Why This Kim Kardashian Obsession Is Weird
The extent to which Kim Kardashian polarises popular culture is odd, says Lisa Armstrong
Until three days ago, The Telegraph’s pages have been a Kardashian-free Utopia. The People’s Republic of un-Kardashian. Kim’s exactly not our idea of a woman of substance – although copious amounts of silicone and a mono-focus on making money are substances of a kind. But the fact that she and Kanye West had been invited to Vogue’s Centenary Party on Monday night was a talking point. To ignore them and her dress, which made an unusual topiary feature of her pubic hair - quite a feat given she doesn’t have any - tempting though it was, would have made us, as journalists, feel like those PoWs who emerged blinking from the rainforests in 1952 muttering, “What do you mean the war’s over? ( I wish I wasn’t this intimately acquainted with the vicissitudes of her pubic hair by the way, but her lasering habits have gone viral).
Then came the vitriolic emails. The extent to which Kardashian, who doesn’t appear to have said anything remotely interesting, ever, polarises popular culture, is becoming weird. Harriet Harman, exercising the same acute sense of what “real wimmin” want as when she launched Labour’s pink campaign bus last year, declared Kim a feminist exemplar this week. (Memo to all politicians, attempting to get down with the kids is always the antithesis of getting down with the kids). My former colleague Sarah Vine, meanwhile, vented her Kardashian abhorrence in The Daily Mail, an organ that has relentlessly chronicled the Kardashian dynasty in its online incarnation since before anyone in Britain knew who they were.
These violently contradictory views are played out regularly by millions, creating a dystopian hall of mirrors that might lead even the most rational observer to conclude the Kardashians actually matter. They don’t.
True there’s something depressing about the creeping Kardashianisation of daily life. The entire extended family comes across as vapid narcissists. Her husband, West, is a talented musician, whose conversation (as I’ve overheard it at fashion dinners) is most charitably described as the ramblings of a deluded, needy pub bore. Meanwhile Kim’s career took off with the release of her sex tapes. Nice. She appears to be addicted to contouring and self-publicity, but at least she’s honest about her addictions. Many other Hollywood celebrities are similarly hooked: the only difference is they lie about it.
Yet it’s Kim who’s become the touch-paper for many contemporary debates – feminism, body dysmorphia, greed, endless, endless navel (and boob and backside contemplation) - and a deluge of loathing (as well as adoration). Why such depths of feeling? Do we have so little faith in our civilisation that we think Kim can topple it? Compared with Ken Livingston, George Galloway, Isis… also narcissistic bores, the Kardashians's are harmless. They have zero power, provided we ignore them.
The thing is, people don’t. American Vogue controversially photographed them for a cover a few years ago, on the basis, presumably, that they’re an emblem, of sorts, of our time. Cue firestorm from those who feel Vogue should be a beacon, not a mirror. Undeterred, American Vogue’s website now follows a daily diet of Kardashian stories – still, at least, intellectually speaking, they’re calorie free.
Some, but by no means all, fashion brands have joined US Vogue in its Kardashian capitulation, in an attempt, perhaps, to flog t-shirts and generic smelling perfumes.
There are other brands and publications happy to be pulled along on the Kardashian backwash, while holding their noses - featuring them constantly while emphasising that they don’t actually watch their show or buy into anything they have to offer, other than ratings. It all looks pretty desperate.
But then designer fashion is having a hard time, partly because of a slow-down in China, partly because many luxury brands still don’t understand how to handle the beast they call the internet.
Instead of thinking rationally about what made their products alluring in the first place (craft, refinement, the clues are in the name), they’re going for mass. Get a Kardashian in your front row and you’re guaranteed eyeballs – at least from the under 30s, the demographic to which fashion brands are most in thrall.
If those brands actually knew any young people, they’d understand that the ways in which they consume media is often layered through irony, ridicule and a weakness for car-crash celebrity - to the point of opacity. The dim ones will imitate Kim with endless, witless selfies of their cleavages and thigh gaps. The brighter ones (Kim alone has 71 million instagram subscribers, they can’t all be idiots) are in it for the comedy. They may “like” (Instagram speak for clicking a heart icon) her photos.
That doesn’t mean they genuinely like her or aspire to look like her. At least some of them find her beauty about as compelling as a plastic rose. Nor do they necessarily have any intention, let alone the means, of buying the $4000 bags she carries. On the contrary, one chi-chi American retailer told me that her customers returned purchases if they saw a Kardashian wearing them.
Did I just fall into a gratuitously-mean-spirited trap there? I could go on. Yet apparently she was quite amusing and self-deprecating when she talked at the Vogue festival last weekend. I wasn’t there, I can’t say. But I’ve often asked otherwise intelligent, independently minded 20something women why they turn couch potato in front of Keeping up with the Kardashians. The general consensus is that they find the inane chatter supremely soothing after a long day sweating over an economics dissertation. We had Crossroads and Amy Turtle. This generation has Kim and her nail gel dilemmas.
Don’t like it? Don’t go there. Ignore them. Eventually they WILL go away. And we’ll never have to run another picture of her again.
— The Telegraph