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.

Kim Kardashian Appears on ‘Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me,’ NPR Fans Go Postal 16 June,2015Emmanuel Hapsis

  • RK Henderson

    For the record, I don’t care. (Something I don’t usually consider a mark of distinction, but in this case…)

  • Leah

    This is without a doubt, my favorite opinion article of 2015. yes yes YES

  • Terry

    At least get it right. It’s PORN PERFORMER Kim Kardashian. That’s all she’s done and she didn’t do it very well. I wonder if OJ regrets inflicting these people on us?

    • KH

      you are right, without OJ, they would never have become famous. 6 degrees of separation..sort of.

  • We’re wiping this episode of WWDTM off the map. It doesn’t exist. For them to step this low was as low as her.

    • Do you also consider both Leonardo and Michealangelo sell-outs for painting portraits of, essentially, the Kardashians of their day? We hang those portraits proudly in museums now. Is there really a difference?

      • KH

        yes, there is a difference.

        • And that difference is…?

          • Leon Terajewicz

            Kim Kardashian isn’t in a museum.

          • Right. But then, neither were Leonardo or Michaelangelo’s portraits, either, at first. They were painted specifically for families to hang in the home.

          • Leon Terajewicz

            And Kim Kardashian’s photos are wallpaper for people’s phones.

          • Leon Terajewicz

            And one day when people lighten up her sex tape will be playing at museums across the country. And monocled museum patrons will stop to admire or critique her work.

          • Leon Terajewicz

            Or maybe body of work is a better pun.

          • Of course. I guess the point I’m making is: I don’t know if we’re the ones who get to decide what, from today’s culture, gets to be elevated to High Culture. That’s the job of people at least 100 years from now. We’re too close to this case, as it were.

            What may end up happening is that Kim Kardashian will be a name everyone knows, whose image is everywhere in the future. Stephen King and Dan Brown will be lauded as great writers. Music you hate today may be considered the typical music of our time.

            I’m not asking anyone to love Kim Kardashian. I am asking people to be a little more open-minded and mindful of how culture gets created and preserved.

          • She is a product, not a person.

      • NameCantBeBlank

        Those artists had substance. Substance matters in the long-term.

    • Annie

      Oh no. She’s not part of “your” culture. God forbid the producers of WWDTM invite anybody who’s not part of your culture on the show! Last time I checked, public radio was great because it tapped into lots of cultures. But next time I hope Peter Sagal calls you just to get your blessing on their next guest.

  • Jay Nichols

    Nope. Sorry. You can apologize and rationalize helping KK continue our national nightmare, but those complaints are valid. It’s definitely a step down for NPR and a black eye for WWDTM. All you are my friend is an enabler. If you keep paying attention, they will keeping making more KKs. Shame on you and shame on WWDTM.

    • Cammy

      Totally agree. There is nothing this woman brings to the table. There are so many fascinating folks to interview.

    • Annie

      I don’t think she was apologizing, Jay. I think she was pointing out how sanctimonious you all are.

  • Nix_Nightbird

    What’s next? Paris Hilton? TRON Guy? Maybe an interview with Grumpy Cat.

    • Cammy

      The irony is that Kim Kardashian used to be Paris Hilton’s assistant…


    Well, at least KK wasn’t on Diane Rehm or Terry Gross. This opinion article is the equivalent of trolling on an NPR site. Emmanuel Hapsis is hoping you share the article in disgust to show your friends how bad it is. BTW, it is bad. Even hearing Nicole Kidman on Diane Rehm today sounded out of place.

    • jeffJ1

      Actually, given some of these comments, I’d say the article was pretty spot on!

  • Ina

    Great piece! I did find it kind of strange when I heard her on WWDTM, but she did also make fun of herself by saying sarcastically “it’s 495 pages. It’s riveting.”

    I loved the idea that we “broadcast” our intelligence by denouncing pop culture “swine” such as KK. However, I did think it was a little ironic that the author broadcasts his/her intelligence at the end by listing certain credentials that would assume that he/she is more intelligent than the general public. Was this tongue in cheek, or just another attempt to broadcast one’s intelligence to the world?

  • Alison Mundy

    Are you kidding me??? This is what makes WWDTM what it is! The facility to transition between high and low culture, local national and word events…and laugh along the way. KK is certainly part of the global conversation, and capable of laughing at herself. As a longtime NPR aficionado I must urge the haters to get over themselves.

