President Barack Obama's joke at the recent White House Correspondents' Dinner "Why am I telling knock-knock jokes to Kim Kardashian? What is she famous for, anyway?" had many people laughing. Now, a social activist group is using the attention to stir a more serious conversation about media, politics and the treatment of women.
Using the hashtag #WhyKardashians, MissRepresentation.org is holding a Twitter debate and conversation about the objectification of women in American media and culture. It's part of the group's "call-to-action campaign," to empower women and girls to challenge limiting media labels to realize their potential.
Jennifer Siebel Newsom, CEO and founder of MissRepresentation.org and director of the movie behind the campaign, told Mashable that the White House Correspondents' dinner was just one catalyst for the idea, along with the prominence of celebrity culture in general.
While both President Obama and dinner host Jimmy Kimmel cracked jokes at the expense of these two celebrities, what people saw on television still informed their understanding of the dinner, Newsom said.
"I received emails from people watching the event and noticed that all the news people were talking about the Kardashians and Lindsay Lohan, and not the serious news minds and politicos that actually attended the ceremony," she said.
That's what prompted Newsom to call for the Twitter party #WhyKardashians. In the Miss Representation weekly action alert, she stated:
"Coupled with the recent news that the Kardashian family's reality TV show has been renewed for another three years, I am especially worried about the message the media is sending my daughter, my son and their generation. Who are their role models? Why are we rewarding reality TV's exploitation of women's bodies? Are looks, for women, more important than their brains or their talents? Is hyper-sexualization and self-objectification now a legitimate path to success in America?"
The film Miss Representation explores these questions, as well as the political economy of mainstream media, which is largely funded by advertising and influenced by ratings.
The White House Correspondents' Dinner is an annual event traditionally attended by senior government officials and press corps. In recent years, many celebrities have also attended. Both Kardashian and Lohan were invited as guests by Greta Van Susteren of Fox News.
The celebrity-infused nature of the event was mocked by others as well, including Tom Brokaw on Meet the Press, who said that we need to "rethink" the nature of the event and its celebrity focus.
The #WhyKardashians conversation, Newsom hopes, will address some of these questions.
"Look, even the President of the United States was mocking Kim Kardashian, and good for him!" says Newsom. "Hopefully, as a result of our Twitter feed party, we can get the media to celebrate the women who are actually leading change."
The #WhyKardashians Twitter party, hosted by the Miss Respresentation campaign @representpledge, will take place today at 4 p.m. PST.
Do you think the media focuses too much on celebrities at the expense of bigger issues? Or is it just giving the audience what they want? Sound off in the comments.
For more about the MissRepresentation campaign, check out the trailer below:
Photo courtesy of iStockphoto