Opinionista Ivo Vegter 12 February 2013

In defence of Kim Kardashian

Surmising, correctly, that I know very little about Kim Kardashian, a regular reader challenged me, on the occasion of my 200th column for Daily Maverick and its predecessor, Maverick magazine, to write about her. So I shall. Truth is, there is much to redeem the kraze.

How lobby groups go about drumming up public support and donations – answer: scream very loudly and scare the pants off them – and how the media goes about drumming up readership – answer: sensationalise everything – has been something of a theme of my recent writing. I’ve even written a book about it, which was not something I ever anticipated doing.

So when my 200th column for Daily Maverick (and its predecessor, Maverick magazine) came up, I thought I’d ask the good people inside my phone for a topic that might be amusing, challenging or both.

Several readers proposed worthy topics that I’ve already done, such as “nationalisation for a brighter future”. Others would resemble contortionism more than humour, such as why Kumi Naidoo is my hero. Some were worthy topics that were already on my list of topics to write about, such as whether pharmacists knowingly sell sugar pills as homeopathic “medicines”, or worthy topics that weren’t on my list and will likely never be, such as an industrial development zone for Port Nolloth. (My apologies, denizens of Port Nolloth. I’m sure your town, wherever it is, is lovely, and can do with some tax relief and industrial development, but so can we all.)

The cleverest idea, considering the calamitous confluence of crazy deadlines that struck your indefatigable columnist yesterday: just do an ordinary column this week, and call the next one “201: A Space Odyssey”. Brilliant, but alas, that too, I’ve done.

Marlene Boyce proposed Kim Kardashian, and for reasons that have nothing at all to do with the fact that she has some deeply disturbing photographs of me, will be declared the winner of this contest.

Kim Kardashian, admittedly, poses a challenge, given my total ignorance of who she is. I am, however, proud to say I am able to spell it, and recently saw a headline from which I deduced that she may be Armenian, from which I deduced that a place such as Armenia really exists, and isn’t just the fictional homeland of Iron Man nemesis the Crimson Dynamo. So what could I say about Kim, besides noting that she has 17 million or so Twitter followers, which is 10 times more than the pope (about whom more later)?

I learnt that she is descended from Molokan Jumpers and Leapers. I kid you not. In tsarist Russia, this was a schismatic splinter group of a heretical sect of so-called “milk-drinkers”, banished to the Caucasus regions including Armenia, and now known as the New Israelites. Except that her ancestry comes from Karakale, in Kars, which is somewhere in Turkey. Not that Armenia doesn’t really exist, of course.

I learnt that the spelling of her name, and that of her mother, Kris, and sisters, Khloé, Kourtney and Kendall, are not just shallow showbiz affectation. All Armenians I came across in my research (which, admittedly, are not many) are either called something with a K, or Robert.

Her late father, Robert, propelled the name Kardashian into the limelight by being a friend of the famous footballer and B-list actor Orenthal James Simpson, who is at present boarding and lodging at the expense of the American taxpayer over complaints including armed robbery and kidnapping, but not including murder, because against that vicious injustice, Robert Kardashian ably defended his friend in a famous American reality television show.

Kim’s own primary talent appears to be self-promotion involving that 21st-century analogue of the 19th-century calling card, a sex tape. She sued Vivid Entertainment, which had bought the rights, and settled for millions only to pose nude for Playboy later that same year. This elegantly executed gambit of high hypocrisy made her rich and famous in her own right, and she went on to make a series of reality television shows with her sisters, the titles of which evoke the highly regarded art film Debbie Does Dallas.

She once married a guy called Kris, but that lasted only 72 days, a feat of celebrity divorce which greatly increased her fame. She’s now pregnant by a fellow called Kanye, whom I’ve been told is also rich and famous. The K is strong with that one.

One must concede, also, that her solution to the world’s biggest problems, to “Kiss Away Poverty,” has considerable merit. The Seven Bar Foundation, on whose behalf Kim kisses, features a quotation from Maimonides, an early medieval Jewish scholar, who said: “To prevent poverty by teaching a trade, setting up a person in business, or in some other way preventing the need of charity.”

In that admirable vein, the foundation declares one of its aims to be: “Redirecting the power of the luxury lingerie industry to empower women in the US and around the world.”

If you don’t buy Kim’s lipstick (and watch lingerie shows) you have no heart.

