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We Retire From Defending Kim Kardashian
The news cycle these days is like me when the doorbell rings with the pizza that I ordered. It moves fast and is upsetting to watch. That’s why it’s important to remind everyone of a scandal that unfurled earlier this week so that it doesn’t disappear in the next blizzard of distracting horseshit.
What Kim Kardashian did—whether it was tone-deaf, whether it was an innocent mistake, whether it was calculated and dastardly, whether you think it’s superfluous—was absolutely vile. Internet shaming is crass and typically useless and there’s almost never a reason to do it. Lo, we have encountered the exception. Shame away!
What did she do? She engaged in a grotesque flaunting of privilege, spat on the people struggling to make ends meet and stay safe during a pandemic, and gave a middle finger to the well-being of service workers who must risk their lives for her ego.
Specifically, she flew dozens of people from her “closest inner circle” to a private island to celebrate her 40th birthday, and then posted photos of it on social media, characterizing the whole operation as a relatable jaunt anyone craving to feel normal, like in pre-COVID times, could rationalize.
“After 2 weeks of multiple health screens and asking everyone to quarantine, I surprised my closest inner circle with a trip to a private island where we could pretend things were normal just for a brief moment in time,” she captioned one series of photos of guests partying, spawning a torrent of memes exposing the lunacy of such a statement in these times.
It’s no secret that the rich and famous have been able to escape the brutalities of the pandemic in ways that we mere peasants cannot. But most also know better than to boast about it. When people are saying “eat the rich,” it’s not exactly wise to serve yourself and your “closest inner circle” up as the buffet.
Part of it is the “high of social media,” as Rachel Bloom pointed out on Twitter.
Kardashian knows the kind of response posting these pictures would get from people who are unemployed, unable to leave their homes because it’s unsafe and they don’t have access to testing, or because they otherwise have a fucking brain and know that this is egregious behavior. “But she also knows how cool the pics look and how many likes she'll get from posting,” Bloom writes. “Critical thinking can't compete with the surge of dopamine.”
This is how Kardashian makes a living; it is her brand. Posting about her life is what she does, so perhaps it's an overreaction to complain about it now. But that’s giving her too much credit, especially when there is still actual danger in this instance.
There’s danger in glamorizing the justifications she lists to explain that the trip is safe at a time when too many people do the same rationalizing—albeit on a much more plebeian level than a trip to a private island—when they’re actually unable to ensure those get-togethers are safe. This just normalizes that behavior. And what of the servers who are seen in the background of the photos, wearing masks as they wait on Kardashian’s party? What of their safety?
We’ve performed a veritable Olympic gold medal-winning figure skating program over the years, doing complicated triple-jump combinations and spinning until we were dizzy to defend Kardashian as a worthy, legitimate public figure. You can’t ignore and shouldn’t dismiss, we’ve argued, someone who has actually changed the world.
She and her family expanded the discourse on exploitation, sexualization, agency, feminism, family, and power. They birthed a new age of reality TV that sutured together social media and influence with on-screen branding. Kardashian has become a warrior for social justice and prison reform while being the actual poster person for women who aren’t taken seriously because of how they look, carry themselves, or came to their positions of power.
Set all of that on fire. Those photos and captions are that bad.
She followed them up the next day with an infuriating “Now that I have your attention...this a reminder to VOTE” tweet. NO. With that offering as a pseudo mea culpa, she’s resumed posting photos from the trip sans any caveat. Thursday night, the party was joined by a hologram of Kardashian’s late father—in case things weren’t already surreal.
I don’t believe this whole scandal was an orchestrated ploy for attention to then push out a voting PSA. I don’t believe that any crisis manager really thinks this does any damage control. And I don’t believe we should pay attention to the inevitable glossy magazine cover story where she talks about this controversy and the journey it took her on to understand her mistakes and then brush it all under the rug.
It’s all too gross. It’s not the first time something Kardashian-related has been that way. But it’s the first time against the backdrop of a global pandemic.
Comparisons are unfair and unwarranted, but it is worth noting that Kardashian made those 40th birthday tweets the same day that Chrissy Tiegen published her emotional, candid, brave (in the way it actually means, not how we too often bastardize it), and beautiful essay about losing her child, sharing the photos of it publicly and internalizing both the positive and negative reactions to that.
These are two women who, for different reasons, have been dismissed because of how they got their platforms and then criticized for the ways in which they've shared their personal lives on them. But there's such a resounding difference in how Teigen proved (again) the value of a celebrity using her megaphone to normalize, destigmatize, and beg compassion—and then Kardashian being the world's biggest jackass.
Anyway, Kim has six toes.