The Kardashian konundrum

Kim Kardashian a feminist icon? Writers Alex van Tonder and Milisuthando Bongel analyse the meaning of Kim K the image the body, the woman, the anomaly.

From: Alex van Tonder
Subject: Writing about Kim Kardashian
Date: 9 March 2016 1:55:46 PM SAST 
To: Milisuthando Bongela

Hey Milli
So here’s simple but relevant piece on Kim K I’d like to propose: the Princess and the Peach. This uses the Mario game narrative (he has to rescue Princess Peach from her castle) and instead of being rescued she tossed the prince and turned being objectified and bullied into a business empire, like some kind of millennial feminist icon. Thoughts?

From: Milisuthando Bongela
Subject: Re: kim k piece
Date: 9 March 2016 2:23:36 PM SAST
To: Alex van Tonder

Hey Alex,
I’m not opposed to a Kim K story, but I’m not interested in another think piece, another lionisation of her under the ploy of posing her as the ultimate feminist icon. Nor am I interested in the take down of a woman who gives us some kind of feelz whoever we are. I want the nuance, I want something that can possibly give me a satisfactory answer as to why I had a meltdown when a new friend of mine, who is a 28-year-old French woman from Paris, has never heard of Kim Kardashian? Whyyyyy was I almost in tears of confusion, envy and disappointment? I don’t wanna know who she is anymore, I don’t care about that nude selfie because I don’t know what she wants us to say anymore. I’m asking what the fuck is Kim Kardashian?

From: Alex van Tonder
Date: 9 March 2016 2:33:12 PM SAST

Maybe they’re the bouncing balls in a giant selective attention test. While we’ve all been fussing over what they’re wearing, or not wearing, an invisible gorilla which we now know as Kardashians Inc has become the media. Or maybe the invisible gorilla is Donald Trump? Maybe the CIA is behind all the media attention, keeping our eyes where they shouldn’t be? On solving world poverty and abuse and war? That said, while the media gives her attention, she creates a lot of her own opportunity! A subscription to her app costs R60 a month – the price of a premium mag subscription, if you’re wondering where all your print readers have gone! That’s not even counting her game, which has raked in over $200-million, or her Kimoji app, which was at one point reportedly bringing in $1-million a minute? I mean Murdoch didn’t build his empire this way, but, hey, we’re still melting down over that picture.

From: Milisuthando Bongela
Date: 9 March 2016 3:01:10

I didn’t melt down over that picture. I kept scrolling as if I had just seen her toe and I don’t know whether that’s because I’m so immune to her nudity, or if it’s because I’ve come to expect it of her. I almost cried with disappointment when Rihanna wore that naked dress to the CFD Award that year and it’s because I guess I unfairly judge her by different standards, because she’s a singer who gets more page views and attention the more nearly nude twerking she does. Like Kim, Rihanna is a willing casualty in the war against women’s bodies but Rihanna has to do that to remain relevant as she is as a pop singer. That’s sad, not just for her but I think for all women because men aren’t objectified in the same way. Kim has made a business out of “not having a talent’’, out of being objectified for her body because we live in a world that “rewards’’ women for doing that. You make a good point about her owning the media, the media needing her and how, hate her as people may, she is still lucrative click bait.

From: Alex van Tonder
Date: 9 March 2016 :3:13:12 PM SAST

I mean Kim has changed the game, you can’t argue with that. Even us white girls were glad to be freed from the oppression of the skinny Western ideal. Most of us didn’t look like that either! Arguably, she is the new ideal. Her success has helped all women reimagine success for themselves. But it’s a problem because her success is linked to her appearance … being carted around like a circus, peddling tour merchandise in the form of clothing and beauty lines, books, promoting new show premieres. A Kardashian appearance will cost you a couple of mill a day, and I know this having worked with brands who’ve worked with her before. She sells smiles and photo ops and the promise of her existence. You too could be like me … if you buy my lashes. It’s a bit of a freak show, but she’s making it work for her.

From: Milisuthando Bongela
Date: 9 March 2016 3:21:10 PM SAST

Regarding the relationship between her success and her appearance, are you going to say anything about the fact that she’s basically a white (Armenian) black woman? The features she is celebrated for are the features that black women have had and been vilified and oversexualised for. That and her choice in men, which has inspired a global refetishisation of black men to white women starting with her own family – Kylie and Khris who idolise Kim more than the other family members. I’m not including Khloe cos she’s always kind of been down with black people and Kim probably got the 411 from her, LOL. There’s something there, check out Jasmine Mann’s poem called  Footnotes for Kanye on YouTube.

