When my brother texted me last night that Kim Kardashian was robbed at gunpoint in her Paris hotel room, I was drifting off to sleep. A couple hours earlier, I’d left The Meadows music festival in Queens just before Kanye West was set to perform. I’d split off from my friends to head home, feeling equal parts elderly and #freetobeme, knowing I’d probably miss some drama. An hour later Kanye would mysteriously and suddenly bail on his set, citing a family emergency through his auto-tuned microphone.
My first thought, I’ll admit, was that I was glad to have missed what were surely teen boycotts at Citi Field, where The Meadows took place. But my second thought, I promise, was how Kim must have felt while being robbed. My third, how Kanye must have felt when he found out. Both made my stomach drop. How terrifying, I thought. I think this cognitive domino effect, although certainly a little troubling, is probably typical. First came me, then came empathy.
— Genius (@Genius) October 3, 2016
But a quick scroll through the news this morning tells a slightly different story. While outlets like The New York Times, CNN and The Wall Street Journal reported the details of the crime (like that the robbers were dressed as police, that Kim is okay, that millions of dollars worth of her jewelry were stolen, for instance), other sites like Time, Buzzfeed and Yahoo News reported the public’s reception of the news.
An excerpt from Yahoo News that sums it up nicely (or terribly, depending):
“‘It’s a horrible and scary thing to happen to anyone,’ said Booth Moore, the senior fashion editor of the Hollywood Reporter. ‘And I don’t think the incident is going to do Paris tourism any favors … but what’s surprising to me is the amount of vitriol she seems to be getting, just by nature of being a very public person.’ Example: at the Sacai show, one editor remarked, ‘That’s what happens when you invite cameras around every time you go shopping for more designer stuff.’ (Twitter trolls have been less diplomatic, with comments like ‘Kim Kardashian robbed at gunpoint … finally some good news.’)”
If social media has taught us anything, it’s that public perception of an event is often just as powerful as the event itself. The reality of the public’s perception today? That Kim Kardashian is in many ways thought of as a commodity. Reactions seem to fall into three camps: empathetic concern, misguided blame and plain old trolling. The latter is, in a word, terrifying. To tweet that you wish Kim had been shot, as one person tweeted, is just proof that some people are incapable of separating a person from their brand. I’d call such a complete disregard for someone’s humanness shocking if the current divides in America weren’t reminding me every day.
The misguided blame also points to a more nuanced symptom of the cult of celebrity, particularly where it intersects with misogyny. It almost feels more dangerous (almost) than blind vitriol because it hides behind a false logic that might convince the less critically-minded. The best example is that Kim Kardashian asked to be robbed. By being rich. By being famous. By Snapchatting. By having a reality show. By “not showing any class,” as one person tweeted. Victim-blaming feels about as new as sliced bread. We watch it play out in the media almost every day when it comes to crimes committed against women. When that victim is a celebrity woman, the pitchforks become particularly pointy.
I’m willing to acknowledge the blurred lines. The air that separates the famous from the rest of us is thick. I’m just as likely as the next person to forget that Kim Kardashian thinks and feels, gets bored, is insecure, poops. Her brand — of which one facet is an almost alien-like beauty — is orchestrated to deify her. In no way does that mean she’s exempt from the same inalienable rights that rest of us ought to be granted. The internet has made it dangerously easy to let person-as-brand invert: brand before person. Fame before human.
Feature photograph by Antoine Gyori /Corbis via Getty Images.