Kim Kardashian’s philanthropic bent probably explains her recent presence in Brazil, a savage backwater in the tropical jungles beyond the Spanish Main.

Here, the papist natives erected an enormous stone totem known as Christ the Redeemer, or Khrist, as he’s known in Armenia. And who can deny that in this age of neurosis and low self-esteem, the image of Kim posing as the self-same Khrist the Redeemer while showing off her “baby bump” (as the high-brow media call her condition) is deeply edifying? Does it not recall the virtues of motherhood and apple pie? Maimonides would have approved.

Speaking of papism, for the first time since I can recall – I was young and shiftless in the days of Gregory XII, and did not pay as much attention to E! Entertainment as perhaps a young man should have – a sitting pope has resigned his office. While few will mourn his departure with anything other than formal courtesy, I can’t help thinking Kim Kardashian’s brave pose as a pregnant Khrist robed in day-glo pink had something to do with it.

But having learnt all this great new stuff about Miss K, I was still at a loss about what, ultimately, to say about her.

Natasha Joseph, an editor at City Press, came to my rescue. She put her finger on it with her own proposals for my anniversary column topic: “50 Shades of Grey: an analogy for the anti-fracking lobby” and “What peak oil and Beyoncé have in common”.

By now, it should be obvious what such themes have in common, but apparently, this isn’t self-evident to everyone.

Tawdry “mommy porn” (one shudders at the image, but you simply must read this review, oh my!) and Beyoncé “delete my fierceness off the Internet” Knowles share much not only with Kim Kardashian, but also with populist green scares.

The same shallow pop culture that brought you these sensational attractions of modern civilisation, brought you “Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past” only 13 years ago. Yesterday, the very same paper unselfconsciously reported that “the UK is covered in a blanket of snow” and “this latest wintry blast could last until mid March”.

They brought you “The Dying of the Trees” in 1995, but 12 years later the State of America’s Forests was “a story of regrowth, renewal, and abundance”.

They brought you “Invasion of the Jellyfish” in 2001, but last week reported “the jury is still out”, by which they mean there is “no real evidence” for what they anyway call “jellygeddon”. The show must go on, after all.

In 2005, they brought you “When the last oil well runs dry”. Last year, the story had changed to “We were wrong on peak oil. There’s enough to fry us all.”

In 2003, they brought you the extinction of polar bears in 100 years. They appeared to be okay in 2006 and 2007, but by 2012, they had only 20 years left. The plot twists in this one just keep on coming. Just the other day, we learn that they may be taking their time about dying off, after all, which quickly got explained away by a “new counting method” that “creates confusion”.

It reminds one a little of the hilarious twist in Matt Damon’s latest anti-fracking film, Promised Land. As journalist Phelim McAleer reported before the film came out, it was becoming problematic for the plot that so many of the anti-fracking claims turned out to hold no water. So they rewrote the script, to make the “grassroots campaigner” against fracking turn out to be a double agent working for the gas industry, who was trying to discredit honest environmentalists. I haven’t seen the film, but a glance at the plot synopsis on IMDb suggests that this is how the film was indeed made in the end.

Let me invoke, once more, our old friend HL Mencken, whom I quoted just last week, to wit: “Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; … it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”

That, ultimately, is what Kim Kardashian, Beyoncé and 50 Shades have in common with fracking and peak oil. They’re crazes. They’re shallow entertainment served up to an unthinking populace, complete with empty gestures of feel-good philanthropy thrown in for good measure. And the pope, whom I was instructed by another reader to add to this column because he chose yesterday to resign, knows all about guilt and selling indulgences in forgiveness of sin.

So, ponder Kim Kardashian’s words: “A bear can juggle and stand on a ball and he’s talented, but he’s not famous. Do you know what I mean?”

Are you not moved by their poetic imponderability? Are you not struck by the ironic symmetry of the fact that in reality, said dancing bear actually did become famous, much like Kim herself, and has recently retired, unlike Miss Kardashian?

Now consider that if it weren’t for the coterie of rich, famous but vacuous dilettantes, and the assorted cheap and nasty diversions that between them fill the empty heads of millions, more heads would be filled with sensationalism of a more momentous kind. The kind of hysteria that has consequences, like bans and taxes and other oppressive responses to the bleating cries of “do something!”.

For fighting the good fight against more serious populist manias, we must surely thank the shallow dramatics of Kim Kardashian. DM


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