From: Alex van Tonder
Date: 9 March 2016 :3:27:12 PM SAST

I hear you. There are serious identity issues throughout the whole Kardashian story. Even the way her younger sister Kylie has surgically altered herself to look like Kim, who has made herself white, makes me ask questions about who she feels she has to be to be Kim Kardashian. While thinking about this, I was reminded of another woman with extraordinary proportions who was carted around like a circus sideshow, except she didn’t benefit off her assets. Her name was Sarah Baartman. I read affidavits she’d signed about how she said she was happy and receiving adequate payment for what she was doing, but I also read that those documents were forged. She lived largely a slave, and later died penniless and ill. She was gawked at and objectified and her whole existence was made into a show. This is not like Sarah Baartman at all, but the parallel reverse opposite. Kim Kardashian travels the world, through the internet and in real life, taking our money in exchange for letting us gawk at her. Should we resent her this? Applaud her? We are the slaves here, to our inability to make sense of her, of whatever she brings out in us.

From: Milisuthando Bongela
Date: 9 March 2016 3:35:10 PM SAST

Eish, poor Sarah in an article about Kim Kardashian. I had never thought of the connection between the two and I must admit that it’s almost blasphemy, but I get the point that you are making about the treatment of the two bodies. That’s a very interesting thread to run with. I kind of resent Kim for this too and I resent myself for searching for her Instagram posts every day. I hate that I buy some of what they are selling but am also interested in why so many of us do and why that power dynamic is so warped.

From: Alex van Tonder
Date: 9 March 2016 :3:38:22 PM SAST

It’s like she’s some kind of spiritual teacher. She quite literally walks into a room and causes a reaction without saying a word. Her mere existence forces us to ask existential questions, to face our existing social paradigms, to deal with our own body shame and feelings of worth. Then we blame her for how we feel!

From: Milisuthando Bongela
Date: 9 March 2016 3:40:44 PM SAST

I want to disagree with you so badly at this point but I just can’t. I wouldn’t call her a spiritual teacher but, in the broadest definition of a teacher, her existence does force me into a corner of selfreflection.

From: Alex van Tonder
Date: 9 March 2016 :3:44:32 PM SAST

Would you agree that she breaks all these subconscious rules you had about being a woman? You can have the worst thing in the world happen to you, and you will still be loved and supported, and people will still think you’re amazing and you can hold your head up high. In some way she’s a kind of feminist icon. She’s enjoying the freedom men have enjoyed since forever.

From: Milisuthando Bongela
Date: 9 March 2016 3:47:14 PM SAST

No, Alex. No, no, no. Fuck. Yes. I mean, I don’t think she’s a feminist icon. I think the feminists who have done the harder work of being feminists under much harsher conditions would scoff at the idea that their hard work can be exploited by a woman who is actually a product of how a woman’s value begins and ends with her body, the product of a system that financially rewards women for not speaking, but for just being beautiful. It’s her choice but she’s choosing from a pretty sexist menu of ideals. I think she can be a feminist icon but she’s not there yet because I think she’s only recently learned how to politicise her position. Or else this means we must question feminism and whether this is another iteration of it. But I agree with the other questions you pose and I think readers will be forced to engage.

From: Alex van Tonder
Date: 9 March 2016 3:49:55 PM SAST

Haha! Look … the Kardashians know a good story. They’ve done marriage, divorce, surgery, drug addiction and now lately a sex change, making its subject – Bruce Jenner – a real contender for Kim’s throne as most famous woman in the world. But even though the selfies are flawless, and the caption says “LOL”, we know deep down that behind the cameras none of this can be as easy or as LOL as it looks, just as we hide the tears of many clowns behind our own iPhones, do we not?

From: Milisuthando Bongela
Date: 9 March 2016 3:52:54 PM SAST

I cannot argue with you here. There’s also Rob and Blacchyna, the woman all the K-haters are hoping will carry the only baby that will have the surname Kardashian because Rob hates his sisters and Blacchyna is a hood princess. The fact that I’m glued to this story says a lot … about me.

From: Alex van Tonder
Date: 9 March 2016 3:54:10 PM SAST

Agreed. Rob’s passive aggression is a real delight! I met Kim once, in late 2010, at Ellerman House in Cape Town, for an interview. She was warm and amenable to my jokes, despite being a little OCD and wary. And weary. She looked very tired. She was also the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to hate her in real life. I asked her how she dealt with all the hate, and her answer was “You kind of just ignore them – it’s not your pain.”

From: Milisuthando Bongela
Date: 9 March 2016 3:56:02 PM SAST

I also met them that year, at a party at Randlords. Did I say met? I mean stood in a crowd with my phone hand sticking out to get a picture of Kim and Khloe, screaming for no apparent reason. I was really pathetic. My friends and I paid R500 each for our faces to be made up by a professional make-up artist for that night. I don’t know what we were thinking. It was so random. I think, write the piece you want to write about her, there’s clearly a lot of content embedded in her name, her image and her meaning in the world today.

From: Alex van Tonder
Date: 9 March 2016 3:58:04 PM SAST

I think we just wrote it.


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