Gender Appeal, Reality TV and the Kardashian Franchsie

While looking for various franchises to evaluate the extent of which franchises control the media, I was reminded of the constant news and updates about the Kardashian family. Although not completely directed to just media franchising, but the Kardashian family has created a large retail franchise. Among their many family members and many outlets, they have generated a franchise with their name. From boutiques, perfumes, jewelry, the hit reality show, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and multiple spin offs of the show itself, the Kardashians have created an empire of franchises that have kept America, and other parts of the world hooked.

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An article in the Los Angeles Times, written by Andrea Chang titled, “The Kardashians: Cashing in with a capital K” explores the many ways in which the Kardashian family has branded themselves. Chang writes, “As a group, the Kardashian-Jenner-Odom-Disick clan is capitalizing on its multi-generational, multiethnic appeal, actively pursuing and inking deals for everyone in the family”. The Kardashian family has banked on their seemingly dynamic, diverse and active family.

ImageThe statement that Chang makes about the Kardashians connects to what Derek Johnson describes in his book, Creative License and Collaboration in the Culture Industries. The Kardashian franchise has expanded due to its diversity and multitude of platforms. In his introduction, Johnson writes, Through franchising—an industrially driven process perceived as unchecked expansion and assimilation across cultural contexts—media products have proved culturally threatening not just in their seeming lack of sophistication, but in the challenge to choice, diversity, and creativity posed by their mechanistic, almost viral drive toward self-replication” (2). Although Johnson makes a distinction that media franchising and retail franchising is not the same, it is interesting that the Kardashians have entered both realms.

With the brand of the Kardashian sisters, there is a “girl power media culture” as Johnson mentions about reality shows such as The Dish. The Kardashian franchise is, to the media, run by the women of the family and the attention is directed on the women in the family who have been branded. Although there are spin offs and there are male family members, the show and the target audience is geared towards teen girls and women.

This reminds me of a discussion in my Introduction Film Studies course about the marketing of the 1975 film, Jaws. In class we discussed the ways in which movie marketers market film content. The theory was that younger boys would go to see a movie that older boys would see and girls would see a movie that boys would see. However boys would not see a movie that girls would want to see. With this logic, marketing films towards older boys was ideal so that “everyone” would go see the film. Johnson writes about how industries have “little reason to pursue mixed gendered audiences” (58). He goes further and states, “Even when recognizing the potential for cross-gender play, Kurnit [marketer] perceived obstacles both in potential parental discomfort with it, and the belief in industry lore that play too inclusive of femininity would alienate boys” (58). To make things “simpler”, just market to boys—and everyone is “comfortable”!

Prior to the 1980s, the term franchise had other meanings. They referred to retail business such as McDonalds that Johnson uses as an example and having agency. Johnson explains major shifts that had an impact on media franchising. He discusses the new technologies emerging, the culture industries being marked by Post Fordism, and the migration to media industries. Johnson questions the ways in which these franchises are “monstrous” and Alisa Perren explores the “independent” sector that is seemingly run by the larger corporations in her book Indie Inc. Johnson argues that the “structural changes made the production of content more important, rather than less, as corporations sought to develop brands that could be deployed across media channels” (4). The two authors expand upon the way conglomerates and large companies are able to take control of industries. There are plenty of connections to be made between both Johnson and Perren’s books where Perren’s ideas about “independent” fit in with Johnson’s ideas about culture industries.

Johnson, Derek. Media Franchising: Creative License and Collaboration in the Culture Industries. New York University Press: New York. 2013. Print.

Images from Creative Commons.

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