As the internet took to mourning over the late, great legend once called Prince, it did its due diligence in remembering to pay tribute to just how much everyone else hates Kim Kardashian.
Of Prince’s illustrious career people were gleefully eager to speak of this moment https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZLP38moqC8 when His Royal Rain kicked Kim offstage as among his very best. So many memes were groaning, “Dear hypothetical God – quit killing musicians. Take a Kardashian woman next.” Not even love for our musical royalty would seem to glow as bright if not bolstered by that uniquely red-hot hate inspired by this particular breed of socialite.
The time had finally come to begin asking.
“What did Kim Kardashian ever do to you?”
My answers were swift, and vague.
“She takes up space in newspapers and websites.”
“She’s famous for no reason.”
“Her consumer empire just keeps growing, making her inescapable.”
“She sets unrealistic beauty standards for other women.”
“Young girls might take her as a role model.”
The first may have been a joke, but – heavy accusations, there, to wield against a woman. Having reproductive freedom, taking up space. Making money. Exerting control over her own physical appearance. Having influence. Being seen.
The suggestions that Kim is “wealth without work” “famous for no reason” and “does nothing” are also frequent charges against her, which to me is the most confoundingly untruthful reason for all the dire hatred. If she was doing nothing, how could you hate her?
She does quite a lot of stuff, in fact, which is why she has that growing inescapable empire everyone also complains about. It’s called business savvy. And if you don’t know what shit she does, but you still hate her, what you hate could be the fact itself that she does shit.
Put bluntly, sexism. She’s a woman who’s capitalizing on sexuality and infamy. If she’s “everywhere” it means she’s successful – dare I say, powerful. And people don’t quite get why – because people still think of female sexuality as inherently passive. If she’s famously sexual, she’s famous for “no reason”. If her business empire is founded on her sexual fame, it’s indelibly based on her “doing nothing.”
Look at her. Just at look at her. Smiling on magazine covers. You can tell she’s doing nothing, because look at all the pictures where she’s just doing nothing. She can’t possibly be doing things the rest of the time that she’s not posing for pictures, and she’s certainly not doing things while she’s posing for those pictures, because look at her. That face. That plastic surgery. You don’t get famous for being looked at and still get credit for doing shit.
And Kim Kardashian is nothing if not seen. She makes sure of it. She tweets and instagrams all over the internet, she realities all over the TV, and now her name is on perfume and shoes and you have to see it when you walk through stores. It’s no wonder people cheered when Prince gave Ms. Kardashian that push – lightly, but still –saying the words everyone must be dying to say. “Get off the stage!”
Because that’s what you do when someone you don’t approve of existing keeps reminding of their existing by standing there in broad daylight, right? You push them away. Prince could do that, but you and me? We’re stuck with her. We know from her tweets that night, Prince invited her onstage, and she was too starstruck to dance. So she stood, doing nothing, just like always. Being visible with nothing to say. As if being visible is doing something in itself.
But what if it is?
What if her image, itself, is worth something? And what if she knows it, and owns it, and sells it, and you buy it. Aren’t you mad at Kim, after all, for subverting the societal expectation of a self-apologizing female sexuality? This status quo that acknowledges sexy women make stuff sell, but denies that the woman’s sexiness has value on its own. The sexy woman can’t sell her sexiness without also having to sell, like, beer. Or deodorant. Toothpaste. Anything, really, that benefits some dude in a suit. One might say, pimps up hoes down.
And you were afraid young girls would emulate Kim Kardashian. That could be the worst. To have our young women corrupted into recognizing their own sexuality and wanting to personally profit from it. It’s terrifying to consider a world in which traditional gender norms are cast away. We’re not ready for it. We’re not ready for our young women to want to be sexual. It’s better to put up with a system that incentivizes female sexuality as little as humanely possible. Even when that means disincentivizing female sexuality. Hello rape culture, were you here the whole time?
Kim Kardashian is proof that you can be a rebel in this world without fighting or rejecting any part of it. Maybe she is a pawn in your media machine like you said, conforming to the standards set by The Man, neither free nor independent, nor liberated, nor self-loving. Regardless, she’s calling the bluff of everybody using some pretense to sell themselves. She’s fine with image itself being product. That bothers us.
Case in point: Kim’s “break the internet” photo featuring her bare ass. Wikipedia reports, “A Time magazine writer commented that, unlike previous celebrities’ nudes that represented the women’s rebellion against repressed society and “trying to tear down” barriers, Kardashian’s exhibition was “just provocation and bluster, repeated images that seem to offer us some sort of truth or insight but are really just self serving. We want there to be something more, some reason or context, some great explanation that tells us what it is like to live in this very day and age, but there is not. Kim Kardashian’s ass is nothing but an empty promise.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Kardashian#cite_note-38
Ok, Time, let’s chat.
When was it decided that with great ass should come great explanation? Who made you this “promise” that women on display would not be self-serving, but be martyrs to the greater public good? What entitles you to any form of profit when a female celebrity lets her butt gleam free? I could call it sexism, and it is, but it’s become more than that. It’s pimpism. It’s rape culture. It’s what’s for breakfast.
