Kim Kardashian and our culture of blame

Rethinking feminism through the media’s portrayal of Kim Kardashian

By Nadia Yeo

Word count: 2456 words

For: The Columbia Review

As ironic as it might sound, “philanthropist” and “genius” are adjectives that go in the same sentence as the woman who “broke the internet” in 2014 with nothing but her Mikimoto pearls and her famous behind – Kim Kardashian West. Other than famously causing an internet raucous, the 36-year-old mother of two indeed is an avid philanthropist who donates 10 percent of her annual earnings to charities and a successful businesswoman.

Over the Halloween weekend, Kim’s traumatic Paris heist was the nexus of ridicule. Three London party-goers offensively dressed as a bound “Kim”, “hotel concierge” and a “robber”, mocking the reality star’s ordeal where she was bound, gagged and threatened at gunpoint while her Parisian apartment was ransacked. This mockery came just after the $69.99 “Parisian Heist Robbery Victim Costume Kit” was removed from Californian costume company Costumeish’s website after receiving backlash for insensitivity. These events characterise the public’s unsympathetic stance towards the situation which was seemingly funny to many and became the brunt of jokes, even going so far as to wish she was killed.

The unreasonable hate for Kardashian has been represented in numerous articles, voicing their opinions in light of the highly publicised robbery. Many directly find fault with the reality star’s way of life, believing that she brought the tragedy onto herself. Such articles blaming Kim are like the opinion piece by Kylie Lang in the Courier Mail, “Narcissism led to Kim Kardashian’s Paris robbery”. Other authors such as fashion editor and critic of the Washington Post, Robin Givhan weighed in on the Kardashian discussion in “Why are people mocking Kim Kardashian for being a victim of violent crime?”, while Patricia Garcia draws conclusions to societal misogyny in “Why Are People Reacting So Horribly to Kim Kardashian West’s Robbery?”. These varying representations of Kardashian carry differential opinions pertaining to the discourse of sexism through a culture of blame that has been displayed through Kim Kardashian.

Since the robbery, the starlet has been propelled into an array of criticisms, depicting the media’s evidential culture of blame cultivated from a dissociation from Kardashian’s publicised life. Furthermore, the media factors elements of sexist blame where it continues to frame Kardashian in a sexualised manner by drawing tangents to reasons for her initial rise to fame. Moral codes of society taught us to be kind to the less fortunate, yet it seems acceptable to mock and “slut shame” a strong and successful woman. Which ironically questions our feminist opinions in a growing progressive world that is distinctive of its push towards equality.

Behind the endless “duck face” selfies and bare bottoms, Kim has reinvented fashion by mostly wearing her underwear out and redefined body standards of beauty with her petite height and big curves. However, the queen of the fashion throne, Vogue editor Anna Wintour might bid to differ on Kim’s bold fashion attempts that Tim Gunn has remarked as “vulgar”. She subtly expressed her distaste for Kimye’s coveted front spread of Vogue’s April 2014 issue which further added fuel to the media hate for Kardashian. She said, “I think if (Vogue) just remain deeply tasteful and just put deeply tasteful people on the cover, it would be a rather boring magazine.”

Yet, Wintour is not alone in the realm of Kardashian hate. James Bond’s Daniel Craig called her an “idiot on television” in a GQ spread and joins the long list of people like Barbara Walters who called the Kardashians “talentless” in an interview. She expressed her opposition to the Kardashians because they “don’t really act; (they) don’t sing; (they) don’t dance”, narrowly associating talent with these few denominations in this vicious cycle of entertainment competition and casting away anyone who falls outside of this bracket.

Glee star Naya Rivera joined the bustle by harshly shaming Kim as a mother for merely showing too much in the iconic Paper magazine cover. Even proud and famous feminists like Amy Schumer and Chelsea Handler were not short with words when it came to criticising the Kardashians in media interviews, emphasising the double standards at play. Once again, this restates the media’s routine of presenting Kim in a negative light. Kim has carried herself through brutal comments calling her a “whore” or a “slut” and her body left for the public scrutiny to judge, tearing her down as a woman but still calling ourselves feminists.

