Thursday, April 21, 2011

Kashing in on the Kardashians



As you may or may not have noticed, most of my blog posts come from my own (often shameful) obsessions. Well, I must confess to yet another guilty pleasure: The Kardashian family. As much as it pains and embarrasses me to watch, I can’t help but become hypnotized when one of their many shows come on the E! channel. Cleary, I’m not the only one because the family made $65 million dollars last year (more than A-List actors Angelina Jolie, Sandra Bullock and Tom Cruise).

So how did this family of D-listers rise to the top despite having no discernable talents? I think there are several interacting factors that allowed the Kardashian family to build its empire.

First, there is the small amount of fame the family had to begin with and the combined power of each member’s fame continues to grow and diversify itself. Kris, the matriarch of the family (and the one who seems to be in charge of the Kardashian brand) was married to Robert Kardashian, lawyer and friend of O.J. Simpson during his trial in 1995. Kris and Robert divorced and he passed away in 1989. Kris had four children with Robert: Kourtney, Kim, Khloe and Rob. Kris later got married to Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner. Bruce’s son Brody Jenner is a socialite who propelled his way into fame by appearing as a love interest on MTV’s The Hills and is now dating singer Avril Lavigne. Kris and Bruce have two children, Kendyl and Kylie, who are perhaps the least interesting members of Kardashain clan, but with a momager like Kris I’m sure lukewarm careers in reality entertainment are their future.

Kim found her way into the limelight by appearing in sex tape that was leaked onto the Internet with her then boyfriend, Ray J, who happens to be singer Brandy’s younger brother. She worked this small bit of notoriety and her former friendship with Paris Hilton into a reality show about her family, Keeping up with the Kardashians. The unexpected hit prompted several spin-offs, Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami, Kourtney, Kim Take New York and Khloe and Lamar. Since appearing on the show, Khloe has increased the family’s cumulative fame by marrying Lamar Odom who plays for the Lakers.

A second crucial factor in their appeal is their ability to create controversy. I’ve already mentioned Kim’s sex tape. Kourtney, the tamest of the three, shocked viewers when she announced she and her boyfriend, Scott, were having a baby. Scott was always a questionable character, but his drunken debaucherous behavior once the baby was born added drama to their television series. Khloe got a DUI on camera and knows no boundaries when it comes to discussing her personal life and her outrageous statements often garner attention from tabloids.

Finally, despite their scandals and shameless self-promotion, I think it’s the way their family-based reality shows resemble a modern day sitcom is what ultimately led to their success. Every heavily staged episode of their reality show begins with some kind of inter-family conflict that is resolved with hugs, laughs and sappy music by the end. One has to admire how close-knit this family is given their fame and individual eccentricities. Despite their lavish lifestyle, the family focus of their brand is what makes them surprisingly relatable and entertaining at the same time. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

College Edition: Nike Running Shorts


I quickly realized upon my arrival at college almost four years ago that two-toned Nike shorts were an essential part of the typical co-ed’s uniform. These shorts are not only trendy at my school, but throughout campuses across the US. I have to admit, I am partial to the shorts myself and own several pairs, but it is baffling how many of these shorts—in their vast combination of colors—I see on a daily basis whether it’s at the gym, the grocery store or in class. I’ve also discovered that others are also amazed by the sheer number of women wearing these shorts and apparently this epidemic is even more severe at large state schools in the south.

So I’ve attempted to dissect exactly what made these shorts a ubiquitous trend among college girls:

1. They’re gym shorts. This is essential to their popularity. College girls like to look like they work out all the time, which is why gym clothing can be seen throughout campus. It is difficult to determine which came first, the fact that college girls work out a lot and therefore invest in fashionable gym wear, or whether the presumption that college women should be fit and active precipitated the desire to appear active and fit and thus wear gym clothing to any and every occasion.

2. They’re extremely comfortable. This is, of course, related to the fact that they’re shorts intended for exercise, but comfort is another key quality for any item desiring become a college favorite (i.e. Uggs, sweatpants, leggings etc.). College life demands comfortable yet stylish clothing for late nights in the library, hanging out in the dorm and for being able to walk out the door five minutes after alarm to make your 8:30 am class.

