The Spectacle Blog

Celebrity, Social Media, and War

By on 4.3.14 | 1:30PM

It’s finally happened. Kim Kardashian weighed in on the situation in Syria. Spoiler alert: She gets it all wrong. It shouldn’t come as a shock that silly people have stupid opinions about important issues that confound them. Still, let's investigate. It all speaks to a bigger point about celebrities, social media, and war.

Tweets Kardashian:

Please let's not let history repeat itself!!!!!! Let's get this trending!!!!



Moments later:

If you don't know what's going on in Kessab please google it, its heart breaking! As an Armenian, I grew up hearing so many painful stories!

Kardashian clarifies, she’s of Armenian descent. She wanted to grab the attention of her 20.5 million Twitter followers, and alert them to the plight of the ethnic Armenian town of Kassab. As Kardashian seems to understand, the town recently fell to al Qaeda-linked rebels. It’s not unreasonable to assume things could get nasty.

Tens of thousands of retweets and “favorites” follow. Superficially, that sounds good. Kardashian raised the profile of a distant war, where ethnic minorities are targeted because of their cultural and religious origins. Napkin math suggests she made millions aware of this particular struggle—opting into Kim Kardashian’s stream of social consciousness doesn’t suggest a particularly cosmopolitan perspective. So it’s a good thing she’s covering current events, right?

Of course not.

Writing for Reason, Matthew Feeney notes that “Kardashian and many others on Twitter who thought they were drawing attention to a recent horror committed by some of Assad’s opposition were in fact probably perpetuating a myth that may have been started by supporters of Assad.” Ooof.

Feeney cites the Daily Beast and reports that the photo evidence of horrors inflicted on ethnic Armenians was cherry-picked from horror films and preceding war atrocities.

You see, according to the AP, “there are no credible reports that rebels killed any residents, or that they inflicted major damage on churches.” Well, thank goodness the townspeople may have evaded capture, and a pox on the sort of villians who target innocent civilians.

But what was the point of Kardashian’s perspective? As the AP notes, she followed up with a flurry of “sultry selfies” from exotic locales complete with hashtags like #WishYouWereHere and #WhatALife. Perhaps distant climes had her thinking internationally. It shouldn’t surprise us that she has the attention span of a goldfish.

However, her misstep should prompt reflection. It’s always time to consider the power of propaganda, and the rapid pace of (mis)information. Things are speeding up. Only in recent years have we watched wars unfold in real time. The battles for hearts and minds are fought on Facebook. YouTube transports us to the front lines. Presumably, Kim Kardashian never thought about that.

But here’s the weird part. The only reason I’m writing about this tiny Armenian Christian village of 2,500 people, on the slopes of Mount Aqraa, is because she tweeted about it. It’s the only reason I’m aware of their plight. It’s the only reason I visited Kassab’s Wiki page that described the town’s suffering during the 1909 Adana massacre. It’s the only reason I now know the town suffered far worse destruction during the Armenian genocide in 1915.

Kim Kardashian is the sole reason I know there’s a hill called Aqraa or a place called Kassab. Presumably, the same goes for you. So what does this tell us?

Well, it doesn’t tell me that our social leanings favor an end to conflict—just that we want others to know that we’re informed and empathetic. That’s why she tweeted about Kassab in the first place. And that’s why her followers shared her vapid content. But more importantly, that’s also why professional journalists have taken her to task. They’re more cognizant than the celebtress and they want to remind you. She also realizes that we’re lazy. We’re not going to actually do anything about this random village other than “like” or “share” her thoughts—such as they are. Failing that, we’ll demean her ignorance. Unfortunately, that doesn’t solve anything. But perhaps that’s just as well.

Kim Kardashian’s susceptibility to propaganda should remind us of the unintended consequences and practical shortcomings inherent to intervention in places we don’t understand. Best intentions quickly go awry. It’s impossible to shape and mold reality to fit our specifications. Whenever we try, we’re rewarded by repeating our bloodiest mistakes. So, while assisting those in need remains morally acceptable, intervention is often a short-sighted (if ethically satiating) excursion designed to satisfy social jingoisms.

Ain't it strange where Kim can take us. 

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