Instagram without Kim Kardashian? Not likely

Kim Kardashian is set to scale back on social media after her gunpoint jewellery robbery in Paris. But an internet without her would be like Buddhism without the Dalai Lama

 

In the pecking order of the humanitarian crises competing for our compassion the robbery of the reality-TV star Kim Kardashian was never going to rank particularly high. Even so, the crude jokes, sneering disbelief and gleeful victim-blaming that greeted news that the 35-year-old had been robbed of €9 million worth of jewels was more than a bit unsettling.

Kim may be a Kardashian and, as such, a poster child for vacuous materialism, nude bathroom selfies and confusing ideas about empowerment. But she is still, as the comedian James Corden felt it necessary to remind Twitter, “a mother, a daughter, a wife and a friend” – and one who was tied up at gunpoint in her Paris hotel room last weekend, dumped in a bathtub, and robbed.

Even as a hunt got under way for the assailants, who were reportedly caught on CCTV fleeing the hotel on bicycles, the media, some of her own friends and even the French police wasted no time in unearthing the real culprit. “It was really the celebrity who was targeted, with possessions that had been seen and noticed via social media,” the police announced.

“Social media made her a target,” trumpeted CNN and others, sharing, as evidence, all the times that Kardashian had shared images of a ring the size of a throat lozenge on Snapchat and Instagram, most recently four days before the robbery. “You cannot display your wealth and then be surprised that some people want to share it with you,” chimed in her “friend” Karl Lagerfeld.

It is certainly unwise to parade images of your million-dollar rock collection on an app that tags the location, not that anyone seems to worry unduly about the safety of the male rappers whose social accounts could be mistaken for Rolex ads. But to suggest that Kardashian somehow invited the assault is victim-blaming, and not very different from suggesting that a woman in a short skirt is “asking for it”.

Kardashian, who was uncharacteristically silent in the days immediately after the incident, is reportedly also “blaming herself” and planning to scale back on social media and public appearances.

Unfathomable as the prospect of a Kardashianless internet may be, it is unlikely to come to pass. Trying to imagine a more discreet, less ostentatious Kim Kardashian is like imagining Hillary Clinton sharing a nude selfie or Donald Trump posting something thoughtful and intelligent to Twitter.

For the benefit of those who feel like they blinked about five years ago and then woke up in a world surrounded by Kardashians – in other words, most of us over the age of 30 –a brief primer might be helpful.

Once upon a time, in a lab in Tokyo or Sweden, an engineer working for Sony had the bright idea of developing a smartphone camera you could turn on yourself. That flash of inspiration set in train a series of events that led to the rise of the Kardashians.

Kim’s first brush with celebrity came about with an incident involving a sex tape in 2003. But it was in 2007 that she first rose to “respectable” prominence, as the star of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, along with her siblings Khloé and Kourtney. Since then the sisters have become a cultural phenomenon, running a chain of clothing stores and make-up and fashion lines. Kim has 48 million followers on Twitter, a range of “kimojis” and a lifestyle app where people can “live the dream for themselves”, virtually, for $2.99 a month.

But her true legacy is as the architect of selfie culture. She is the high priestess of the ritualised narcissism that has taken hold of a generation over the past five years and turned it into preening duckfaces, for whom it is not just acceptable but also a feminist act to bring a camera into the loo, for the essential, optimally lit nude bathroom selfie.

Her genius, if you can call it that, is that she manages to appear to be wholly accessible, with a lifestyle that is laughably out of reach. If you have ever picked up a glossy magazine or been on Snapchat then it’s a safe bet that you’re at least as intimately acquainted with the curve of her bottom as you are with your own.

Yet her existence could not be more removed from most of her fans’. While we travel with our spare necklace stuffed in a sock or Ziploc bag, she apparently carts her rocks to Paris in a €6 million jewellery box.

Will she, as concerned “friends” such as Lagerfeld and Piers Morgan have been urging her to do, “learn” from this incident and finally put the bling – and the nipples – away? Of course not. Ostentation and exhibitionism define the Kardashian brand. That brand is so linked with the rise of social media that imagining an internet without Kim Kardashian on it is like trying to imagine Buddhism without the Dalai Lama.

And maybe that’s not a bad thing. If you can overlook the vacant materialism and the rise of sexting among younger and younger girls – which does seem to have coincided with Kardashian’s increasingly underdressed social-media appearances – she is not the worst role model for young women.

Beneath the bling and the brashness she is a curious mix of vulnerability, bawdy sexuality and street smarts. Quiz one of the converted about her appeal and they’ll probably tell you that, despite all the drama, the Kardashians really love each other. They’ll point out that she’s a smart businesswoman who’s in control of her destiny and who claims to give 10 per cent of her income to charity.

She promotes a body image that, while far from “normal”, is healthier than the standard promoted by the fashion industry. She doesn’t appear to do drugs. She makes encouraging noises about empowerment – even if she does seem to conflate it with tweeting nude photos of your boobs.

If there’s a paucity of better or more immediately appealing role models for young women, that’s hardly Kardashian’s fault.

Of course this is not the end of the self-made selfie queen. It’s hardly even a blip, financial or otherwise, on the expertly managed, Instafiltered landscape of her life. In the unlikely event that husband, Kanye West, actually paid for the jewels, as opposed to receiving them as a gift from their maker in exchange for copious close-ups, their insurance will have covered the loss.

Only the tackiest of observers – here’s looking at you, Fox News – would go so far as to suggest that the robbery might have been staged to benefit her career. But only the most naive could imagine that it will hurt it. Yes, Kim Kardashian is traumatised by her experience, and she’ll need some time to recover. But she’s smart enough to already be considering all the ways in which it can now be exploited for her benefit.

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