  • Beto Torrealba

    Kim Kardashian brings disgust wherever she goes and it was heartbreaking WWDTM bought into the crap that she is selling. The show used to represent quality programming, now I’m insulted to learn it’s obviously targeted toward listeners dumb enough to care about a porn star and her family of ditzes.

  • rosypicture

    I disagree with this author that those who were disappointed that WWDTM had KK as a guest are all trying to show off their ‘highbrow’ notions of themselves. This is nonsense.
    Fans of WWDTM obviously have a sense of humor and an interest in current events, as those are the two main ingredients of this show. However, traditionally the guests in the “Not My Job” segment have actually ACCOMPLISHED something in their professional lives. KK is famous for 1) sex tape and 2) being famous. These don’t add up to accomplishments.
    I’m glad I missed this WWDTM episode and am sorry I stumbled across this apologist “opinion” piece from a paid staffer at KQED. If this is how you are using my donations, to have your staff write insulting comments about your listeners, then I think I’ll skip the membership drive next year.

  • Michaeld Steiner

    During the part of the show she was on, I found my self just tuning her out and doing something else. Then the next day when Wait Wait plays again, I remembered she was on. I found something else on the radio, a station I didn’t know was there. Haven’t had a reason yet anyway to turn it back to NPR.
    So in a way K.K. was a blessing for me.
    Thank you. Mike

    • KH

      Maybe Pope Francis will have her canonized

  • billy

    Did they pay her to appear on the show? If so, how much? In a few years people will think of them the same way they think about the clothes they wore in highschool, ick.

  • Carl Zetie

    If you look up First World Problem on Wikipedia you’ll find people offended by Kim Kardashian’s appearance on WWDTM. (Not really, because the last time I did that somebody quickly reverted the edit. Apparently people like me are a persistent problem with that article.)

  • Ira Kundji

    I was very very turned off and shocked when I heard who was coming on the show at the top of the hour! but I stuck it out. I even heard a few moments of the piece with KK. I call it, NPR’s first UN-driveway moment! I was in the parking lot when the piece started and well, I couldn’t make it through the whole piece. KK was rude, self absorbed and pretentious. Case in point when Mike Pesca wanted to share all the “K” names he found that were synonymous with South, she just said she’s heard enough. I am sure in her circle of friends no one went as far as translating the word “South” in other languages so it would alliterate with K like everyone else in her family! But I think she missed that part.

    I was too much when she was describing how she was building a basketball court and rented out the Staples center. You’re rich we get it!

    At which point, the UN-driveway moment became clear, I can’t listen to this cr@p any longer!

    One point, kudos to her for correcting Mike Pesca that the Sparks also play at Staples center.

    **** First UN-driveway moment EVER ****

  • lauramary

    amen! xo.

  • Cammy

    Please…Emmanuel…spare us your Millennial meanderings…you give yourself away through your writing – let me guess – a self indulgent, narcissistic “artist” who is ready to read classical writings and yet at the same time a dandy enough to partake of popular culture. Remember the name of her selfie book is called “Selfish.” There’s a reason for that.

    I recently saw a bumper sticker that said, “Stop making stupid people famous.” Now, I’m not here to judge intelligence – it comes in many forms. but clearly this woman didn’t study anything that might enlighten her as you have.

    I’m just waiting for her to fall off the media bandwagon as Paris Hilton seems to have done. But it might take a while when “reputable” news organizations defend the right to admire her.

    • MarkJeffries

      Proud to act just like your parents, Boomer?

      • Cammy

        Who is Boomer? I fall in the generation X category. Or as you’d call it, an “Xer”

  • groucho42

    I ‘aint no highbrow. :Disliking the oxymoron of reality TV doesn’t mean I don’t like other fun and simple things. People who are famous for being famous don’t interest me.

    She wasn’t the first interview I’ve skipped because I wasn’t interested, but she made me leap to skipping it. There’s nothing wrong with thinking there’s nothing worth paying attention to when someone such as her appears.

  • formerlywhatithink

    Pretentious much?

  • Philip Brown

    The saddest thing about this was how uninteresting she was. She wasn’t entertaining, or witty, or thoughtful. I can’t imagine that the shows producers could have imagined otherwise, even for a minute. I personally avoid the Kardashian cult whenever I can, so finding her on WWDTM was jarring to say the least. She then completely fulfilled my expectations by contributing nothing to the show at all.

  • T.O.M

    Yes, do lighten up people. Dear god, it was not that bad! Not a fan of hers at all… But I truly did not think it was the absolute worst thing in the world, or NPR for that matter.