Negative connotations of Kim has been reiterated through the media’s perpetual culture of blame. Lang explicitly directs fault at Kardashian, stating that it “served her right” for being robbed and insinuated that Kim’s “shameless self-promotion(s)” brought the thieves onto herself. Her tone is laden with contemptuous remarks while she ironically tries to present her indifference through sarcastic statements like, “We’re yet to learn the truth – those of us who care”, indicating a warrant that the general population could not be bothered with the star’s wellbeing. Lang expresses her opinion very critically and appeals to negative consequences of Kim’s social media posts where she cites critique from Kim’s ex-bodyguard. Such non sequitur arguments and name calling Kim as a “narcissist” do not follow a logical reasoning between Kim’s social media posts and the robbers gaining access to her apartment. Hence, starkly depicting a forceful avenue to pin blame at Kardashian instead of dissecting the situation and considering other elements that might have contributed to the robbery taking place.

Similarly, Karl Lagerfeld expressed a comparable opinion in an interview with Reuters where he mentioned, “If you are that famous and you put all your jewellery on the net, you go to hotels where nobody can come near to the room. You cannot display your wealth and then be surprised that some people want to share it with you.” His comment reflects the seemingly popular opinion that Kim’s way of life attributed to her own misfortune.

Even Senior News Correspondent Ken Baker from E! News mirrors Lang and Lagerfeld’s disposition of conferring the blame to Kardashian. He said, “We obviously had Kim Snapchatting, Instagramming almost constantly since she arrived in Paris. It wasn’t very hard to figure out what she was doing and where she was doing it.”

Though Lang, Lagerfeld, and Baker’s opinions seem to depict a plausible line or argumentation, but their hasty generalisation echoes an ad populum argument that reflect each other’s opinions, emanating a cycle of blame. Consequently, it is unreasonable to relate Kim’s use of social media to justify their causal blame which they place upon her, as it is her line of work that necessitates Kardashian’s incessant use of social media. Like how a businessman would advertise their products to boost sales, Kim takes on the role as the businesswoman and the product, creating the need to sell herself to the public. Yet, she holds onto the power of control to engineer and manage her image, which is in fact rather empowering for a woman today.

In addition, the style of conveying the heist is another vital juncture marking the media’s portrayal of Kim. Sky News’ coverage on the robbery presents the incident like an opening to a blockbuster with its title, “Kim Kardashian lost millions in Paris robbery”. The headline is just missing the words, “coming to cinemas near you” to complete their dramatised report that emphasises the public’s dissociation to the situation. Even the smaller caption in the report explicitly states “Kardashian drama”, giving connotations to the event as if it was just another episode in the 12-season reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians. This report de-legitimises Kim’s ordeal and dramatising the issue in a manner that seems unreal. It places Kardashian in a position where she is an illusionary character, drafting an intangible image of the actuality of the situation. Thus, this eliminates audiences’ sense of care because we would associate this event to the easily resolvable dramatic antics played up in the storytelling narration of reality television.

The notion of the public’s dissociation to the media coverage of Kim Kardashian is echoed in the views of Robin Givhan. Her arguments are less accusatory, as compared to Lang, with a concerned and empathetic tone that addresses readers’ to reconsider their attitude towards the issue. She is more balanced in her opinions and explicitly states her stance indicating her worry for Kardashian in her first paragraph with, “Her spokesperson said she is fine. And that is good news”. She reiterates that “Kardashian helped to pioneer a new kind of celebrity – one whose job is fame. One who is omnipresent but untouchable. Glossy, air-brushed. Perfectly imperfect. Enabled by fashion and its myth-making ability.”

Moreover, the media’s dissociation to Kim is accentuated through the reality star’s intricate sculpted media image and portrayal that perpetuates this system of hate. Givhan believes that the representation of Kim in such a “public domain” underscores our imagery of the starlet to be just a mere character from a show. She argues that “Kardashian does not seem real. Every part of her life – fertility struggles, pregnancy and marriage – have been in the public domain. She seems less a person and more of an idea, a personality, an icon, a scourge, a curiosity.” Thus, news of the robbery just seems like yet another chapter of the Kardashian storybook that is almost an imaginary fairy-tale with an expected happy ending, one way or another.

