Now I Ain’t Saying They Gold-Diggers: Is Baby Kimye Hollywood Incarnate?
In the latest installment of her column “Leopard Print in the Ivory Tower”, Annika Blau applies the theories of seminal French sociologist Pierre Bordieu to the union of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, to argue that their recently born child may be the apotheosis of Hollywood.
“We never say the word ‘famous’ or ‘celebrity’. It makes all of us feel uncomfortable.” Kim Kardashian
“I’d be a part of the bible. I’m definitely in the history books already.” Kanye West
On Saturday, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West (“Kimye”) welcomed their first child into this fair world (“Baby Kimye”).
Speaking of his child in a much-publicised interview with the New York Times last week, West declared, “Like, this is my baby. This isn’t America’s baby.”
But he is wrong. Oh how he is wrong.
Baby Kimye is not only America’s baby. Baby Kimye is America.
Like the Baby Jesus is Western judeo-Christianity, the Baby Kimye is America.
For there is no union that better symbolises the cultural values of America than that of Kim and Kanye. Kim Kardashian exemplifies like no other socialite the trajectory of the American woman toward Hollywood domination. And Kanye West exemplifies like no other the American man’s. Thus, the union of these two figures is more than a relationship. It is Hollywood folding in on itself. It is the ultimate union. It is the ultimate not-so-immaculate conception.
That baby is Hollywood. That baby is America.
You might think comparing Baby Kimye to the Baby Jesus is an extreme conclusion. But Pierre Bordieu wouldn’t.
Who’s Pierre Bordieu? If you never took an undergraduate arts degree, Pierre Bordieu is an old French guy who was the first big Academic player to ask which characteristics make people rich, powerful and famous.
Basically, he was the first guy to point out that people’s class isn’t signified just by their wealth (economic capital) but by more subtle things, like the way they speak, their aesthetic and musical taste, and the activities they undertake (cultural capital).
As an Australia example, you can be super wealthy, but so long as you say “yous”, name your kids after precious stones, have a nickname that ends in “azza” and drink VB, you will remain in the “bogan” class. Similarly, you could be a poor lecturer and remain in the elite class simply because you consider Chopin to be a “banger” and conjugate your verbs properly.
“Taste classifies,” says Bordieu, “and it classifies the classifier.” These little markers – the Southern Cross tattoo, the Winfields, or conversely the soy lattes, the theatre tickets – are what constitute “cultural capital.” Each cultural domain has its own behaviours that amount to cultural capital. In Sydney’s North Shore, it’s going to a private school, having a doctor or a lawyer as a father, going to New York for holidays, and playing golf. In Sydney’s The Shire, it’s having a marble foyer, going to Bali yearly, and spelling your daughter’s name in a phonetic way (“Nikkee”, “Renaye”).
And in Hollywood, it’s, well, everything that Kim Kardashian does. Or if you’re a man, then everything that Kanye West does.
Hence, my point: Kim and Kanye aren’t just people. They’re icons, symbols, of everything that amounts to cultural capital in our entertainment universe.
All these things that Kimye like and do Bordieu would call their “Habitus”.
Habitus (Bordieu’s definition) = a set of dispositions which generate perceptions.
Habitus (my definition) = things you like and do.
The fact that Kimye’s particular Habitus has amassed such cultural capital is indicative of what American society values. Let me provide you with a few examples.
#1. The sex-tape: the Hollywood rite of passage.
There’s nothing that sums up the entertainment industry’s exploitation of female sexuality quite like the sex-tape. With only a sex-tape, Kim Kardashian went from no-body to show-body. Within six months she had her own reality TV show, and the rest is history. If that ain’t the commodification of female sexuality I don’t know what is.
#2. Kanye’s tantrums.
What better symbolises the American sense of entitlement than Kanye’s ongoing defiance of music award rulings.
Despite being the most awarded artist in the world, Kanye has felt cheated his whole career. His first tantrum came in 2004, when he stormed out of the American Music Awards because he didn’t win Best New Artist. In 2006 he took it a step further, climbing on stage at MTV Europe Music Awards and arguing that he should have won Best Video. After losing a few awards in 2007, he swore he’d never come back to MTV again and that they picked Britney Spears and not him because he was black. Then there’s the notorious 2009 incident, where he jumped on stage during Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech to rant that Beyonce should have won Best Female Video.