  • Elenifer

    The thing that bugs me about Kim’s appearance on Wait Wait and (I heard) at the Commonwealth Club is that she is clearly trying to change her image and the folks who booked her are unwitting pawns in her overall scheme. She is using them (and by extension us) to polish up her dubious image. I like popular culture but people like Kim K. and her family belong on their program and all the other outlets that give them free publicity. The more serious outlets should wake up and figure out the bigger picture and not fall for her ploy.

  • J. Huntington Worth

    Fortunately, I was able to avoid the cultural apocalypse that was Ms. Kardashian’s appearance on the renown Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me radio program on my beloved NPR. Due to my recent vasectomy I was drifting in and out of consciousness with the aid of a powerful narcotic and unable to conceive the enormity of this crime against humanity. However, I soon shuffled off the opiate haze and returned to my normal existence. I drove my hyrbid at a responsible speed to meet my wife at our summer house on the cape and was baffled to find her in a state of pronounced melancholy. Initially, I surmised it was because her book club had once again rejected her choice of JIll McCorkle’s “Final Vinyl Days” as it’s next monthly selection. How I wish it were so! After collapsing on our imported Persian rug several times and woefully calling out to Benedict (our 4 year old Portuguese Sheep Dog), she slowly recounted the abomination that had glided innocently through the airwaves to disrupt our world. She had been puttering around the kitchen with a cup of herbal tea as is her habit and had tuned into the generally mirthful and lightheaded program that normally blesses us with an aura of solace and wry contentment. When she heard the guest was to be Kim Kardashian she was perplexed, at first she felt ashamed that she was unfamiliar with someone who obviously rated high enough in the cultural hierarchy to merit a guest appearance on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. Katherine rushed to her laptop to obtain a belated education on this, no doubt, impressive woman. She was already fighting the feeling of inadequacy that she might have been subjected to if she had professed ignorance of this Ms. Kardashian in the company of our well-traveled and exceptionally educated acquaintances. To her horror, she was subjected to the lurid history of Ms. Kardashian and her band of shameless ignoramuses. I fear, that being subjected with the so-called entertainment choices of the middling classes will have done grievous and permanent harm to her. I tried to read Toni Morrison’s Beloved to her last night as she reposed on the porch overlooking the breaking waves, but she would have none of it. She just twitched and wept. NPR has long been an instrumental part of the bubble world I have manufactured for myself and my wife. We have no need or desire for this hollow pop culture. NPR has been the foundation upon which we have fabricated our very self-images as gracious sentinels of cultural learning and refined taste. We are not looking to change the interests of the the lesser-educated masses, for we have always been steadfast in our determination to spread the gospel of tolerance around the globe. However, we will not stand for this intrusion into our sacred redoubt. Let the masses masturbate themselves into a pit of unquenchable desires and rancid artistic rot, but let NPR remain above this cultural leprosy. I demand a full investigation of this abomination. For those who agree with me, I suggest a boycott of NPR until a full report has been released. I will be withholding my yearly $15 donation until this is done to my satisfaction. Thank you, J. Huntington Worth

  • KH

    I always viewed NPR as a safe haven from the likes of reality TV stars, Donald Trump and all the crazies…no more. Kardashian has now even infiltrated the revered Commonweath Club in San Francisco host to speakers such as Teddy Roosevelet, Bill Clinton, Ron Reagan, and NOW KIM KARDASHIAN..I kid you not, she and the husband are speaking at Comm Club event and no doubt hawking that ridiculous book, which is the literary equivalent of the Pet Rock; a stupid idea that ended up making a ton of money and it’s all about money right?

  • Mark Murray

    The Kardasians are as much a ‘part of the culture’ as car wreck on the freeway. It’s sad that it happened and our urge to check it out adds zero value to our existence and only compounds the problem. We turn to ‘non-commercial, subscriber supported’ NPR (and KQED) in order to hear about what’s important in society. I have no objection to you spending some of your time ‘keeping up with the Kardasians’ but can’t we have a few places where we are can avoid being bombarded by these ‘car wrecks’.

  • Yada Y. Yada

    Interesting point of view. Glad I read this article. I saw “There’s nothing wrong with knowing what you do and don’t care about. Do you, by all means.” And I saw “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.” The rest of the article seemed to address that second group, and seemed to do so in the kind of tone the writer was objecting to in others. Seems to me there’s quite a bit of space and overlap between the two points of view, and a lot of room for people to disagree about what is suitable light entertainment and what is good and bad about pop culture without knocking other people or vilifying KK. Also, I’m not sure anyone needs to lighten up if they are really just doing themselves.