Through the immense collection of articles finding fault in Kim, the media chose to keep the perpetrators invisible. It is almost a rare sight to find an article that reveals information on the robbers or relating any potential police leads. No doubt news would sell better if the focus was placed on Kim because she is famous, but this element of silencing the thieves redirects the blame back to Kardashian. As Kate Clark suggests in “The linguistics of blame”, the elimination of the attackers in the equation of the story dissolves the responsibility held onto them. Hence, the blame game shifts to Kim who is at the brunt of scrutiny and this one again portrays society in the midst of sexist bias.

Vogue’s Patricia Garcia believes that the media’s unending focus of pinning blame onto Kim is just another example of the perpetual misogyny that has taken down Amber Heard, Leslie Jones and Angelina Jolie this year alone. Garcia appeals to comparison by drawing similarities to prior media reports on celebrities that have been plagued by misogynistic ideals. Her tone is rather objective and less emotive laden as Lang’s. She argues that “the safest place for any woman to ever be in was in a man’s shoes” and used past analogies to present her argument. Her notions illuminate the media’s sexism where even the rich and famous are not spared from the grasps of inequality.

And true enough, talk show hosts Jimmy Kimmel and Conon O’Brien joined the bandwagon of Kardashian mockery following the robbery, proving Garcia right. O’Brien went so far as to make lewd comments, making reference to Kim’s leaked sex tape in 2007. He said, “Kim was bound and gagged, then the robbers broke in”. O’Brien clearly used a false analogy in comedic banter that underlines the societal sexism that shuns sexually expressive women.

Even though the incident happened nearly 10 years ago and the film is over a decade old, people hold onto that notion of Kim as if it was released yesterday. Other successive ventures of Kardashian, such as her mobile game that Forbes heralds her as a “mobile mogul”, which can be used to characterise her were instead swept under the old news of her sex tape.

In brute contrast, countless celebrities such as Chelsea Handler and Paris Hilton have also unintentionally shared their sex lives to the world. But, interestingly, they are less likely to be labelled with the names commonly associated to Kim.

Drawing back to Lang’s opinionated article, she took the heist as an opportunistic moment to slam Kim by referring to her as “a woman who, by her own admission, lacks talent, yet has turned her ample backside into a bankable asset”. This seems almost as a distraction to the overall argumentation that fails to provide evidence in support of her stance on Kim’s narcissism. Though Lang echoes the views of many who hate, or could not care less about the Kardashians, she represents the media who chooses to sham Kim even with her ingenious comeback of making lemonade from a stash of lemons that came from the leaked sex tape.

With 86.2 million followers on Instagram, Kim has almost four times the number of fans than there are people in Australia. Imitations of her iconic nude coloured body-hugging crop tops and high-waist pencil skirts pack the racks in Supré and H&M stores, luring young fans to mirror her style. Moreover, we owe it to Kim for popularising the boxer braids hairstyle and the face contouring looks that teens and women in early twenties mimic. Like a Regina George in real life, Kim has revolutionised the fashion industry and pushed the boundaries of fashion, proving that anything she does always makes the cut to Page Six.

Sadly, the stark negative opposition to Kim has overshadowed her truly good deeds such as her annual donations. Through her highly publicised and widely followed Instagram account, Kardashian has raised awareness about the Armenian genocide and body empowerment. Moreover, when North West was born, instead of requesting for gifts, she urged family, friends and fans to donate to the Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago where the money was channelled to a neonatal unit.

Despite Kim’s ironic proclamation that she is “not a feminist” at the BlogHer conference in August this year, she stands for everything that makes her a feminist. She said, “I just think I do what makes me happy and I want women to be confident and I’m so supportive of women”, which strangely opposes her notions of not being a feminist.

It has been nine years since Kim was thrown into the limelight and the world was introduced to countless spinoff shows, books, fashion labels, magazine spreads, sponsorships, business ventures and, mobile applications. All in the name of Kardashian. She has redefined body stereotypes, crafted a strong following of copycats and evoked a sense of empowerment for women all over the world. Yet, in those nine years, the media’s opinion of the reality star has remained unchanged, emphasising the gross injustice to dismiss the Kardashians as a family who is “famous for doing nothing”. Kim has been the target of hate, blame and “slut shaming” in a world marked by systemic perpetual sexism. Moreover, our dissociation to Kardashian puts her almost like an imagined character from a storybook, making her an elusive mystery in the scourge of media attempts to define her, and cultivating an environment of blame that challenges our doctrines of feminism.

