Don't blame the selfie-made Kardashians - we made them
We can bray all we like about their materialism and superficiality - but they're just being who they are
The Forbes article shot around the world faster than a selfie of Kimmy K’s buttocks: Kylie Jenner, the crown princess of the Kardashian kakistocracy, is about to become the world’s youngest “self-made” billionaire yet.
The online left, until that moment dreaming its dreamy dreams on a cloud of football-induced dopamine fed to it by Vladimir Putin, exploded. Well, sort of: a number of pundits see the Kardashians as symbols of empowerment, so it was more of a controlled detonation supervised by demolition experts who made sure there was no undue damage to young Kylie.
Certainly, there was even muted admiration for the staggering figures quoted in the Forbes piece. Her family might be famous for making money out of nothing, but in just a few years Jenner has made 900 million actual dollars from selling actual cosmetics.
Forbes’ decision to describe that fortune as “self made”, however, triggered outrage. After all, can you really claim that someone has pulled themselves up by their bootstraps when they are a member of a family worth more than $100-million and have been globally famous for being globally famous since they were 10 years old?
“Self-made” fortunes are supposed to stand in stark opposition to Old World old money, and one could argue that Jenner is simply a junior member of a new royal family that took power not by the sword but by the sordid.
More upsettingly for many, the Forbes report spawned various loathsome permutations, none more so than when the tabloid New York Daily News tweeted the story with the question: “What have you done with your life?”
So I understand the urge to yell. The whole story seemed to be a distillation of everything that is vile about the attention economy and the chest-thumping triumph of materialism and superficiality.
But here’s the thing. Neither the Kardashians nor Forbes have done anything other than be themselves.
The criticism aimed at Forbes, especially, had a faintly disappointed tone, as if a publication based on Enlightenment thought and humanist ideals had suddenly overstepped some sort of journalistic mark. Which is weird, because Forbes is and always has been Forbes. It is the Pravda of modern capitalism, a tireless preacher of the gospel of wealth for its own sake, and should therefore be trusted as much as we trust any major propaganda outlet.As for the nasty implications of the story, well, perhaps we need to grow up a little bit. It’s not as if it was the Vatican Weekly telling us we were all failures because we weren’t billionaires at 20. For God’s sake, this is Forbes. It might as well be called “Screw You And Your Middle-Class Sensibility Monthly”.
(And, to be fair, in a country in which so much vast wealth is inherited and so many trust-fund layabouts pass for captains of industry, Jenner’s achievements must seem like one of those Industrial Revolution stories in which a humble sharecropper ends up with a railway-and-media empire.)
As for the Kardashians, well, the first family of American narcissism has always been completely honest about what it is. That was the whole point of their reality show, now in its 14th season. If you want to blame them for ending western civilisation, or at least mainstreaming vulgarity and decoupling fame from talent, then you’re blaming the wrong people. Because the Kardashians were just being the Kardashians.
The people to blame are the cynical television producers who realised you could feed people manure and they’d poop gold. It’s the millions of fools who willingly watch Keeping Up With The Kardashians in 167 countries. It’s the 700 million wretches who follow the family on social media. It’s the shuffling army of soul-dead magazine editors who know they’ll sell an extra few hundred copies of their shit-rag if they stick a Kardashian on the front.
Which brings us back to the idea of Kylie Jenner’s “self-made” fortune, and two indisputable facts about it.
The first is that she acquired it. The second is that she acquired it from other people. Her fortune has been handed to her, willingly, eagerly, by millions and millions of people.
It is inspiring to put individuals on a pedestal and to praise them for their lone efforts. It is satisfying to drag them off it, and condemn them for their personal failings. But we should never forget that it is we who turn nobodies into global phenomena.
Jenner’s fortune is self-sustaining, and no doubt self-satisfying. But self-made? No. Not when it was we who made the Kardashians.