  • Rivera8212

    FFS…is there no sacred place that’s sans the mention of these cretins? We donate to not EVER have to be defiled by their PAID presence. I just lost faith in you guys, no more donations.

  • Leon Terajewicz

    I’m gonna go put on my thickest pair of glasses and go to a plastic surgeon to enhance my intelligence. After all it is just a facade.

  • Leon Terajewicz

    If people wanted to see Kim Kardashian there are already enough links on the Internet. It would be nice if npr would stick to being boring. But you know if it really bothers you that much just listen to bbc radio news. If you don’t like the programming, change the channel. I’ve listened to npr only with someone else driving their car. I prefer music because all the topics they cover are usually at least a week old. It’s easier for me to read the news on google and stay in touch with what’s going on than listen to npr. They should just cut funding altogether.

  • Auryn

    Having actually watched the Kardashian shows, all I can say is the haters are missing out. The Kardashians are quite illuminating into the strengths and weakness of American values. They live it out in their daily lives and on TV — they never feel like they have enough things, are beautiful enough, or are doing enough. They have the fame and riches to show for their hard work (because they do actually work), but they also have all the pain that comes along with it — excessive plastic surgery, failed marriages, addictions, etc. Like it or not, they are actually a relevant part of our society.

  • John Morgan

    Publicity is finite. Every second of airtime given to Kim Kardashian is a second deprived from a worthy person, a vital idea or a meticulously crafted and beautifully affecting work of art. Further, promoting Kardashian promotes the Kardashian model. For every bee a thousand bee mimics, and by furthering her, NPR did in fact further the degradation of our culture.

    What NPR did, in the words of Milan Kundera, is “collaborate.” He defines a collaborator thus: “… putting oneself voluntarily at the service of a vile power. … All those who extol the mass media din, advertising’s imbecilic smile, the neglect of the natural world, indiscretion raised to the status of virtue–they deserve to be called collaborators with the modern.” And in this case, collaboration with the very dross of the modern.

    People have a right to be mad, even outraged. This was an act of mutual exploitation. Wait Wait … received the publicity bump. Kardashian appealed to an important but, for her, remote market. And this exploitation was conducted on the back of a core listenership desperate for an oasis apart from the ever creeping pop culture desert.

    Your defense of the act, as is so often the case, directly undermines yourself and NPR. In your final paragraph, you flash your privilege as if it is authority. If you are intellectual or on the side of intellectualism, be intellectual, be on the side of intellectualism. You wallow in the muck. Your supposed intellectual achievements function as nothing more than tawdry epaulet. You claim and without ambivalence that you are not corrupted, may be incorruptible.

    When in fact the corruption has pierced to your very marrow.

    Exploit us. We can leave and never return. Lie to yourself. Pretend wallowing in trash culture and adding a dash of irony and wry commentary is anything but derivative, culture-foundering dreck. But do not lampoon our anger. Those of us who die by the day in defense of intelligence, depth, beauty and empathy, those of us whose whole life could change if given five minutes of airtime, those of us muscled out by pop culture’s bullying fatuousness; it is from us which you steal.

  • Bill Solomon (Roadscrape88)

    I’ve listened to NPR and its growing list of shows since the late 1970s. NPR offers a broad reflection of American culture and world news, and thankfully that includes humor. Though I don’t care for her public persona, I found KK to be self-effacing, humorous and actually delightfully refreshing on the show in regards to her usual self. It was all for fun. If you didn’t perceive that and it made you all up tight, then it’s time you reflect on your own sense of prejudice and judgement. It doesn’t mean you have to watch her show, for crying out loud!

  • NameCantBeBlank

    1. You went to a shi**y Tier-3 grad school.
    2. You got a degree in creative writing from a state school.

    You can’t cancel out mediocrity with mediocrity. And just because something is part of culture doesn’t make it relevant. Indulging nonsense doesn’t make you a rebel. It makes you a dreadful bore.

    You tried it though bloke.

    Now off you go. Those pleated khaki pants aren’t going to wear themselves.


Emmanuel Hapsis

Emmanuel Hapsis is the creator and editor of KQED Pop and also the host of The Cooler. He studied creative writing at University of Maryland and went on to receive his MFA in the field from California College of the Arts. In his free time, he sings his heart out at karaoke.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor