Kim Kardashian: A Fitting Symbol for Late-Stage American-Style Capitalism

By Lynn Parramore · 5 Sep 2014

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Picture: Kim Kardashian courtesy Hot Gossip Italia/flickr
Picture: Kim Kardashian courtesy Hot Gossip Italia/flickr

Whether she is Instagramming her butt, or spending $827,000 on gold-plated toilets for her new mansion, or in her latest exploit, posing nude on silver sheets for GQ, Kim Kardashian has the American media in a fawning frenzy of non-stop headlines.

Her body!

“Kim Kardashian Flaunts Cleavage In Leather Dress For Made In America” (Hollywood Life)

Her money!

“Kim Kardashian's $28 Million Year: How She Made More Than Ever Before” (Forbes)

Her fame!

“Kim Kardashian, Las Vegas and the Fame Game” (Vegas Seven)

Kardashian represents the pinnacle values of late-stage American-style capitalism: opportunism, effortless celebrity, obsession with wealth and image, narcissism, and above all, making a fortune doing nothing useful.

In her ripened curves, the fruits of unbridled capitalism are made flesh. In her dogged ambition to be rich and be seen, she is the Lady Bountiful of the Celebrity-Industrial Complex, endorsing any product that will have her, no matter how contradictory. Diet systems? Of course! McDonald’s? Mais oui! The mirror image of the market stripped of regulation, she is the marketer unburdened by responsibility.

Turning the world into a camera, Kardashian takes self-obsession to new heights: She is the queen of the selfie, compiling a 352-page series of snaps into an unpublished book called “Selfish,” soon available to all in hardcover. Her smartphone gaming app, “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood,” invites players to follow her animated image as she frolics through a commercial playground. The app is already worth $200 million after a midsummer release, its candy-colored cartoons perfectly reflecting the infantile ethos she represents.

Kim Kardashian is simply the id of capitalism run wild, the narcissistic force that wants what it wants, when it wants it, an incarnation of the fulfilled wish to talk and think about absolutely nothing while rolling in snuggly designer sheets. Unattached and oblivious, the spoiled child becomes the American avatar of freedom and self-expression, something elevated and even holy.

Americans love to fetishize wealth, viewing a person’s monetary success as a direct sign of righteousness. So revered is the act of marketing the self that Kardashian's cartoon image accrues metaphysical weight. For a certain strain of Gen Y, Kim Kardashian is held up as a feminist icon: Katie Gonzalez of Elite Daily gushes that “Kim has become another voice that attempts to uplift her fellow females,” while Suchi Sundaram of Feminspire explores her mythic dimension: “From Helen of Troy to Kim Kardashian, women have been constantly defining their roles and powers in a patriarchal society.”

Not only can you be famous for absolutely nothing, you can be feminist, too. Why not a Nobel Prize winner? The poet laureate? No need for action or insight. Accumulation and consumption are the only skills required.

So why are we stuck with her? The answer lies in the fact that the American economy is in a stage where most people are not getting what we need, much less what we want. As we become more alienated and work harder and harder for our neo-feudal overlords, our dreams are constricted and our futures foreclosed. Celebrities are the gods we create to distract ourselves from our own incompleteness, from the hunger for things we cannot have. We spend our lives following their every move to get our attention away from the lack that we will always feel until this system is overthrown.

Kim Kardashian has just been named GQ magazine's Woman of the Year, but perhaps she is more than that. She is the woman of the era, the most visible symptom of our society’s particular sickness. In a healthy society, the id cannot dominate, and milking a twisted system for all it’s worth is not seen an act of heroism, but the mark of a person for whom the human condition is nothing more than perpetual imprisonment in the self. Appropriately, Kim Kardashian is very fond of corsets. She is the illusion of bounty and freedom that covers the deformation and restriction of the human spirit.

Is it all her fault? Of course not. She’s the prison we made for ourselves.

Parramore is an AlterNet senior editor. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of "Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture." She received her Ph.D. in English and cultural theory from NYU. She is the director of AlterNet's New Economic Dialogue Project. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.

This article was first published by AlterNet. SACSIS cannot authorise its republication.

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