside will be portals to hearts and minds—many of them very young and very impressionable—that will come to the conclusion that not only is this the way things are, but this is also the way things are supposed to be. In fact, hearts and minds beating with estrogen will seek to define themselves in the same way, and all of it will seem so … normal. And those hearts and minds beating with testosterone will be encouraged, once more, to look at and value a lady based on body rather than soul.
Regarding adults’ response to these images, Mueller suggests we don’t have the luxury of simply disengaging from the reality of such powerful pictures and hoping for the best as far as our kids are concerned.
We need to look deeply at our culture. Kim Kardashian’s backside is not to be ignored. It’s out there and our kids are seeing it. They are swimming in a cultural soup that sends a consistent, powerful, life-shaping message that is destroying our kids. We need to know what those messages are for the simple reason that they can’t be fought unless they are known.
Now, I don’t think Mueller’s making the argument that we all have to be directly exposed to all the junk in our culture to know how to respond to it. But he is saying, I believe, that we can’t just turn a blind eye to it and naively expect that our children and grandchildren will have the wisdom and willpower to do the same without our engagement and help.
Given that reality, we have a responsibility to engage with and be aware of the cultural influences that our kids are very likely encountering every day—even if we’d like to believe otherwise. Because when celebrities behave badly and set such bad examples, it has significant potential to influence young fans’ worldviews—their perceptions of what is right, what is good, what is acceptable. In other words, to borrow Mueller’s word above, what is normal.
Talking about why she did the photoshoot, Kardashian said, “As a role model I’m not saying anyone else should do that, but for me, I looked at it as this was an art project for me, this was something that was going to make me feel confident, and [make] me feel good. And it taught me to do what you want to do.”
Did you catch her worldview here? Taking her clothes off for all the world to see was a choice she made because it “was going to make me feel confident” and make her “feel good.” Her last word: Do what you want to do. That’s normal. How many young girls will emulate her choice? How many young guys will expect the girls they like to behave like Kim? Because, after, all, if it feels good, it can’t be too destructive, right?
The only chance parents, grandparents, youth pastors and other influencers have to combat and resist a broken worldview like this one is to recognize it for what it is and to challenge that perspective—intentionally, repeatedly, lovingly and bravely—with a way of living and seeing that’s deeply shaped by our faith, by prayer and by Scripture. It’s not a task for the fainthearted. But it’s a task, as Walt Mueller has reminded us, that we ignore at our children’s peril.