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Kim and Lena-Your thoughts on American Female Icons

November 21, 2013

Grant McCracken has just organized what he’s calling The Minerva Prize and is looking for articulate thinking around the rise of Kim and Lena and what they stand for.

His detailed instructions can be found below.

Designers, anthropologists, strategists, ethnographers, writers, artists, activists, musicians, digitists, and other cultural creatives live or die by their knowledge of culture. The more we know, the more adroitly we know it, the deeper our mastery of this knowledge and the forces that produce it, the more surely we will flourish.

So here’s a test of your knowledge. Who are Kim Kardashian and Lena Dunham? As young American celebrities, they are conspicuous parts of popular culture. They express trends already in motion “out there.” This makes them cultural “effects.” But they also shape and clarify things that are beginning to emerge. This makes them cultural “causes.”

Who are these women and what do they say about our life and times? What are the causes (trends, events, developments) of which they are effects? And what are the effects (trends, events, developments) of which they are causes? What shaped them, what are they shaping?

You’ve got lots to work with. These women have many stylistic choices, in voice, language, clothing, emotional style, music, make-up, hair, homes, bars, neighborhoods, restaurants, rituals, ceremonies, friends, boyfriends, husbands. They have fashioned detailed, vivid, public persona. X-ray these, please. These are very different public performances. Review them, please. At the very least we are looking at very different visions of femaleness. Give us the what and the how. And the why.

We are not looking for ridicule. Kardashian and Dunham are high profile and attract lots of comment and some derision. That’s not our job. Nor is this a popularity contest. We don’t care if you like one of these women more than the other. Your job is to write a beautifully thoughtful, balanced, dispassionate, detailed, insightful piece that might help someone in the year 2113 figure out who these women were and “what they stood for.”

The differences will, I think, be readily apparent. The similarities perhaps not so much. But it’s worth remembering that these women come from the same culture, they live in (roughly) the same moment. Honor the differences but see if you can spot the commonalities. (And marvel that American culture can produce two entirely credible woman who are so dramatically different.)

We only want 1000 words. Because if it’s good enough for a Oxbridge college, it’s good enough for us. The winner will win a Minerva statue and a measure of immortality as a Minerva winner. (Hey, it will look good on your c.v.)

The Minerva Judges:

Caley Cantrell, Brand Center, Virginia Commonwealth University
Noah Cruickshank, AV Club
Janet Kestin, Swim
Leora Kornfeld, Harvard
Adrian Ho, Zeus Jones
Ruby Strong, Lord Byng
Nancy Vonk, Swim

Send your answers to

Deadline for submissions: December 10, 2013

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