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Bob Samuels

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Kim Kardashian, the Millionaire Tax, and Media Activism

Posted: 01/10/12 10:29 AM ET

In an effort to get people from California to support a new tax on millionaires, a coalition of progressive organizations released a video centered on the lavish lifestyle of Kim Kardashian. As someone who teaches writing and new media at UCLA, I will argue that this video campaign is not only very effective, but it shows how media activists can use the Web to promote important causes without spending much money.

One of the brilliant things about this campaign is that it was able to reach many audiences that don't normally talk about wealth inequality or tax policy. Since Kim Kardashian is a celebrity, the video was discussed in media outlets that usually deal with pop culture gossip. Moreover, Kim's audience trends towards the young, and by using her image, the video was able to engage people of all ages.

While it is unusual to combine tax policy with pop culture, the video created a space for a discussion of income inequality and fairness outside of the usual political talk shows. Furthermore, since many people see Kim as the emblem of wealth gained without talent, she is an effective target for taxing the unproductive parts of our economy.

Although some have defended Kim as a victim of an outside attack, the hijacking of her image represents a new form of media activism. Since news reporters keep asking her if she supports the millionaire's tax, the issue is kept alive in the media. In other words, the vapid, viral nature of our celebrity culture can be rendered more meaningful if celebrities are forced to use their fame to represent progressive causes. By talking back to the famous, and making the famous talk back to us, we can create a more democratic media system.