3. They are also sold customized for different universities. There’s nothing that excites me more than an attractive item of clothing that has my school’s name on it and I can only imagine other college females feel this way. It seemed that Nike also picked up on this as a way to further boost popularity of their shorts among collegiates.

 4. They come in a variety of color combinations and often involve bright colors. Neon is a huge trend among college students these days, whether it takes form in a frat tank, spandex from American Apparel or nail polish. Once Nike’s tempo shorts became popular among the college set, they began to expand the line and appropriately added bright green, pink, yellows and oranges in unexpected combinations to further appeal to this market. Nike also also puts out limited edition prints and has a Livestrong line of tempo shorts which have yellow piping on the side.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

American Fascination with British Royalty


Like many Americans, I can’t help but be a little obsessed with the upcoming nuptials of the UK’s Prince William and Kate Middleton. We’ve watched the Prince grow up, become a teenage heartthrob and grieve the loss of his mother and to see him finally marrying his college sweetheart and settling down—it just gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside. Clearly our love of love stories and high profile romances has something to with the American interest in the royal wedding, to be performed at Westminster Abbey on April 29th. But I think there’s something about the idea of royalty that intrigues Americans, especially British royalty, because we feel our nation is so similar to theirs. In the past few years, it seems American interest in British royalty has reached a new high since Princess Diana's death.
            
In 2005, a different royal union took place when Prince Charles married his longtime love, Camilla Bowles. Their marriage was controversial for several reasons. Charles and Camilla had an affair during his marriage to Diana and the late Princess famously said, “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” Marrying Camilla was also controversial because she was a divorcee, so the two married in a civil-ceremony.
           
Of course, most of the recent attention has been on William’s royal wedding since it was announced in November of last year. Older Americans remember Princess Diana’s marriage to Prince Charles, the scandals that followed after and her tragic death in 1997. They see Prince William’s engagement to Kate Middleton, who comes from a wealthy family, but is still a commoner, as an indication that times are changing and the royal family is becoming a bit more relaxed. But there are plenty of formalities and traditions of the British royal family left—like those ridiculous hats and stuffy suits women wear to formal occasions—to entertain American curiosity. Kate Middleton has managed to top many “Best Dressed” lists despite her adherence to this stifling dress code.

The curiosity we have with the inner workings of the British royal family was explored in the 2006 film, The Queen, which came out after Charles and Camilla were married. The film starred Helen Mirren, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II. The focus of the movie was on the Queen’s attempts to handle Princess Diana’s death and tension between her adherence to royal protocol and the intense public love for Diana, who was no longer a member of the royal family after her divorce from Prince Charles. 


More recently, The King's Speech, which came out in December of last year (a month after William and Kate became engaged), satiated Americans’ cravings for a peek into royal life and swept the Oscars, winning “Best Picture” and “Best Actor” for Colin Firth. The King's Speech is a historical drama about King George VI, who became king after his brother abdicated from the throne to marry for love, and his efforts to improve his speech impediment so that he could give radio speeches to his country during WWII. Like The Queen, The King's Speech revealed the pressure and formality of life as a royal and the struggle to serve their country during modern times and simultaneously maintain royal conventions. Americans’ seem to love the romantic and foreign concept of royalty and the controversial role of the British royal family in the UK.   

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Mormons in the Media


Due to its historical ties with polygamy, the Mormon religion is often a subject of controversy in pop culture. Most, including myself, know little about Mormonism except that it has a huge following in Utah and there are some Mormons who still practice plural marriage. But lately it seems references to Mormonism are popping up everywhere.

In case you’re confused about Mormons and polygamists and the Latter Day Saints church, here’s a quick history of the religion. The Mormon movement was founded by Joseph Smith the 1830s and when he was killed, Brigham Young became the new prophet and leader. At this point Mormons practiced plural marriage but in 1890 the current church leader outlawed polygamy due to intense pressure from Congress and this is the LDS church we hear about today. Some sects broke away and remained Mormon fundamentalists who continue to practice plural marriage.

