(I can take screenshots too!)
Accidentally read the Grantland essay on KKH and I was furious. Written in fury, here’s the unedited stream-of-consciousness response—my favorite kind!
Please explain to me why whatever version of Kim Kardashian that appears in her TV show is any different than the character that J. Law has latest portrayed? Why one of them gets written off as a gaming herself while the other is hailed as a great artist? “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” is art, and anyone that has ever watched and loved that show will tell you that. It has all the great elements of any classic story or epic plot—love, betrayal, wealth, power, family drama, babies, leisure—and the acting is next-level. Sure, it falls under the scope of “reality TV” but anyone who has dabbled even minorly in that genre knows that the action is just as sculpted as any film or fictional TV show. Hell, anyone who has spliced together an interview—written or on film—knows that any finished product is a simulacrum of what happened in reality.
Simulacrum. Let’s start with that while we discuss Kim, and while we discuss larger arguments about visual culture, truth and morality. By positing that Kim’s entire fucking life is a “game” as does a Grantland writer while relaying the alarming truth that he too somehow has succumbed to the succubus kiss of her must-be-terrible iphone game, we assert that most of the rest of us are not in fact playing a game. Instead, our lives are Real and True. That’s a good feeling! Thank god we’ve never gotten plastic surgery or had sex. Thank god we are Real and True and don’t plaster our lives on television. Because then we would be lesser beings, uninterested in art or the pursuit of higher truths and our lives would be A Game also.
Simulacrum is a word that Baudrillard helped popularize, whether or not he invented it. It’s a latin term that means literally a copy of a copy. The philosophical conations behind it suggest that the simulacra is twice removed from reality. Think about a painting that’s created from a photograph—that’s simulacrum. While the photograph was based on reality, it in itself is not real, and therefore, the painting is a second step removed from The Real. So we’re working with something that exists two steps away from reality. I would argue that the public persona of most celebrities is simulacrum. Most of the public’s idea about a celebrity is based on adoration for a character they played, a movie they appeared in, or other forms of intentionally simulated reality. What’s frustrating about the way our culture stands right now is that difference forms of simulated reality are given different values. There’s a whole host of reasons that play into this—money, race, tradition—but in the current moment TV is considerably low on this totem pole, with reality TV at the absolute bottom. Film is currently the highest, although when film was first introduced it was considered to be just as much of an atrocity as reality TV and shows of that ilk are now. Live theatre was the pinnacle at the time and slowly slid into the state of near disregard that it now occupies.
Now, I will state beyond a shadow of a doubt that I think “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” is art. I think it’s important art. I think we should study and apply intensive, intellectual terms to it and analyze it like other important artifacts. That’s why I’m writing this. And I’m happy that on some level, Grantland is offering a—what does he call it?—”a humorous first-person article about playing the Kardashian game.” But his reading of the game is offensively colored by his need to be a Manly Man. (Sadly enough, it’s the commentary from his wife that reads as most sexist in the article! Get rammed by Ray J for attention she suggests, why do you look like dangerous, determined sci-fi redhead “Run Lola Run” protagonist she laments. I digress.) He’s named his character what I can assume is a fairly standard name for a male RPG game? I could Google it, but I prefer not to learn about stuff men are crazy about—it irks them to no end when I don’t get their references. He suggests that the work in the game and done by the Kardashians in their simulated reality on the show isn’t real work (his lede suggests his idea of work by asserting his status as a pop culture writer and “and the lucky beneficiary of an economic system that does not require me to do hard physical work to feed and clothe my family.” Obviously the only real work comes from the hard-earned sweat of the dude-bro brow, and it must be toward the honorable feat of feeding a family!) How dare this game suggest that getting drinks with someone might rise your station in life? How dare it be that real more like.
By asserting that Kim and the rest of the Ks as he (affectionately, I’m sure) calls them don’t do real work, he is suggesting that their existence is limited to the boundaries of the show’s simulacrum. As if Kim and her bevy of family members continually operate within the strict half hour/hour confines of that show. As if the work that goes into a television show isn’t multiplied boundlessly beyond what makes it to our screen. As if existing as a real human person and getting famous from that is somehow morally reprehensible while learning the CRAFT of acting gives limitless power and appeal to people performing the exact same task for film and theatre. Something that the super brilliant Emilie Friedlander wrote in her piece about the game for Fader, one of its greatest and perhaps most alarming features is that for people like us who are embedded in the entertainment industry complex it is terrifingly close to real life. But of course, that couldn’t be a brilliant move by Kim, obviously she’s too stupid to think of that, want to recreate that, or even, how does he put it? “I approve this message” that.
It’s time to take a good hard look at yourself if you think Kim Kardashian is stupid, or that her career as “a professional celebrity” is a game. It’s time to take a good hard look at the value systems that you operate in and consider they might be antiquated and rather fucked up. It’s time to consider that the value that you bestow on Great Art was probably taught to you by other white dudes. Part of the reason this game is so brilliant is that it took a medium completely dominated by some of the most arrogant, competitive, close-minded and idiotic (sorry to guys like Yannick and my brother Zach you aren’t in this) men and took a little piece of that pie for women. It lets us obsess over outfits and try to impress unrelenting boyfriends, bosses and rivals, just like we do in real life. But instead of the utter unpredictable, devastating tragedies that real life holds, it keeps everything inside of a protective wall that lets us, if we work hard enough, maintain an idea that we achieved our best self. I do think the game has issues, and I think Emilie deftly pointed out some of its startling and harsh realities. But the best part about the game isn’t that it mimics reality, but that it mimics simulacrum. It’s a copy of a copy of reality. And it’s utterly brilliant. It is a game. Kim Kardashian, however, is not. Stop paying people write essays treating her like she is.