There’s an article in the style section of the New York Times today about the curious allure of Kim Kardashian . She is undeniably an international brand, the article argues, and yet, it is entirely unclear what she stands for. Kim simultaneously endorses QuickTrim weight loss products and the fast-food join Carl’s Jr. When asked what Kardashian represents to them, one of her fans said, “The average girl.” Born to millionaires, former bff to Paris Hilton, consort to sports superstars…that doesn’t exactly scream average to me.
There’s another woman profiled in the Times this week whose branding sometimes contradicts itself and who is described by a fan-turned-staffer as “the most ordinary person.” This is of course, former Vice Presidential candidate, and potential future Presidential candidate Sarah Palin . Palin is very far from ordinary, despite all some of her more relatable trappings (a McCain strategist once said of Sarah and Todd, “These people shop at Dillards!”).
So what does it mean that these clearly extraordinary women are described by their acolytes as totally normal? Certainly there have always been celebrities whose appeal was mostly that you would want to have a beer with them. But these women, in their very different ways, are so clearly not Average Janes (Kardashian because of her outsize beauty, wealth and glamour; Palin because of her impressive ambition and natural political instincts), that it is odd that the “ordinary” label has been so applied to them.
I think they are called average for two reasons: Their utilization of Twitter and Facebook as a way to communicate with their fans, and their public family dramas. In the profile of Kardashian, the writer Eric Wilson discusses how Kim incorporates feedback from her Twitter fans into her designs and perfume lines. In her Times profile, Sarah Palin says, “I just tweet; that’s just the way I roll…Just expressing my feelings via Twitter and Facebook. I choose them because they’re convenient for me, especially from Wasilla.” This gives her an air of accessibility-she’s just a hockey mom from Wasilla, tweeting her feelings. Both Kardashian and Palin are stars of reality TV shows whose tabloid covers tend to center around their family’s inner workings. Kardashian’s sparring with her sisters makes national news , as do the Facebook slurs of Sarah Palin’s children . This adds to their “stars are just like us” appeal, as everyone has at least some family drama.
It’s important to remember that behind the “ordinary” posturing neither of these women is average. They’re both just trying to sell you something using their relatability: Kim’s trying to hawk her various beauty products, and Sarah Palin is trying to sell us Sarah Palin as President.