Why “Changing the Channel” Doesn’t Always Work


Right now, the Kardashians are probably the most well-known American family living in defiance of Plato’s maxim, “The greatest wealth is to live content with little.” To the voluptuous Kim and company, more is more. The very name of their reality TV show — one of their many reality TV shows — Keeping Up with the Kardashians, is a blatant celebration of accruing status, money, and power without much of a point besides staying ahead of one’s neighbors. And, perhaps, the Hiltons.

Some people are angry about this. They don’t want these valueless values to spread throughout society. They abhor the idea that Kim Kardashian — someone who got famous for essentially making a sex tape with the brother of an R&B singer, remained famous simply for being famous, and is still famous for divorcing her professional basketball-playing husband after 72 days of turbulent marriage — is one of the more prominent characters in America’s media landscape.

Everyday citizens have transformed into activists. Websites are popping up to protest our new morally bankrupt aristocrats. There’s Courage Campaign’s Taxkimk.com, a site dedicated to making Kim pay a higher yet proportional tax rate according to her income. Then there’s Boycottkim.com, a site with over 600,000 Facebook supporters that lists the several brands and companies associated with the Kardashian clan. The site has gained such momentum that it recently attracted the attention of the Kardashian’s lawyers.

A natural response to people motivated by this sort of indignation is that if you don’t like whichever Kardashian show happens to be on, simply change the channel. But this is a flawed argument. Indeed, it’s hardly an argument at all.

The “just change the channel” rebuttal is akin to a child who believes that if he just closed his eyes, all the bad things will go away. Even if you change the channel, many millions of viewers are still watching. Although you may be able to shield your mind, the minds of others are being penetrated with a narrative featuring big hips, pouty lips, and a lust for cash and fame. And fortunately or not, we live in a nation with these people.

As trivial as this may sound, it’s not. A big part of the Occupy Wall Street movement was directed at unflinching avarice. Greed, admittedly, holds a complicated position in this country, where the good qualities of hard work, drive, and determination, when slightly perverted, can blend into corruption, fraud, and an opportunistic mindset. Everyone’s just trying to get ahead, after all, regardless of how far along she or he already is. But it’s crucial to note that the mortgage crisis and ensuing recession weren’t caused solely by manipulative bankers; the people wanting homes that they couldn’t afford should also be held responsible. Their yearning to, let’s just say, keep up with the Kardashians, also played a part. And just think of all those people living paycheck to paycheck, making purchases based on want that they’ve confused for need. There’s a lot of ’em!

However flimsy the “just change the channel” retort and its various spin-offs may be, they can be seen everywhere around the web in both articles and comment sections, alike. If you didn’t appreciate seeing Kathy Griffin get nearly naked on New Year’s Eve in Times Square with host Anderson Cooper, one commenter suggests you should just change the channel. If you’re upset after reading an article discussing a rumor that Chris Brown and Rihanna might be rekindling their romance, well, as another commenter points out, no one forced you to read it. If you’re a Christian who doesn’t appreciate your religion being satirized on TV, there are always more channels.

So, as the logic goes, if the Kardashians aren’t edifying your mind, go somewhere else.

But it’s almost impossible to find somewhere else to go. The Kardashians are a difficult bunch to escape from. They are in check-out aisles, non-celebrity obsessed news programs and, according to one commenter, Jeopardy! The Kardashian empire continues to grow, because despite how advanced our communication technology has become, clicks and pageviews don’t differentiate between good and it’s-so-bad-it’s-good material. A friend’s sense of irony still has yet to be understood by machines. To advertisers and companies eager to promote their products alongside the Kardashians, none of this matters — an eyeball remains an eyeball.

The Stir, a website dedicated to providing “thoughtful content” employed this argument last November in an article titled “Anti Kardashian Activists Need to Change the Channel.” In the blog post, author Julie Ryan Evans addresses the “No More Kardashian” petition launched by Cyndy Snider, a a 41-year-old woman from the Denver area who reportedly received death threats for her Kardashian insurrection. The petition, which aimed at removing all things Kim from E! Entertainment Television, ended on December 6, 2011 with just over 180,000 signatures.

In her post, Evans rather condescendingly wonders if activists like Snider have anything better to do — “No really, who has this much time on their hands?” — as if people dedicated to a cause are unable to make time in their day. She posts Snider’s reasons for the petition:

“We feel that these shows are mostly staged and place an emphasis on vanity, greed, promiscuity, vulgarity and over-the-top conspicuous consumption.

“While some may have begun watching the spectacle as mindless entertainment or as a sort of ‘reality satire,’ it is a sad truth that many young people are looking up to this family and are modeling their appearance and behavior after them.”

In response to these well-articulated and thought out reasons, Evans merely replies with an incredulous “And?” before telling haters like Snider to just look away, and through some haphazard reasoning, arrives at the conclusion that deep down activists like Snider really find the Kardashians irresistible, because, c’mon, how could you not?

Elsewhere in the article, Evans mentions that fans of the family, such as herself, have every right to “rot our brains in peace.” In a somewhat unkind twist, this complete lack of engagement in Snider’s arguments could be a good indicator that some rotting has already occurred. If anything, Evans’ nearly thoughtless content provides evidence that admirers of the Kardashians are a deprived lot, growing dimmer by the episode with their just-like-whatever attitude.

It’s important to pause and wonder to what degree do cultural artifacts affect us. How much do we create art, and how much does art create us? (Bad reality TV shows included.) Who and what, exactly, teaches us what we should expect for our lives, and what we should be willing to do to achieve it? If we consider Kim an artist for a moment, what are her intentions with her artwork, and what are our interpretations? Even if her art contains zero morals at best, and bad morals at worst, it has been unleashed into the public domain and we must confront it at some point. There is an intersection where art and morals and politics all meet, and it’s crucial that we take a glance at this convergence of ideas from time to time.

Whether we like it or not — even whether they like it or not — the Kardashians are role models. They are conduits, megaphones, mediums through which the rest of us can debate morals. Furthermore, Kim and crew wield pop-culture influence that Anti-Kardashian activists are claiming is harmful to society at large. There presence is not merely a matter of taste. Whether you agree with this or not, it’s best to talk it out, as opposed to avoiding the issue altogether. Sure, maybe plenty of us are able to rise above the Kardashian influence and change the channel, but you’ll be leaving behind others who can’t if that’s all you do.

But then again, if enough people purposefully change the channel every time instead of simply ignoring the problem, then the Kardashians might just go away for good. This, however, is also known as a boycott.