Our obsession with uncovering the identity of Melania Trump

Melania Trump is best known as the Slovenian supermodel wife of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and for famously plagiarising Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech to the Democratic National Convention.  Yet Melania is considered by the media as somewhat of an enigmatic figure, choosing to stay at home rather than parade the campaign trail with her husband. Despite her mystique and preference for privacy, she has been swept up in the chaos sparked by many of her husband’s scandalous feuds and controversial remarks. Most recently, defending her husband against leaked footage from 2005 where he boasted that because of his celebrity status he could grope and kiss women without their consent.  Melania’s response to the vulgar discussion that saw many Republicans denounce their support for Trump was that it was “boy talk” and that “he was … egged on to say dirty and bad stuff.” The fixation with exposing the clandestine personality of the potential First Lady, who is Spartan with her words and content with maintaining her private life in the Trump Tower, has led to the rising media storm that has encircled Melania since her husband rose in the polls.

 

In the quest to uncover the character of the next potential First Lady of the United States, various publications have strived to expose what they believe to be the real Melania Trump to their readership. One article by the The New Yorker in particular echoes the obsession with unearthing Melania’s past and familiarising the world with her personality, asking in its headline, ‘Who Is Melania Trump?’.  The article is written by Lauren Collins and presents a fantastical narrative of a young, beautiful, promising Slovenian woman in desperate pursuit of the “American dream”, suggesting that Donald Trump was her ticket out of communist Yugoslavia.  The article draws on the mysteriousness of Melania, lamenting, “Her story is so vacuous as to almost require the imagination to spackle its holes.” With not much information to go on, the author constructs a narrative arch of Melania as a formidable and aspirational woman, longing to exchange her humble town life for a more glamorous existence. The author achieves this by juxtaposing Melania’s modest beginnings to the excessive wealth that awaited her as the wife of a multi-millionaire businessman.

 

“She was born in Novo Mesto, in what was then Yugoslavia, in 1970, and raised in a Communist apartment block in Sevnica, a pretty riverside town where a smuggled Coke was a major treat.

Now Melania, who once lived a quiet life in the Zeckendorf Towers, on Union Square, lives a quiet life in the Trump Tower, on Fifth Avenue. House rules require that guests don surgical booties, so as not to scuff the marble floors.”

 

The extravagance of Melania’s life in New York is harped on throughout the article to present a sort of ‘rags to riches’ narrative. This story angle serves as an explanation of Melania’s motives for remaining in a marriage with a man 24 years her senior, who is loathed passionately by many worldwide. Yet the author does not call for her audience to pity Melania, and crafts a characterisation of her that is cold, robotic and callous, asserting that she is both “un-American” and has “no affinity for her homeland”. The article presents a character assassination of Melania where she is described as “aspirational, playing ice queen rather than soccer mom”, arguing “If we take the office of First Lady seriously, then it’s worth trying to figure out who Melania is as a person, versus a product to be placed.”

 

The author uses “we” to unite herself with her readership, which she assumes is the American people. She writes in a persuasive tone, attempting to convince the reader that it is critical that the nation unearth Melania’s personality, the claim being that Melania is rebuffing her responsibility as a prospective First Lady to gain conference with the nation. The author’s negative construction of Melania as a reluctant participant in the campaign and as a sheer “product” lacking personality, is solidified through the comparisons to other First Ladies such as Michelle Obama.

 

“We marvelled at Michelle’s arms, because it seemed that they could be ours, if only we were willing to work as hard as she did, but you don’t hear anyone (other than her husband) talking about Melania’s legs.”

 

The author presents a superficial comparison of Melania to Michelle that is purely based upon physicality. She argues that Melania does not measure up to the same standard as First Lady, Michelle Obama, by contrasting their physical attributes. However, the author then contradicts her own emphasis on Melania’s physical attributes by criticising Trump for reducing Melania to a sexual object in their “inegalitarian” marriage.

