A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

When Tabloid Stars Meet the Arab Uprisings

I realize I have been remiss to those of my readers for those who rely on this blog for the latest gossip about US tabloid figures and reality TV stars; I know this is a Middle East blog, but even so I completely failed to post anything at all last month about the opening of Paris Hilton's store in Mecca, which drew some criticism from the Saudi clerical establishment.

This time, however the demonstrations and controversy over Kim Kardashian's opening a milkshake shop in Bahrain, and her tweeted comments praising the place, demand some comment.

Now I must confess that I am far from clear exactly why Kim Kardashian is famous, or why she obviously makes more money than I do, or possibly more than the whole Middle East studies community put together do. But I must say I do agree with these comments from Juan Cole:
The real scandal of the Kim Kardashian visit to Bahrain is that it is what it took for Western media to mention the word “Bahrain” on the evening news. I did a search at Lexis Nexis Broadcast Transcripts under “CBS and Bahrain” for the past 3 months and got … 10 hits. Now, this methodology is inexact. I am not singling out CBS but it is useful because it can’t be confused with anything else (ABC could be Australian Broadcasting Company) and it does not have a cable news sister, so we really are looking at evening news and Face the Nation. Even so, I got several non-CBS items among the hits. Conclusion: Bahrain has been almost invisible as an issue in most US television news reporting . . .
But did Kim Kardashian show up in Manama? Why that they put on t.v.
ABC news reports on the controversies surrounding the reality-show star’s visit to Manama promoting her milkshake shops.
Marc Lynch also picks up on the theme:
Kim Kardashian's December 1 trip to Bahrain to promote milkshakes brought all the Middle East tweeps to the yard.  Her visit attracted both delerious young fans and a raucous protest (reportedly cleared away by the time she arrived), with conflicting accounts as to whether she actually ended up mixing a tear gas flavored milkshake.  The Middle East twitterati had a field day of outrage and humor over the news, with pretty much my entire Twitter feed (and Bahrain's Foreign Minister) retweeting her now deleted "OMG can I move here please?" tweet.   It's easy to poke fun at Kardashian.  But did Kanye's girlfriend really do anything different than those foreign policy wonks willing to participate in Friday's 2012 Manama Dialogue?
Kardashian went to Bahrain and Kuwait to promote "Millions of Milkshakes."  She evidently had a great time, declaring at the end: "Thanks Sheikh Khalifa for your amazing hospitality. I'm in love with The Kingdom of Bahrain." For this, she was roundly mocked by Bahraini opposition and Middle East commentators. Bahraini activist Maryam al-Khawaja posted an open letter to Kardashian inviting her to meet with human rights activists during her trip.   The one bright note, such as it was, came from @Therwees: "Kim Kardashian tweeting about Bahrain makes more news than actual Bahrain."
Part of this dismay and the attention paid to it comes from the star's tweets during her visit to Bahrain, which, of course, continues to endure major protests which are firmly put down, and which has been widely criticized by human rights groups.  She seemed pretty oblivious to that:
But she drew plenty of criticism on Twitter as well:

One last thing: milkshakes??

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