The Kardashian Effect: Contesting Evil Inside Us

Kim KardashianKim Kardashian’s recent visit was hailed by the majority of the Armenian public, high-ranking officials, and local and international media alike. She was celebrated everywhere she went and credited for single-handedly publicizing not only Armenia but also the issue of the Armenian Genocide in an unprecedented scope. Hence, the former public image of a ‘porn star’ was transformed into one of a heroine and a champion of the Armenian cause. While many alienated her and were sceptical of her involvement in raising awareness about the Armenian Genocide before her visit, they have now embraced her as their “own”, and even went as far as to welcome her equally-celebrated husband, Kanye West, as the pesa (groom) of the collective Armenian family.

So what happened then? How did this transformation of public perception of Ms. Kardashian’s image occur? Has a society so obsessed with women’s ‘purity’ and virginity given into the ‘western moral decadence?’ And if that’s indeed the case, then how strong was our commitment to our ideals of morality, tradition and values that we so enthusiastically like to trumpet in every (in)appropriate occasion?ժ

The answer to this puzzle boils down to the simple and ugly truth of the prevalence of double standards in our society – a society adhering to a dominant heteronormative discourse, and one where you must humbly obey the rules of the patriarchal system. This is a men’s world(!), provided that you are straight, gender conforming, Caucasian, and preferably have an intimidatingly large SUV and a thick golden chain around your neck.

Within this system, ‘real men’ make and break the rules as they please, while society mercilessly scrutinizes everyone else. While men are allowed and often encouraged to have as much sexual experience as possible, women daring to explore their sexuality fall victim to the (Armenian) epidemic of slut-shaming. General (mis)perception of a woman as the nurturer of the hearth is then reduced to perceiving her as a procreative machine. When it is generally tolerated for a married father to have extramarital sexual relations, one has to wonder where the omnipresent watchful eye of our society is: perhaps too occupied with inspecting the lives of the wives of these husbands, to make sure they don’t misbehave while their ruler is away? Where are the values then? The morality? They are there, right in place- both the values and morality, as well as devotion to tradition, diligently coated with patriarchal hypocrisy. Ironically, women have as much fault in the situation as men: as a friend once rightfully noted “men serve the discourse, while women legitimize it”.

In this context, and with the dominant perception of sex (for pleasure) as something dirty and immoral, discussions on the topic of homosexuality and gender non-conformity are especially problematic. The prevalent societal norms result in the categorization and labelling of people based on binary oppositions of normal vs abnormal, good vs bad, moral vs immoral, us vs others, and most importantly Armenian vs non-Armenian. Gay people are demonized and marginalized and are often the target of discrimination and harassment by the general public, police, media and high-ranking officials. Apart from a handful of human rights activists, much of the public is silent about these abuses. This inevitably screams for the question WHY? Why we, as a society, which perceives and markets itself as hospitable, and humanitarian, remain silent in the face of injustice towards the LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Intersexual, and Queer/Questioning) community? Even if the majority of the public is ignorant about the whats, hows and whys of homosexuality, why doesn’t it, committed to its ideals of humanity and compassion, revolt against any demonstration of hate and unfairness towards LGBTIQ people? The answer is again hard to digest, but so very necessary: we are a society of double standards, and our hospitality and humanism is selective. We are welcoming of our western visitors and guests, yet we continuously moan about ‘too many’ Iranians visiting during Nowruz, we tolerate the infidelity of men, but condemn sexual emancipation of women, we say we are family-oriented and children-loving, yet we disown our son when we learn that he’s gay, we claim to adore our mothers, but we have one of the highest rates of sex-selective abortion (of girls) in the world.

As often we are paranoid about family-shaming and nation-shaming, I imagine such a discrediting view on our society and its ‘morals’ will not receive a hearty welcome by many. But that is not of my concern. Quite the opposite actually: a strong (negative) reaction and disagreement is the aim of my exposure of the vices of our society. Because if not the main, then at least one of the reasons that our society is closed, is that it has rarely been confronted, and almost never chooses to confront itself. Not willing to step out of its comfort zone, it got all too cosy in the environment of the lack of diversity in Armenia, be it on grounds of ethnicity, religion or lifestyle and ways of thinking.

Perhaps that is the main value of the visit of the Kardashians and West in the long-term – the challenge it posed to the societal norms built on the aforementioned binary oppositions. Perhaps it is time to coin the expression of The Kardashian effect. One tweet correctly pointed out to the “potential of their visit to subvert purity/virgin + anti-black narratives in Armenia”, and Hetq went as far to prescribe a revolution of thought and perception to Ms. Kardashian’s visit. Whether we will gain anything more than the momentary entertainment of the Kardashian reality show, remains our choice. One certainly hopes so, for if we are fortunate enough to establish historical justice related to the Armenian Genocide, and solve all conflicts with our neighbours, we will remain face to face with the evil inside us.

Mher Hakobyan

The author holds M.Sc./M.A. degrees from London School of Economics and University of Leipzig.