Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Kim's naked ambition

Part Two of a series.  Part One: "Ain't nothing little about Kim."

Kim Kardashian recently claimed she was upset that W magazine displayed her naked body in its November "Art Issue."  Through her tears on a recent episode of Kourtney and Kim Take New York, she claimed she had been told her semi-private parts were going to be covered with artwork.

Perhaps she should have been worried more about the art than her parts.

On the cover of the magazine, the curvaceous queen of reality television is strategically covered by the work of Barbara Kruger.  Kruger is famous for combining words with images from advertising or celebrity portraits.  Her works comment on the consumer-driven culture of the United States, and they critique the force of advertising and media to shape our identities.

In the case of "Kruger Meets Kardashian," the young woman's body is superimposed with three blocks of type: It's all about me.  I mean you.  I mean me.

With the first line, Kruger seems to suggest Kim is telling us honestly that she is the center of the viewer's attention.  The straightforward look on Kim's face reinforces this.  And who could say she is wrong?

As the W article, "The Art of Reality," points out, Kim has become famous for being Kim.  Not because she has talent, but because she is.  And people want to watch her be Kim.  Millions of people watch her on the E! network.  She has millions of followers on Twitter.  She has lines of her own merchandise, and she endorses others.  Her every move gets reported on.  Her recent failure to dance on stage with Prince got major rotation on Yahoo!, along with tidbits from Donald Rumsfeld's autobiography and "Where to find amazing pies."

That second phrase -- I mean you -- is echoed in the W article.  The author follows Kim to a promotional appearance at a Nordstrom's in Santa Monica, California.  Several times Kim comments on her close relationship to her fans.  At one point she says, trying to explain her popularity among young women, "They have sisters or they don't have sisters, and then they see me as a sister.  They relate to me.  And I'm honored."

These moments of sister solidarity are undercut, though.  Those fans gathered to greet her in Santa Monica are limited to the first 200 who purchase at least $75 worth of FusionBeauty products.  And the article suggests that more than a few of Kim's Tweets involve pumping the products she has endorsed.  It seems sisterhood has a price.

I mean me.

Perhaps Kim didn't pick up on Kruger's potential critique.  Perhaps she was happy simply to be covered up by the work of a famous artist, since in the media-driven world today the reason for a person's fame is less important than the fame itself.  Perhaps for Kim it didn't matter what Kruger was saying; it was enough that Kruger is famous and her art sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Kruger easily could have recycled an earlier piece of hers for covering Kim's corpus: "I shop therefore I am."  After all, Kim spends a lot of time on her television show shopping, and much of Kim's involvement with her fans centers on shopping.

But it might be more appropriate to state, "You shop therefore I am."  Or "I sell therefore you are."

Both options suggest the strange cycle of codependency that develops between seller and consumer.  They need each other and they perpetuate that need -- those "sisters" consume in the desire to feel connected to Kim, and Kim's desire to be desired depends upon those "sisters" consuming.

A Kruger work that could not be recycled for Kim's cover is one that features Judy Garland and the phrase "i never wanted to be your icon."  It seems that Kim would most definitely like to be that.

Coming Soon

Part Three: Is "docu-soap" a better name for reality TV shows?  How about "improvisational drama"?

2 comments:

  1. "Both options suggest the strange cycle of codependency that develops between seller and consumer.  They need each other and they perpetuate that need -- those "sisters" consume in the desire to feel connected to Kim, and Kim's desire to be desired depends upon those "sisters" consuming."

    If money is comparable to one's life blood-- in US American society it's a safe comparison to make in very real terms-- I'd say that relationship is more parasitic in nature and less codependent or symbiotic which implies a parity of some kind.

    In this piece, talking about Kruger's work particularly, i have just now been able to put my finger on why the Kim thing feels so filthy to me. Sure I love to watch a natural disaster or train wreck, but why does this one offend my sense of civility and humanity so much? It's the parasitic underpinnings....

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  2. It's quite funny that she is upset about her nude body being on display, especially considering the fact that much of her fame is derived from her homemade porn tape with an ex.

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