Poor Kanye. It’s not his fault. It’s just that American Dream myth at work. “Everyone can be a winner if they work hard enough”. Looks like Kanye took that one a bit too literally.
Plus, Americans don’t like sharing rewards. Sharing is a socialist plot, always. Diversifying the MTV award recipients is one step away from universal health care, I tell you.
Kanye’s music award tantrums show that “fuck the government” libertarian sentiment so unique to America. You can never trust governing bodies, even when they’re an MTV panel.
What Kanye’s tantrums also indicate is how Hollywood infantilises its stars. Michael Jackson’s “Neverland” park springs to mind. Celebrities are reduced by the machine to toddlers, their every whim and tantrum indulged, but with no actual agency over their lives, which are scripted and controlled by corporate honchos. This relationship between the management and the star is fundamentally creepy: it treats them simultaneously as children and as sexual objects.
#3. The multi-disciplinary career.
As an American kid, you’re told you can do anything if you work hard. So it’s not surprising that most kids want that regular and achievable career of being an astronaut.
Similarly, if you are a rapper/reality TV star, why the hell can’t you be a designer, actor, business person, pop-star and brand spokesperson too? Why shouldn’t you have your own label, with no design or marketing qualifications to speak of? If you work hard, you can do anything, kids.
#4. Thinking like a marketer from the day your child is conceived:
The award for this goes to Kardashian mother Kris Jenner. Kris Jenner is like a regular stage-mom on steroids. It’s not every mother that names her children with a view to how alliteration might benefit their hypothetical future cosmetics empire. But Kris Jenner is all over that: if your name don’t start with “K”, you ain’t a part of the Kardashian Klan. If you don’t believe me, just look at Kim’s fiancée (Kris Humphries) and father-of-her-children (Kanye), the former of which has literally the same name as stage-mom-on-steroids herself. Don’t tell me this isn’t a plot to subliminally reassert her mother’s primacy in all that the family does. I know a conspiracy when I see one.
This viewing of your child as a potential cash cow from the earliest stage is so emblematic of Hollywood, the land of promise, hope and “Toddlers in Tiaras.”
#5. Thinking you’re lord of the universe.
America’s all-pervasive individualism can be seen in the unbridled egotism of Kimye. Let me point you to some examples:
“I will be the leader of a company that’s worth billions of dollars, because I got the answers. I understand culture. I am the nucleus.” Kanye West
“I am so credible and so influential and so relevant that I will change things.” Kanye West
“I am undoubtedly Steve [Jobs] of Internet, downtown, fashion, culture. Period. By a long jump. I honestly feel that because Steve has passed, you know, it’s like when Biggie passed and Jay-Z was allowed to become Jay-Z.” Kanye West
And if that’s not enough, may I point you to the time that Kanye said he should be written into the Bible. Turning to Kim, a memorable moment would be when she compared the planning of her wedding to the trials of a cancer patient.
“We decided to film for the wedding. And that was a decision [fiancée] Kris and I made together. But I think that, with any decisions in life, like, I spoke to a girl today who had cancer and we were talking about how this is such a hard thing for her, but it taught her a big lesson on who her friends are and so much about life. She’s eighteen. And I was like, that’s how I feel.”
#6. 72 day marriages.
America is the home of sanctimonious marriage. While other nations might be polluting it with gay marriage bills, America will fight valiantly to retain the sanctity of marriage forever.
Marriage is so sanctimonious to Americans that Rush Limbaugh can declare that there’s a “war on traditional marriage” when he himself has five wives.
Marriage is so sanctimonious to Americans that Britney Spears could get married for 52 hours.
And marriage is so sanctimonious to Americans that Kim Kardashian could spend half a year and ten million dollars on a wedding, and get divorced two months later.
So there you have it, folks.
Everything Kimye do equates to cultural capital in America. They are Hollywood incarnate, and Baby Kimye is its heir.
So go to this child with frankincense and myrrh, because it’s inheriting America.
If Baby Kimye ain’t the Baby Jesus of our time, I don’t know who is.
Annika Blau is a freelance writer from Sydney with a lot of opinions. Her writing explores what pop culture tells us about ourselves, and pairs the teachings of academia with those of the supermarket aisle. She wants to know why we don’t examine Kanye West with the same academic rigour as The Cantebury Tales, and finds Lady Gaga as revealing as the census. More of her writing can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org.