Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Analyzing Hollywood's It couple: Pete Davidson and Kim Kardashian

December 17, 2021
Art by Daena Faustino
Art by Daena Faustino —

With every picture and conversation since their appearance on 'Saturday Night Live' together surfacing on the internet, Pete Davidson and Kim Kardashian were the main target of scandal on social media.

Are they together? Is Kim rebounding? Can two celebrities go out on the town together without a rumor speculating on their marital status?

However, in mid-November, the couple was confirmed to be officially dating.

The internet immediately took to either elation for the new couple, shock on the unlikely pairing or conspiracy as to what was rumored could be for an underlying motive or not even true at all.

“The first thing I thought about was that the couple was rebound since her and Kanye just got divorced. ... I was shocked,” marketing junior Greta Shaw said.

Shaw alluded that no one was expecting this from Davidson, specifically because of the backlash he faced on the internet from his relationship with Ariana Grande. Fans of Grande believed that she was too good for him in the relationship. Shaw believes we're seeing the same thing with Kim's followers.

However, Shaw believes this is just another way that Davidson promotes his brand of being relatable to his viewers and making fun of himself in these situations where many believe he dates women above his own league.

Due to the disbelief that surrounds this relationship, many see this as another media relationship or PR stunt created by their marketing teams: a relationship where both parties can benefit off of shared publicity and popularity rise being seen together in the limelight.

"Lots of people are fascinated by train wrecks,” media and information Ph.D. student Samantha Hautea said. (10:20)

While Hautea explained that outrage is one of the most effective ways to generate numbers of viewers to a situation, a conspiracy began on social media that led many to believe that Kardashian and Davidson were looking to minimize the outrage of a separate event surrounding the Kardashians.

A viral TikTok explained how the couple is rumored to be created to take attention away from Kardashian's sister, Kylie Jenner and her partner Travis Scott, who is in hot water for the Astroworld tragedy where multiple concertgoers died due to safety concerns at his set in the festival. The conspiracy outlined that Davidson and Kardashian's relationship is a facade created to distract the public from the tragedy.

Hautea believes that this is not out of the realm of possibility in the public relations industry with the power and willingness to manufacture news for the purpose of redistribution of public attention.

"PR has become savvier," Hautea said. "There are new things you can do to distract attention or create attention somewhere else.”

However, some people do not believe this to be the case of the celebrity couple.

“They have the mindset that no matter what happens, they can’t cover it up because it is such a big thing," Shaw said. "So many people died and it was such a big scandal, so if anything, they would want to distance themselves from him.”

Creative advertising freshman Eric Kufuor-Mensah agreed that the Astroworld tragedy was much larger than a celebrity couple and could not sufficiently cover up this news. However, he had another theory on the couple.

"They could be promoting a new product. ... The Kardashians have a brand-new show on Hulu," Kufuor-Mensah said.

Shaw agreed that she saw more media relationships pulled towards the promotion of new entertainment and collaborations between celebrities rather than a cover-up on a scandal, making a more realistic case for the reality of the PR relationship.

Whether the relationship is truly a reflection of love or deceit, the internet immediately jumped onto the boat of judgement because of the basic principle that the public forms para-social relationships with celebrities and feel the need to get involved in their favorite influencer's life very personally, according to Hautea.

However, with the outrage over this relationship, social media algorithms promoted it, whether the public was elated or furious.

“Social media is based on engagement," Hautea said. "To the best of my knowledge, the platforms don't distinguish positive and negative views, and only measure it by engagement and the number of reactions to it. As long as platforms continue to measure engagement which drives trending topics ... and measure engagement that way and do not distinguish between scandals, PR will naturally be drawn to whatever strategy will maximize the number of views and attention.”

While media relationships are not new and have existed as long as celebrities have existed in pop culture, the use of incorporating and taking advantage of this insatiable audience on social media is a new PR strategy that has amplified the reach of public interest.

With celebrity Instagrams and the promotion of the inner workings of their personal lives, such as relationships on social media, PR has been able to follow this public love of getting an inner look at luxurious celebrity lives.

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“We have unprecedented access, or at least illusory access, to the lives of celebrities now,” Hautea said.

Hautea explained that this overexposure of attention then turns into revenue and possible sponsorships, explaining that these relationships in the social media age with entire branding and personalities displayed for the public online has had its advantages for internet-heavy celebrities like Davidson and Kardashian.

While these rumors circulate, plenty of social media users are still convinced of the legitimacy of the new and seemingly in-love couple.

“I think (the couple) is real, but I don't think it's serious,” Shaw said. “I feel like they are having fun. ... Kim Kardashian is going through so much, I feel like she doesn't want anything to do with publicity right now.”

There's no doubt that the couple will continue to raise headlines and publicity no matter the reality of their relationship due to the wave of opinions that is social media.

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