This year has brought a collective change of opinion about the reality TV show star, thanks in large part to her belief that she isn’t the only one who deserves celebrity status: everyone else should be famous, too
She sits front row at New York Fashion Week. She sips tea with Serena Williams. She leads panels at the Apple Store about tech products crushing sales records. What would qualify as a lifetime of celebrity highlights to a mere mortal merely amounts to the last 10 days in the life of Kim Kardashian.
Though she has been part of our pop culture landscape for the past eight years, only in 2015 have people begrudgingly began to bestow respect on her. There isn’t a word in English for “the opposite of backlash”, but we might consider creating one to describe the collective change of heart about her.
Some trace this growing regard to the unprecedented success of the Kim Kardashian: Hollywoodmobile game, which generated $74.3m in revenues in second half of 2014 – no small feat. Others credit her marriage to Kanye West with solidifying her A-list legitimacy. Like Victoria Beckham, she used the world of high fashion to shed much of her more low-brow image, though being a Spice Girl was never nearly as stigmatized as being in a sex tape. And like the former wild child and reality TV star Nicole Richie, becoming a mother has softened her image in many eyes – but Richie’s successes have been far more modest.
But more than that, Kardashian embodies the wishes of an entire generation using social media – yes, she proved that anyone can be famous. But she is also committed to the idea that everybody else should be famous, too.
“She is in essence the actualization of what digital culture has lulled all millennials into thinking they can achieve,” writes Rachel Syme in Matter. “Kim perpetuates the myth of gaining fame (the only currency a born-digital person of limited means can hope to quickly gain) by logging screen time: that if you post enough pictures, updates, and statuses, then your own status will rise.” Laura Bennett at Slate calls Selfish, the 445-page book of Kardashian’s selfies, “a modern parable for the anyone-can-be-famous age.”
Fair enough – much is said of Kardashian’s predilection for documenting her own preternaturally beautiful face and figure, but we often overlook that she is also committed to documenting and elevating others.
She spreads fame rather than hoards it.
When asked why she chose reality TV in a 2012 profile in the Guardian, Kardashian said, “I don’t know; I just thought my life seemed interesting. I thought, if only people knew the crazy things that go on in this household, it would be so funny.”
In a time when women are still critiqued for valuing their own stories enough to write personal essays and in which selfies are considered by many to represent the decline of human decency, Kardashian dared to find herself interesting.
That she was intent on bringing her family with her into the spotlight means she has created an empire of fame that will outlast her. This was nowhere more evident than earlier in the week when a collection of mobile apps from the sisters launched, and her younger sister Kylie’s app generated an overwhelming 74% of sales (as opposed to Kim’s more modest 9%).
But Kim does not stop at the end of her family tree in sharing the spotlight. Amid all the fuss about how many pictures of herself Kardashian takes, there are hundreds and hundreds of photos she takes with other people. What once looked like desperate social climbing on her part when she posted images with designers, athletes, or actors has since been inverted. Having a photo with Kim Kardashian is now an asset for celebrities looking to make their stars shine a little brighter.
Kardashian shares such photos on Twitter and Instagram, and is notably mindful to use the handle of the person whose image she is sharing, famous or otherwise. She projects their faces into the world of her tens of millions of followers. She’s the fairy godmother of fame, granting the legitimacy and visibility that so many of us secretly feel we are worthy of but that Kardashian was audacious enough to take on her own.
In the last week of 2006, Paris Hilton was causing a media frenzy on a trip to Sydney flanked in every photo and video by Kardashian, described by the Daily Telegraph merely as “the daughter of OJ Simpson lawyer who has been linked to Jessica Simpson’s ex, Nick Lachey”.
That same week in December of 2006, Time magazine eschewed its typical choice of a world leader or entertainer for Person of the Year and instead awarded it to literally everyone. “For seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, Time’s Person of the Year for 2006 is you,” were the words that launched a million eye rolls. Most dismissed the concept of DIY-at-home fame as a passing fad.
Within a year, Kardashian and her family were signed up to star in a reality TV show on the E! network. Within a decade, she became an icon of a new kind of celebrity that was completely self-absorbed, but never at the expense of being kind.
With one hand, she has seized the reins of global media through the constant click of the shutter on her cell phone. With the other, she has reached out and pulled others into the frame, affirming that they are every bit as aspirational and inspirational as they’ve long suspected.
This article was written by Alana Massey, for theguardian.com on Monday 21st September 2015 05.10 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010