Big Love, an HBO TV show that began in 2006 about a polygamist family living in Utah provided a window in the Mormon community in Utah and the complexities of this world. Big Love focuses on Bill, his three wives and their children. Bill ran away from a corrupt polygamist compound when he was 14 but ended up returning to the principle after his first wife was diagnosed with cancer. The early seasons of the show focused on the family’s relationship with the compound, the relationships between the wives and their need to keep their plural marriage secret. In the most recent season however, the Mormon faith and the characters’ relationships with their faith is explored, as one of the wives begins to challenge her subordinate role as a woman. The influence of the Latter Day Saints church in the politics of Utah is also an important story line.

Audiences loved getting a peak inside this foreign world and the popularity of Big Love prompted TLC to create a reality show about a real live polygamist family living in Lehi, Utah called Sister Wives. The series chronicles the lives of Kody Brown, his four wives (there were three in the first season), and their sixteen children. Much like Big Love, the show mostly focuses on the relationships of the wives, as these unique “sister wife” relationships are the most compelling. If you’re wondering why neither family in Big Love or Sister Wives has been arrested for polygamy, it’s because the husbands are only legally married to the first wife and the marriages to the other wives are spiritual unions.

Brigham Young University, which is owned and operated by the LDS church, has also made headlines recently. It’s the alma mater of Twilight author Stephanie Meyer, who is a Mormon. Many have argued that there are strong religious undertones in the Twilight series, like the fact that the main character is abstinent until marriage. BYU’s basketball team is huge topic of discussion this season. BYU’s top scorer Jimmer Fredette is a member of the LDS church and was named the NCAA 2011 men’s basketball player of the year. Brandon Davies, one of the team’s best players was suspended in early March for violating the team’s honor code by having premarital sex, which made headlines for the severity of the punishment at time when BYU’s team looked like it would have one of its most promising years. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Invasion of the Knappa


The first time I can remember admiring the IKEA Knappa lamp was at a hair salon five or six years ago. When you spend a few hours in a salon, boredom forces you to acknowledge every aspect of the d├ęcor and this lamp became the subject of my observation. After I left the salon, I began to see the lamp everywhere—In other salons, restaurants, boutiques and apartments. This flickr photostream is a collection of Knappas found throughout the world.

I thought it was strange that so many gravitated to this one lamp, given the number of lamps there are to choose from in this world, so I did a little research to try and illuminate the reasons behind its popularity.

1. It’s from IKEA.  Everyone loves IKEA. It’s cheap, it looks good, and it’s fast. Shopping at IKEA is like Disney World for adults; you can stroll through inspiring fake rooms filled with IKEA goodies, grab whatever box of furniture you want from the shelves for immediate gratification, laugh at hilarious Swedish names, and reinvent the style of your home in just a few hours. The only downside about IKEA is that everyone else loves it too, so you’ll likely see your own furniture in other people’s homes.

2. It looks more expensive than it is. The lamp adds ambiance to any room, which is why you’ll often see it in salons or restaurants or above a dining room table. It gives off darker and more flattering light than your typical florescent lamp—as IKEA’s wesbite explains, it “gives a soft mood light.” And since its just $30, small businesses like the aforementioned salons and boutiques can afford the classy look without breaking the bank.

3. It’s a knock-off of a famous lamp. Supposedly the Knappa is actually a knock-off of the lamps created by a Danish company called Le Klint. The Le Klint “Pendant,” as they’re called, were inspired by famous Danish architect and designer Poul Henningsen, who designed an “artichoke” pendant that looks reminiscent of the Knappa.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Fangdom


Vampires have always had a place in pop culture from the gothic novels of the 1800s to the nineties cult TV show Buffy.  But in the last three years we’ve witnessed a vampire craze unlike any other in recent history.

