“Multicultural”, as described by Debra Dudek in Keywords, concerns cultural practices, race, ethnicity, nationality, language, citizenship, and religion. The related word “multiculturalism” breaks down into two categories: boutique multiculturalism and strong multiculturalism. Boutique multiculturalism is accepting of cultural differences, but only at the superficial level of foods and festivities, believing culture to be a secondary identity to humanity. Strong multiculturalism refers to cultural difference being understood as central to human identity. In the essay, Dudek also paraphrases Stanley Fish’s thoughts on why multiculturalism cannot truly exist because of our own inability to see why another culture would act in a way that our culture sees as unjust or inappropriate. Within Kirsten’s story, the reader encounters three cultures: Swedish, Settler American, and the culture of a Native American tribe in Minnesota; this makes her American Girl™ story “multicultural” in the traditional sense. In popular reality television show Keeping Up With The Kardashians (KUWTK), the Kardashian-Jenner family is made up of White American, Armenian, and Black American identities, also making it “multicultural” by traditional definition. Is the “multiculturalism” portrayed in Kirsten’s story and KUWTK true and strong multiculturalism or superficial, boutique multiculturalism?
Although Kirsten and her family recently immigrated to the United States from Sweden, they are depicted as having little struggle assimilating to American culture. Outside of language and education, Kirsten’s character is almost instantly “Americanized” as she immediately assumes the role of the typical, young American girl. Without a trace of Swedish culture, the only culture she really knows, she fashions clothes and hairstyles, as well as, spends free time in the same manner as American children do. Instead of differentiating the cultures, American Girl™ erases Kirsten’s Swedish culture, taking away from the multicultural aspect of her story. In addition, when Kirsten befriends Singing Bird, a young girl of a Native tribe in Minnesota, Singing Bird’s actual culture is far from recognized. Hinting at the difference between Kirsten and Singing Bird’s ways of life, American Girl™ has the children trade items and bits of culture like a game of playing cards. As Dudek explains in her Keywords essay, boutique multiculturalism is often manifested in the sharing of cultural foods, showcasing acceptance and/or tolerance of another culture. In Kirsten’s story, this is beyond evident as American Girl™ thinks it better to have Kirsten and Singing Bird trade honey bread and cornmeal instead of assigning Singing Bird’s tribe a name and, thus, a cultural history.
Similar to the erasure of Kirsten and Singing Bird’s cultures, popular media erases anything seen as “too unique” and/or “unpalatable” from the viewers’ eyes. The Kardashian-Jenner family is comprised of different identities including, but not limited to: White, Black/White biracial, Armenian/White biracial, Armenian/Black biracial, and Armenian/Black/White multiracial. Although there is rich culture in the Kardashian family and upbringing, the only culture that is displayed for viewers is that of generic “American” culture. Modes of communication, word choice, attitude, dress, and physical aesthetic have all been altered from whatever multicultural values they hold true to their personalities and themselves for the benefit of fitting the mold of popular media. The erasure of the natural cultural diffusion in their family promotes the homogenizing of our nation and suggests that strong multiculturalism fails to engage and unite all viewers. Even within the show, members portray highly superficial, boutique multiculturalism through the adoption of traits that are native to cultures that they do not identify within. For example, multiple Kardashian-Jenners have been “under fire” in the past for certain hairstyles worn that have been instruments of oppression for other cultures. The fact that the Kardashian-Jenners are able to fashion these hairstyles freely while native cultures experience prejudice because of those same styles supports the notion of boutique multiculturalism within the show. In other words, there is an acceptance of certain parts of a culture individually (i.e. hairstyles) without recognizing how those cultural aspects are central to the identity of people within that culture.
Although both Kirsten’s story and Keeping Up With The Kardashians feature people of different cultures interacting and coexisting, institutions of higher power (American Girl™ and popular media) continue to minimize cultural differences through the reinforcement of boutique multiculturalism.