Last night I was walking home from work down Newtown’s King Street – for those of you who don’t happen to be from Sydney (or indeed, those of you who are from Sydney but enjoy participating in our petty geopolitical divides) – King Street is the hub of Sydney’s Inner West and reliably populated by your garden variety kooks and alternatives. As I was crossing the street, I noticed a man coming the opposite way wearing a t-shirt bearing the slogan “Kill the Kardashians”, which I’m sure he must have thought was very clever and anarchist but did, in reality, make him look very much like a massive dickhead. I was swirling the slogan around in my brain parts for a while because I thought it was interesting that his choice to advertise himself as a vocal, anti-capitalist type came at the distinct expense of also appearing to be a violent misogynist: after all, it’s a slogan inciting murderous aggression against a group of women, regardless of their celebrity status.
I do forgive his intention in a sense; after all, I have in the past indulged in the same fitful tirades against the Kardashian brand and have admittedly at various points accused them of being “a coven of insipid cash-guzzling waxworks” and condemned the Jenner sisters for their remarkable racial transitions. It is funny and fun to laugh at the vapid tragedy of their celebrity but it must be noted that, much like flat-Earthers, Trump-voters, and a mid-June mandarin, it is low-hanging fruit. I’m also inclined to believe that the merciless damnation of the Kardashians (as well as flat-Earthers and Trump-voters) represents a stubborn simple-mindedness whereby individuals can be blamed and taunted for rather obvious systemic issues.
I actually love the Kardashians these days. Most of the nights I spent in London for my last visit were dominated by becoming spiritually at-one with a white leather sofa while my friend, Michele and I streamed Keeping Up With the Kardashians, drank Tesco’s wine, and interrupted episodes with commentary regarding which one was currently our favourite (Kourtney is a total gem and the constant forerunner). Keeping Up With the Kardashians is a genuinely entertaining show, I like watching their inconceivably-expensive holidays, and the multiple, multiple photoshoots that I’m almost 100% sure are never published anywhere. I like the fact that Kylie and Kendall had their own mansions that they lived in independently before they’d even graduated high school because whatdoyouevenmean? It’s a frivolous, mindless show about beautiful people living out their absurd existence – and in the arena of reality television, that actually makes it a pretty harmless and unexceptional concept.
Whenever columnists leap at the Kardashians and take a cynical literary swipe at their multi-million-dollar empire, it always seems to rest on some reactionary (and actually rather sexist) notion that 21st Century entertainment is morally bankrupt because they built their fortune off the back of Kim Kardashian’s leaked 2004 sex tape with ex-partner Ray J. ‘What an awful, hideous world we must live in when a woman can gain global fame for her flagrant sexuality, let’s return to a nice era like the 1950s where women also gained global fame for flagrant sexuality but they were in black and white instead.’ Stay angry at the money as much as you’d like to but slandering Kim Kardashian for becoming famous as a woman who happened to have sex on camera all feels a slight slut-shamey, if you ask me. Also, the mere idea of getting all moralistic and conservative about a woman having a nice bit of sex on camera these days just feels ridiculous: America, you have a president that conducted an affair with a porn star and allegedly weed on Russian sex workers, we literally do not have the time to care about these sort of things. Sex in and of itself isn’t the amoral action, what probably bothers most people is the cash that came of it. While the Kardashians weren’t exactly strapped for cash to begin with, their least valuable player is now worth an estimated US $20 million (fucking get it together, Kendall) and I think there are very few amongst us who could confidently say they wouldn’t strap a Go-pro to their headboard and make a show of it for that amount of money.
By no means am I suggesting that the vapid, hyper-materialistic culture that the Kardashians propagate is particularly valuable in any sense (it almost certainly isn’t) but I do think it’s rather facile to determine that the Kardashian brand is an antonym for feminism or intellectualism. The claim that they’re the reason the world is going to shit is lazy – we were already on the way, they just happen to be profiting. There’s a concept that Phillip Zimbardo (architect behind the unintentionally infamous Stanford Prison Experiment) discusses in his 2007 book The Lucifer Effect, which I always seem to end up pondering and sure he uses it as a theoretical framework to describe what happened at Abu Ghraib and that might make it a touch grandiose but I think it’s the perfect analogy for human evils: there is no so thing as rotten apples, look instead to the rotten barrel. The Kardashians were allowed to profit due to cultural scaffolding beneath the audience bleachers: we were already addicted to observing wealth, social media already had its stronghold on popular culture, hot women are always hot women, reality television was already huge. The Kardashians aren’t the vicious cancer of popular culture, they’re a relatively benign symptom of it. If Kanye West is our Andy Warhol, as Paul McCartney once suggested, then Kim Kardashian is the Campbell’s Soup can.
As nihilistic as it may sound, I’d also just like to offer up one big “fuck it”. Because our generation is riddled by the over-educated, the under-employed, and the incurably narcissistic wallowing around in the eddy of a global economy on the brink and painfully aware that the great majority of us will fail to afford the suburban dreams of times gone by. The great majority of young adults I know are floundering in the uncertainty – so if there’s a group of reasonably pleasant women that can occupy some television time with their nice orange faces and oddly-endless birthday parties then that’s just fine. If there’s a woman that can do a single fuck on video and make her fortune then frankly, good for her. Sure, they shouldn’t be making as much money as they do but ultimately, that’s on us. And wearing a “Kill the Kardashians” t-shirt doesn’t make you part of the solution, it just makes you a poor nerd like the rest of us – only angrier.