Kapitalism, With Kim Kardashian

Her smartphone game is extremely popular and extremely ridiculous. And totally genius.
This is a picture of a human, not a wax figurine. I am (almost) certain. (AP)

What is it like to be Kim Kardashian? What is it like to live her life, and know her mind, and walk a mile in her rhinestone-studded stilettos? 

You probably have not asked such questions, partly because it would be extremely uncomfortable to walk any more than a few feet in Kim Kardashian's shoes, but also because Kim herself does not seem to be terribly interested in engendering empathy. There are generally two types of Young Female Celebrity: the ones whose personas are based on their personalities—the ones who, in interviews, drop f-bombs and mention The Method and talk about Hollywood's treatment of women—and the ones who attempt to transcend their own pesky personhoods in the name of Fame itself. It's not a sharp divide—they are all, on some level, objectified, and they are all, on some level, on Twitter. But it comes down to a difference between those celebrities who primarily want to be heard, and those who primarily want to be seen.

Kim Kardashian, she of the airbrushed cheeks and the synthetic lashes and the lips glossed in paradoxical shades of Nude, falls squarely into the "wants to be seen" category. She has a doll-like quality, like an American Girl who grew up to become a mannequin. She is plasticine. Her favorite activity seems to be posing. As a self-conjurer—as a Whitmanesque singer of herself—Kim is prolific. There are the reality TV shows, certainly, and the sex tape, but there are also the US Weekly spreads and the red carpet appearances and the endless stream of mirror selfies. There are, inevitably, the meta-selfies. Kim gives an age newly obsessed with self-documentation a perfectly vacant-stared mascot. Her preferred medium, the TV shows and the sex tape notwithstanding, is the photograph. And photos are extremely good at making their subjects seen and not heard. 

* * *

So while Kim Kardashian may in fact be flesh and blood, while she may have a mind and a heart and, if we can be a little presumptuous about it, a soul—and while there may well be a rich inner life trembling beneath all those layers of hair spray and spray tan and StudioFix Powder Plus—what makes Kim Kardashian so supremely Kim Kardashian is that you're never quite sure, with her, about the stuff that isn't stuff. What is Kim like, actually, as a person? That question makes a lot of assumptions. Whatever thoughts Kim may have as a Self remain, like her pores, generally hidden from view; in the Kardashian cosmology—er, the Kosmology—one's humanity is generally something to be disguised rather than displayed.


There is something refreshingly honest about this. There is something, literally, daring about it. Knowingly or not, Kim takes Hollywood's basest expectations about women—its treatment of them as, essentially, walking sex dolls—and doubles down. Was this what you wanted? Kim's Spandex would like to know. Kim is self-satirizing, certainly, but it's an especially cutting form of satire. By laughing at herself, she also laughs at a system that allows for a Kim Kardashian to exist in the first place. (At the recent, lavish wedding that made Kimye a matter of legal concern, Kanye West gave a 45-minute toast. It was not about his new bride. It was about the nature of celebrity.) So while Kim Kardashian is certainly not the first person to be famous for being famous, she embraces her own shiny nihilism with a gusto that is, in its way, novel. 

And also, in its way, rare. It has become trendy for other celebrities in Kim's peer group, upon realizing the impermanence of their nubility, to outwit the inevitable by turning themselves into "lifestyle brands." Gwyneth would like to share some hard-won truths about yoga and breakups and vegan s'mores. Blake has some pressing thoughts about olive oil. Lauren wants to sell you a pencil skirt that manages to be sassy and practical at the same time. Ambient commercialism has turned a certain subset of our stars into walking SkyMall catalogs, and this probably says a lot about The Way We Live Now, especially since most of the meditation-peddlers don't actually walk so much as they teeter precariously upon six-inch Louboutins while posing for the paparazzi.

But Kim! Kim steadfastly refuses to sell anything but herself. Or, to be more specific, she refuses to sell anything but the image of herself. She will feign no interest in baking or knitting or meditating. She seems to have no thoughts whatsoever about kale. She seems to have no thoughts, really, about much of anything. And therein lies her particular gift. She is a human, we can safely assume—she puts her Spanx on one leg at a time—but being human is, by definition, ordinary. And Kim is, by her own definition, extraordinary. She is a person who is also A Way of Life. She is her own ecosystem. She is her own value system. 

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic.

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