NPR and the Kardashians don’t usually find themselves in the same sentence, but it happens. This blog has done its best to prove that one can talk about pop culture and “low art” in a smart, interesting way. And the producers behind the news quiz show Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! took the same approach this weekend, when they invited Kim Kardashian to appear on the program.
Some fans were outraged, to say the least. One commenter called Kim Kardashian “a shameless strumpet.” Another commenter’s faith in science was shaken: “This woman makes me question the theory of evolution.” Some felt contaminated: “NPR is my sanctuary and now it has been sullied by the vapid KK.” And others wagged a finger: “…shame on all of you at WWDTM for allowing this vapid, vacuous waste of space more media time.” You get the picture.
I know people like this. You do too. Maybe you are one of them. There’s nothing wrong with knowing what you do and don’t care about. Do you, by all means. Where it becomes weird, in my opinion, is when people write off all pop culture as a badge of honor and deny knowledge of people like Kim Kardashian to broadcast something about themselves: I am smarter than that. I don’t have time to know anything about that. I’m too busy reading Russian novels and acing the Sunday New York Times crossword.
This preoccupation with identity and how one is perceived by others also happens to be something Kim Kardashian knows a lot about. She meticulously crafts how the public sees her (in full face, at all times, mostly) and what they find out about her. In this same way, the people leaving these incensed comments or posting about how they wish Kim would just go away on their Facebook pages are also maintaining some idea of themselves that they want to project or would like to believe about themselves. Kim puts beauty first, others lead with intelligence, but, in the end, it’s ultimately the same thing: a facade.
So an episode of your favorite show featured a guest you didn’t like. If it’s truly your favorite show, you’ll find a way to deal. Or maybe your beloved hosts know what they’re doing and will cover someone like Kim Kardashian in a way that’ll be amusing to you. But it’s hard to know that if you refuse to listen based on some intellectual principle and instead go right for the comment section to proclaim that Kim Kardashian will beget the downfall of civilization and how you have lost all faith in NPR.
During the brief WWDTM segment, Kim was self-aware and poked fun at herself. “I get it; it’s a bunch of selfies,” she responded, when the hosts chuckled about her photography project. She played along when host Mike Pesca translated the word “South” into Swahili, Sudanese and Hungarian and offered the results as potential baby names. And she was a good sport when quizzed about Kim Jong-un. If Kim can find the humor in the midst of such ridicule, certainly the supposedly more-evolved, better educated fans of Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! can do the same.
I went to grad school. My favorite writer is an experimental classicist. I’ve read Ulysses in its entirety. And I also know all the names of the Kardashians and why they’re mad at each other. Learning that information didn’t cancel out my degrees or any of my brain cells. Neither did listening to this radio segment. Kim Kardashian is a part of our culture, whether we like it or not. She doesn’t have the power to destroy you or your favorite public radio show. But she could probably school some of us on how to lighten up.