Kendall Jenner endured a silly outrage cycle last week for launching a tequila line, fielding accusations of cultural appropriation from social media critics. Culture Editor Emily Jashinsky and Staff Editor Madeline Osburn debate the argument’s merits below.
Emily Jashinsky: Do you think it’s true that Kendall Jenner is facing cultural appropriation allegations not leveled at while male tequila proprietors?
Madeline Osburn: Not only have I not seen allegations aimed at male tequila-prenuers, but on the same morning that I saw the Daily Mail headline about Jenner, I saw a post from The Rock, quoting an interview with him in a cigar magazine lauding the record number of cases of tequila that he sold.
We should ask Lisa Barlow from “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” if she’s faced these problems with her tequila line.
EJ: So why do you think Jenner in particular is being targeted? Is it because her fan base skews younger and is therefore more woke? Is it because she’s a Kardashian? Or is there something to the argument that her sex makes Jenner an easier target?
MO: I think being a Kardashian definitely makes her an easy target. They get a Daily Mail headline whenever they breathe, so of course, any criticism against them is going to be amplified.
But taking a look at the type of person lobbing the criticism is telling too and, yes, it seems like her followers are the type of people who would cry “colonization” at the first hint of any multicultural activity. They’re the same people who made Kim Kardashian change the name of her shapewear brand from “Kimono” and the same people who freak out every time a non-black celebrity gets cornrows.
It’s impossible to prove, but anecdotally, it seems like those types of people are not really following or concerned with the business ventures of The Rock, George Clooney, or Jimmy Buffett.
EJ: You raise a good point about the Kimono line. I’m not sure it has to do with her being female so much as it has to do with the bulk of her audience being young and skewing progressive. That means there are enough tweets for places like the Daily Mail to generate a critical news cycle and cast the narrative.
Here’s an obvious question: Is Jenner doing anything wrong? Cultural appropriation is a menacing label for something that can be beautiful, but I’m sometimes sympathetic to the argument when it comes to case studies like Rachel Dolezal. Is Jenner hurting anyone?
MO: I think food and beverages are an area where cultural appropriation doesn’t ever make sense. All food is cultural appropriation. That’s why there’s no such thing as a copyright on a recipe.
Does Kendall Jenner really have such a refined palette that she’s been able to craft an award-winning tequila like the brand claims? Or is it just a money grab? I have no idea, but no, I don’t see anything wrong or offensive. Someone should ask the agave field workers in Mexico if they want her to pack up her bougie bottles and leave.
EJ: Right. Has anyone materially been harmed by Casamigos? Or Skinnygirl Margaritas? We’ve sort of already run the experiment on non-Hispanic celebrities profiting off these things.
Again, I kind of understand cases where people take something from another culture, botch it, and then try to pass it off as authentic. Or even cases where you have literal colonizers stealing aspects of another culture and profiting. I think the way you land on Kendall Jenner being guilty of malicious cultural appropriation is expanding the definitions of colonizer and oppressor to the point where she fits the bill.
I accept your thesis that Kendall is getting picked on because her audience is younger. So the question, then, is why are so many young people spending time complaining about a celebrity’s alleged cultural appropriation on social media? There’s something so performative about politics in the age of social media. Is it another shortcut to those sweet, sweet dopamine hits that come with notifications?
MO: The dopamine notification addiction is certainly real, but young progressives also genuinely think their shouting on social media is real activism and a way of standing up for the marginalized. “Silence is violence” was the big message on social media last summer. The term “virtue signaling” gets overused, but social media is such a convenient and easy way to display your moral superiority. And how much more satisfying is it to do your version of activism and dunk on a Kardashian at the same time?