With a female celebrity we start with the presumption that her sexuality is public property, and every gain she makes thereby becomes, of course, our business. Hence comes the ire when famous-for-sex Kim Kardashian isn’t doing with that fame and wealth and ass what’s better for us than for her. It’s not true that when watching a male athlete get rich and famous by using his norms-defying body “we want there to be something more, some reason or context”. It’s enough that he’s nice to watch. When he’s rich, it’s enough that he’s rich – that money is his. When he’s famous, it’s good that he’s famous. He owes it to no one to use that fame as a springboard for other causes. Nobody cares that the standard of athleticism he sets is unattainable to most of his viewers, nor that any number of young men will take him as a role model and harbor unrealistic career goals as a result. His social contract is two clauses long: He will try to win. We will cheer him on.
What we all have been watching in the saga of Kim Kardashian is a never-ending, mostly successful attempt to win. When your dad defends OJ Simpson and everyone knows it: fuck prestige, me and Paris gettin famous bad. When the singer you married at 19 becomes physically and verbally abusive: fuck you too, I’m still gonna win. When you open a boutique with your sister three years later: It’s a start. When you blow up reality TV and playboy and the internet: Winning harder, sell more shit, get more famous, keep on winning.
The fact that she does use her personal platform for the good of others is a moot one, because it’s not enough and no one cares and she isn’t even trying. Need we rehash the flawless photogenic math by which we conclude that Kim Kardashian doesn’t do anything? So what if one of her brands of lipbalm supports a fund for female entrepreneurs? Who cares that she advocates for recognition of the Armenian Genocide, or if access to Kim’s generous spotlight allowed Caitlyn Jenner to spring from the transgender closet directly to the cover of Vanity Fair and the award of Woman of the Year that facebook officially has launched the new age of transgender rights? What has Kim Kardashian ever done, for us?
And she had plastic surgery and lied about it after we all responsibly asked her what her body parts are made of, and her butt pictures are just like the butt pictures made to exoticize black women decades ago but she still gets her face posted places, and that’s not fair, and lots of people who deserve to be famous aren’t but we can’t stop looking at her pictures and we can’t stop saying her name and she’s never getting off our minds. So she’s everything about the world we wish were done already –this woman who keeps us so mindlessly entertained and who turns our every drop of haterade to gold.
And maybe it’s fair to expect our celebrities to acknowledge and be accountable for privilege, particularly when the daring images they make bank on were already shot with black models when there was more to lose. But the hatred – the million-meme-a-day, universal-approbation-earned-by-each-barb-in-her-name, you-want-to-burn-this-article-to-the-ground-with-three-different-types-of-fuel, searing, insidious, personal hatred – that can’t be explained by proportionate appeal to meritocracy. Searing, insidious, personal hatred doesn’t make unworthy celebrities less famous. It’s the very base of Kim Kardashian’s business model; Kim Kardashian is fun to watch, and fun to hate.
So her name in your mouth is a product. We consume it no matter the context of utterance. These are the terms of her contract with us: We will watch. She will let us.
It forces on the public no external morality; what we take and make of her image is entirely up to our own intrinsic values. It is utterly to our shame, and ought to scare us, that what we’ve chosen societally is a gaze of unwavering contempt.
The comment surrounding her 2007 sex tape with Ray J typifies this relationship. The comment has been, by and large – look how fake that is! (In an angry voice). The people who watched it will especially point out how the footage can’t have been shot without her knowing – how her hair and makeup is done so well and it looks like the scene was professionally filmed and lighted. And this is offensive and archetypal of why Kim Kardashian is good to hate. She couldn’t just get spied on and besmirched, like a normal slutty socialite, like her bestie Paris Hilton. No. She had to go and fucking consent about it.
There’s this thing about A Woman Who Lets You Watch we figured out a long time ago. The thing is that you want to, even when it’s wrong. And we’re all in agreement that when you just can’t stop yourself from watching, it’s her fault for being such a fucking dirty worthless slut that she doesn’t fight tooth and nail to make you look away.
It’s even worse when she doesn’t know how wrong it is – when her body is in your hands to do with what you will, and you go to test her boundaries and find that she has none. She doesn’t judge if you call her names, or spit in her face, and it’s fucking terrifying when you realize maybe that’s exactly what you want to do. Maybe you can talk yourself into thinking she deserves it, but the truth is you want to, just because you can.
Time demanded an explanation of Kim Kardashian’s ass exactly because we as a society lack the integrity to treat women as people without explicit instruction. We know that it’s wrong to objectify and brutalize and demean but damnit, if those objects won’t make the effort to convince us they’re people what other option do we really have?
Oh, here’s one. Fuck off.
Kim Kardashian does not deserve your malice, and if you don’t have it in you to be a decent person at least don’t brag about it.
Prince, it might uplift you to know, also seems to have thought so. He invited her on his stage to dance, and after that iconic sassy farewell, his royal purpleness decided to pull her back up for another try. Her concluding tweet that night is a fitting tribute to how much of an asshole Prince wasn’t, and to why if you hate Kim Kardashian you’re not in his good company:
“This time I redeemed myself! We all danced while Prince played the piano! Wow! What a night!”