 

“Her husband seems to define her largely by her physical advantages, which confer upon him an aura of sexual potency. ‘Where’s my supermodel?’ he yelled from the stage, at a town-hall meeting at the University of Pennsylvania, in 1999, shortly after ushering Melania onto the Howard Stern show to discuss the couple’s ‘incredible sex’ and her lack of cellulite.”

 

As the quote above demonstrates, the author thrusts doubt upon Melania’s decorum as a prospective First Lady by including quotes by Donald Trump where he overtly sexualises her physical advantages.  This serves as a warning to readers that Melania is incapable to fill the role of First Lady as her depth of character is ignored by her husband and is deemed unimportant, locked away from the public eye. The author also compares Melania to Donald Trump in order to turn the reader against Melania and paint a negative image of her character. This suggests that the article is intended for those who are unsupportive of Trump becoming president. The author attempts to lessen Melania’s likeability by portraying her relationship with her husband, arguing that Donald Trump’s crude and aggressive rhetoric has rubbed off on Melania. The underlying warrant cautions the reader that just as Donald is not fit to be president, Melania is not fit to fulfil the role as First Lady of the United States.

 

Yet Melania appears to have internalised many aspects of Donald’s culture: his ahistoricism; his unblinking gall; his false dichotomies between murderous scofflaws and deserving citizens, women who ask for nothing and nagging wives. Like Donald, Melania doesn’t drink… She has taken on her husband’s signature pout, in a connubial version of people who grow to look like their dogs.”

 

These comparisons are largely speculative and are derived from the author’s observations of the couple, rather than on a factual basis. The suggestion that the author concedes to is that Melania, the model, has been branded by her husband and mirrors many of his unflattering qualities. This is a contrast to the independent woman portrayed earlier in the piece who pursued her own interests, compared to the meagre characterisation placed upon the married Melania. Seemingly, the author conveys the opinion that Melania has shed her past self to fit into Donald’s American world and become his wife.

 

This article from The New Yorker leans on the assumption that a reader is bewildered by Melania Trump and is interested in her true identity. It relies mainly on evaluational claims rather than facts to create a compelling narrative about Melania that is derived from the author’s interpretations of her upbringing, marriage and career. The author is consistent in her traditional and patriotic standpoint that deems the role of the First Lady as quintessential to the US presidency, presenting a negative characterisation of Melania where she is painted as “cold” and “un-American”.

 

The New York Post presents a slightly different take on Melania, where she is offered to readers in an erotic light, as the so-called sex symbol of the Republican campaign. The hyper-sexualisation that is glued to Melania’s image perpetrates a sense of shame about her past dealings as a naked model, distracting from her personality as readers are directed to focus merely on her physicality. The New York Post released a naked photo of Melania as a 25-year-old model on the cover of their July issue, sparking controversy and a barrage of criticism. The provocative headline read ‘Ogle Office’ and the caption, “You’ve never seen a potential First Lady like this!” Many questioned the relevance of this image and argued that it was placed out of context, considering the image is over 20 years old and its original intention was to be sold to a European audience who may hold sexuality in a vastly different light to Americans. The appeal to comparison with previous First Ladies in the caption reveals the underlying worldview of the publisher who suggests that it is taboo and unprofessional for a potential First Lady to have posed naked in this manner.

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The Ogle Office front page by The New York Post, 2016

The spread included other shots of Melania in erotic, canted positions which the magazine censored, indicating that the average reader would find the images too graphic and confronting for everyday consumption. The images were accompanied by an interview with the photographer who commented “I am completely against this world, and I don’t understand why the girls f- -k with old guys to afford a Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Hermès bags…The fashion industry has become the biggest pimp ever.”

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An image of Melania Trump (then Melania Knass) taken from The New York Post spread

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Another image in The New York Post spread from the 1996 photo shoot

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The final image from The New York Post spread which was originally shot for Max Magazine

These quotes were presented wildly out of context, the photographer describing his general experiences with the fashion industry, rather than targeting Melania directly who he said in a separate article was “a true professional… always smiling, with a very pleasant personality and was polite and very well educated”. The fact that the publisher chose this particular quote to complement the seductive images of Melania misconstrued the photographer’s statement, suggesting that Melania “pimped” herself out by marrying Donald Trump. The piece renders her in a negative light, as a trophy wife and “gold digger” who has sold herself out for fame and money. There is no factual basis for this claim and it is merely evaluative, where a nude image from 20 years earlier is depicted as a palpable signal that Melania is morally inept. This reveals the publication’s worldview, where the naked female body is seen as scandalous and uncouth, especially considering the prestigious and morally-sound position that the First Lady is idyllically expected to represent. The images are arranged and captioned in a manner where audience shock and discomfort is not just anticipated, it is a blatant expectation, as they ‘ogle’ the image which carries flagrant overtones of slut-shaming and hyper-sexualisation.

