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.