When the latest edition of Rolling Stone landed on the kitchen counter, my first reaction was a stunned, “I’m not certain they’re real, but they are spectacular.”
Kim Kardashian, an enterprise that I’ve done a pretty good job of avoiding throughout her decade-long rise to reality stardom and fashion moguldom, now spilled into my kitchen, daring me to ignore her. I’m not a Kardashian hater, mind you. I’m more a puzzler. How and why is she someone so many people not only are interested in, but also want to emulate? To me, the most interesting thing about Kim Kardashian has always been first, Bruce, now Caitlyn, Jenner.
This is a woman whose career was launched with a sex tape. No crisis communications necessary. (By the way, don’t Google “Kim Kardashian sex tape”, unless you want to test the outer limits of retargeting.) Where others might have been embarrassed, Kim was emboldened. She out-Paris Hilton-ed Paris Hilton.
As Vanessa Grigoriadis, author of the Rolling Stone cover story suggests, maybe it’s time I “learned to quit worrying and love Kim Kardashian.”
She is this generation’s ZaZa Gabor. Famous for being famous. But Kardashian has gone several steps beyond mere fame. She has taken her inarguably gorgeous face and body, combined them with her complete lack of inhibition and insatiable thirst for fame and parleyed it all into a PR and money machine that takes full advantage of America’s hunger to be connected to its “celebrities.”
Keeping up with the Kardashians may not be as popular as it used to be (only 2 million viewers), but Kim is. Her Twitter account has 33.4 million followers. Google her name at any time and the most recent entry will be within the last three hours. She may have broken the Internet, but she knows how to use it better than Mark Zuckerberg. She is a social media maven, which fuels her business empire quite nicely. Kim Kardashian’s net worth is estimated at $85 million. That’s hers alone, not including her husband, Kanye West’s, fortune.
Go ahead. Dis her. But she’ll have the last laugh. NPR listeners were recently apoplectic that she appeared on “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” Appalled that a “reality” star was sullying the sacred ground of an NPR comedy show, listeners threatened to pull their donations. The irony here, of course, is that the Kardashians are not America’s first reality family. The Louds were. An American Family brought to you in 1971 by none other than PBS. Weeks after her appearance on WWDTM, we’re still talking about it.
In a culture where celebrity is fleeting and fan loyalty a crapshoot, Kim Kardashian works very hard at staying “relevant.” Relevant to what, you ask? The Greek economy? The Iran nuclear deal? Anything that actually matters? No. She doesn’t need to be. All she needs is to be relevant to her fans. And don’t bother asking, “Why does she even have fans?” It doesn’t matter. She has them and she’s brilliant at pleasing them.
Sinead O’Connor can scold Rolling Stone all she wants. But who’s on the cover?
You don’t have to like her, but on some level, you have to admire what this woman has done with our national obsession with fame. She’s correctly assessed it, exploited it, and profited handsomely by it. Her fame is real, and her PR savvy is spectacular.