 

The media places a great emphasis on Melania’s history as an immigrant and foreigner, casting doubt on whether she is an American citizen and how she obtained the highly sought after H1B visa. An article by St. Louis Dispatch titled ‘Melania Trump’s ‘Extraordinary Ability’ To Gain Special Immigration Status’ accused her of being unfairly granted a visa because of her relationship with Donald Trump, a well-connected businessman.

 

The modelling profession will never require bending immigration rules so that our country doesn’t get out-modelled by foreign competitors.

The only reason this needs clarification is because Melania Trump, who could become America’s next first lady, somehow finagled a coveted H1B visa in 2000 (the same year she began appearing in public with Donald Trump) under the guise of being a model.”

 

This accusation interrogates the premise that Melania Trump was awarded an immigration visa based on her “extraordinary ability” as a model. The article’s warrant is that an “underfed” model shouldn’t be awarded a visa before an engineer, scientist or someone in the high-tech field. It also doubts the talents of Melania and implies that she could not have achieved the successful visa outcome without someone working behind-the-scenes to assist her. However, these claims are not supported by evidence and are somewhat impetuous, consisting of sheer speculation. The claims present unsupported conclusions, as article has gaps in its information, refraining from defining what constitutes as “extraordinary ability”, how Melania failed to qualify for this specification and finally, the number of visa applications granted that year and how many were denied.

 

The article reads as if it was written as a smear on Donald Trump, who is notorious for his anti-immigration policies, arguing that his views are hypocritical as his wife is an immigrant herself.

 

“Trump lives and breathes by a double standard on immigration in which it’s perfectly fine to bend the rules when it suits his needs. When it’s other people’s lives, families and staffs on the verge of being split up, he shrugs his shoulders and pronounces, ‘Get ‘em outta here’.”

 

In this quote Melania is an invisible actor with the sole focus resting on Trump who is assumed guilty and the sole individual responsible for “bending immigration rules”. This article is clearly positioned towards a reader that possesses anti-Trump sentiments and who does not require great convincing in order to label Trump a hypocrite. Melania’s foreign background is manipulated to attack Trump as she is portrayed as a passive and compliant partner who is an extension of Trump rather than a separate individual who holds her own vices and sense of accountability.

 

A copious portion of what has been written about Melania Trump paints her in a negative light. She is viewed, first and foremost, as Donald Trump’s wife, a Slovenian supermodel with an elusive past who has climbed her way to recognition. The quest to piece together Melania’s character has been sparked by her reluctance to appear on the campaign trail and her preference for privacy. These three articles speculated on various aspects of Melania, constructing narratives about her identity drawing on her foreignness, marriage and mere observations of her character. Melania has been hyper-sexualised, framed as un-American and presented as a trophy wife who opportunistically married Donald Trump to gain American citizenship and a percentage of his hefty fortune. Often she is compared to previous First Ladies to argue that her lack of modesty is not compatible with the role of the First Lady, who is viewed as an icon of American femininity and class.  Yet the mystery remains unsolved, as little is known about Melania, the articles showboating the manic pursuit to uncover the personality of the potential First Lady of the United States. The questions remains, who is the real Melania Trump? Is she the immigrant who fraudulently was awarded a visa, an erogenous model, or a young woman from a modest town who stopped at nothing to achieve her American dream, or a combination of the three? An astute reader may be sceptical as to whether the articles are disingenuous in their attempt to unearth the real Melania Trump. In fact the bigger question remains unanswered as to whether these articles borrow from a political agenda, acting to injure the presidential campaign of her husband, the infamous Donald Trump.

Eden Gillespie, MDIA2002, F12A, z5059936

For: The Columbia Review

Words: 2495