It all began, as I’m sure you’re all too aware, with the ubiquitous Twilight series. The four novels, written by Mormon author Stephanie Meyer, were eaten up by preteen girls and their mothers across the country but the Twilight epidemic truly began when the first movie came out in 2008. The young stars of the film were catapulted into an embarrassing level of fame and dominated the tabloids for months, if not years.

Many, such as myself, struggled with the self-loathing that accompanied the guilty pleasure we took in reading the Twilight novels and paying money to see the films in theaters. Luckily, new and more socially acceptable opportunities to enjoy the vampire trend arrived soon after the debut of Twilight with HBO’s True Blood in 2008 and the CW’s Vampire Diaries in 2009.  True Blood, created by Six Feet Under and American Beauty writer/director Alan Ball, is dramatic, sexual and often grotesque and uses the vampire theme as a way to comment on racial and religious issues in a small southern town. Vampire Dairies takes place in Virginia in a town with a supernatural colonial history and involves a love triangle between brother vampires and a girl in high school. Both shows have garnered huge followings and excellent reviews.

I’ve often wondered what exactly it was about vampires that enabled them to become and remain a significant current in pop culture for the last three years. I think much of it has to do with the particular breed of the 21st century vampire. Unlike his evil, bloodthirsty ancestors, he hates the cold life he’s forced to live and is capable of love. He’s a hero that protects humans from the dangerous members of his kind. And he’s supernaturally handsome. In short, he is the ideal love interest—and nothing like the vampire villains from years before.

It’s interesting that Twilight and its respected TV counterparts share a central storyline: a star-crossed romance between a male vampire and human female. Their love for one another is in constant peril because he is immortal and she grows older with everyday. Oh, and also that he might kill her by accident at any moment if his vampire urges take over his free will. It feels like the vampire trend might be on its way out, but it think the way 21st century vampires lend themselves to modern versions of classic unending romance is what makes them so appealing.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

To Romper, or Not to Romper


My first encounter with a romper occurred in early spring of 2010. It was getting warmer and the transition from spring to summer was just on the horizon. This meant it was time for one of my favorite traditions: summer dress shopping. The summer dress isn’t just an exciting opportunity to buy new clothes—it was promise of that the best parts of summer—lounging at the pool, summer concerts, outdoor seating at restaurants—were on their way. So you can imagine my disappointment when I excitedly pulled cute dress after cute dress off the racks only to find that instead of the expected skirt bottom, they had a pair of shorts attached!

A romper (also known as a “playsuit” or “jumper”) is essentially a top and bottom combined into one piece of clothing, or as dictionary.com defines it, “A loosely fitted, one-piece garment having short bloomers.” In 2009 and 2010, I witnessed the romper’s descent from avant-garde high fashion to hipsters at Coachella to celebrities and finally, to my dismay, into mainstream fashion. At first, I hated rompers. But I knew it was only a matter of time before general exposure and the dictates of fashion convinced me that it was an acceptable, and even attractive, article of clothing.

Almost every fashion trend is a recycled and updated version of the fashion that came years before it, but the romper seemed particularly obscure. That’s because the rompers that sprinkle the pages of today’s fashion magazines were inspired not by the fashion of the past five decades, but from the unisex causal wear of toddlers from the early 20th century. Rompers were designed for children to play in. A 1904 New York Times article advertises rompers as “pinaforelike garments” that the “children can play in the dust…and still keep fresh and clean.” A 1912 advert for the department store Joseph Horne tells moms to dress their children in rompers and “let them scramble over the turf and dig in the sand” and even claims rompers are “recommended by physicians as the ideal garment” in “which, little folks, from one to eight years, feel, look and grow best.” Say what you will about grown women desiring to look like scantily-clad toddlers from the early 1900s, but you have to admit whoever came up with the idea to bring rompers back into fashion was pretty creative.

Last summer, I felt my judgmental take on rompers turn to fondness, but I resisted the temptation of giving into the trend and to this day I do not own a romper. I reminded myself that I would look back on this transgression years later, and wonder, “What was I thinking?” But as summer 2011 looms ahead, it seems rompers have come back full-force and time has weakened my defenses. Once again, I will have to decide to romper, or not to romper.