After Kim Kardashian West was targeted by thieves in Paris, the city’s police posited the theory that her attackers had seen the bling she had been showing off on social media.
Johanna Primevert, chief spokeswoman for the Paris police department, told CNN: “It was really the celebrity who was targeted, with possessions that had been seen and noticed via social media, and it was these goods that the attackers targeted.”
Kardashian West’s ordeal may not just leave psychological scars, it also raises very practical questions around the self-marketing she does in the future.
Kardashian West has established herself as the sine qua non of this contemporary sleight of hand, selling her own lifestyle, largely through social media where she is the most followed celebrity in the world, to build a licensing and entertainment behemoth based around her as a brand. She has an estimated net worth of $150 million, according to Money Nation, more than twice that of her husband Kanye West.
The wheels fell off that juggernaut big time on Sunday night.
Kardashian West has not posted since then, and is said to be “not doing so good” and to be “traumatized” by the horrific attack in Paris in which she was bound with duct tape and cable ties and threatened with a pistol, as her attackers hunted for what they called the “ring, ring,” she had posted a picture of less than an hour earlier on Snapchat.
In a very practical way, Paris police felt the thieves felt close enough to Kardashian West via social media to embolden their violent robbery.
When Mark Chapman shot and killed John Lennon outside the Dakota building in New York on Dec. 8, 1980, the life of celebrities—or “famous people” as they were called back then—changed overnight.
Before that night, stars had been, broadly speaking, remarkably available (by today’s standards) to the committed fan.
You could hang around outside their front door and grab some face time.
Indeed, Chapman himself had two encounters with Lennon and his family during that fateful day in December prior to carrying out the murder. Early in the morning he had shaken the hand of Lennon’s young son, Sean, and in the afternoon he had spoken with Lennon after asking him to sign the album Double Fantasy.
Stars weren’t quite as accessible as other human beings, but what sequestering occurred was down more to their status and schedule. They were still rich, busy, pampered people but they didn’t have layers of professional security. Yes, Dylan and Bowie and Elton and Jagger spent their lives behind velvet ropes or being whisked from top-floor penthouses to TV set to recording studio, but in between the VIP engagements, you could still get close to the super-famous.
Until Dec. 8, 1980.
The effect of Lennon’s murder on the world of celebrity—particularly those based in New York where hand guns were so easy to come by—was understandably seismic, especially when it emerged that Chapman had a list of possible targets including Elizabeth Taylor and Johnny Carson, but had settled on Lennon because he was “easiest to find.” He had no particular grudge against Lennon, he just wanted to become famous and figured killing a “real” famous person was a good way to achieve that goal.
David Bowie, according to his biographer David Buckley, became a virtual recluse after Lennon’s death, installing layers of screening that he insisted everyone whom he met from that day forward was subjected to. Paul Simon withdrew significantly after 1981, when a man crashed the stage during a performance of his impromptu tribute to Lennon, a version of “The Late Great Johnny Ace,” shouting, “Paul, I gotta talk to you, I gotta talk to you.”
It simply became impossible for most super-famous people to let the public into their lives as insouciantly as they had done before.
Over the ensuing decades, stars moved further and further away from their fans—but social media re-set that scale, allowing the famous to interact with their fans at an apparently intimate level without actually compromising their physical space and so, they believed, their safety.
As Thomas Crampton, global managing director of social media at Ogilvy & Mather, tells The Daily Beast, “Social is very important for celebrities, because it generates this seeming openness and it also allows celebrities to have these seemingly intimate relationships with their fans, just by sending a tweet that namechecks them and says, ‘hey.’ That’s a powerful form of interaction.
“In the past, that relationship was based around seeing the celebrity physically, or getting a signed photo, both of which have obvious limitations.”
Kardashian West reportedly feared she was going to be raped and murdered and begged the attackers to spare her life.
It’s a ghastly story, and we must not to blame the victim for what happened. But are there also lessons to be learned?
Many old rich families in Britain have suffered the dead-tree version of what is assumed to be the Kardashian West criminals’ MO, being robbed after loaning artworks to exhibitions which credited them as the owners. Increasingly, major exhibitions no longer namecheck the benefactors who make these loans, referring instead to “a private collection.”
Many apply the same caution to social media. One rich aristocrat told The Daily Beast, “I have always banned people from Instagramming at our house. One, it’s incredibly bad manners and two, it’s a massive security issue. I don’t want all that stuff up online.”
Many old money types simply do not post online at all—and quietly ask their friends to desist from posting images of them or their possessions either.
Stavros Niarchos III, the Greek shipping heir, is a prime example of social media reticence. The kite-surfing heir to a $2 billion Greek shipping fortune, Stavros looks like a young Bradley Cooper, dates an Australian supermodel, and has almost zero digital footprint.
“The rich Greeks are very twitchy, very tight-lipped,” says one person acquainted with the set. “They hate people writing about them, good or bad. They are used to having complete privacy and total respect.”
The difference, of course, between Stavros Niarchos and Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan—both former flames, incidentally—is that he does not need publicity to generate income in the way those famous for being famous most certainly do. His fiancée, the model Jessica Hart, has never once posted a picture of him online.
Pictures of Niarchos in St. Moritz or Mykonos with friends such as Caro Sieber and Patrick Cox are fleeting—and seem to disappear swiftly.
It seems likely that both celebrities and the general population will wake up to the wisdom of finding out how to switch off geotags for their shared images and location trackers such as Foursquare.
In the wake of the Kardashian West robbery the army of self-appointed brand ambassadors will have to make fresh calculations as to whether it is really still worth telling the world they are having a lovely time on #mykonos or at #thefourseasons or shopping on #rodeodrive.
But whether or not the Kardashian West heist will lead to a long term downturn in rich, boastful people posting pictures flaunting their wealth is doubtful.
As Crampton says, “Some people are more concerned about their egos than their safety.”