Kim Kardashian Talks Gun Control, Feminism and Everything Else at Commonwealth Club Event

LaDoris Cordell and Kim Kardashian at the Castro Theatre on June 30, 2015. Photo: Sonya Abrams

When INFORUM, the Commonwealth Club's Innovation Lab, announced that they would be hosting Kim Kardashian, people freaked out, to put it mildly. The reaction was similar to the outrage many felt after her appearance on NPR's Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!, which this blog has covered pretty prominently. If there's anything we've learned in the last two weeks, it's that Kim Kardashian is a guaranteed conversation-starter. So with that in mind, two of us who attended the event went home, opened up Facebook chat, and had at it.

Gabe Meline: So Emmanuel! We saw Kim Kardashian at the Commonwealth Club tonight, and I think it's safe to say that it didn't go as well as we'd hoped!

Emmanuel Hapsis: Yes, definitely safe to say that. Adele singing "We could have had it aaaaallllll!" keeps playing in my head.

GM: It’s rare that she gets put in an interview situation like this, where the goal is intelligent conversation on smart topics. Knowing this, you’d think she, or at least her publicist, would have prepared a little more. But if this were her attempt at winning over the highbrow crowd, she really came up short. Shall we recount the missed chances?

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EH: As painful as that will be, yes, let's do it. Her publicist should totally just make her memorize an answer to expected questions. Like for "Do you consider yourself a feminist?", she could have simply said "Duh" and then quoted Bell Hooks or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie or Malala or Emma Watson or even Beyonce. Instead, she said, "I guess people would call me a feminist, so I guess you could, but I don't really like to put labels on things. I'm not really one to say 'I'm a feminist, and this is what I believe in so you have to believe in this, and, like, free the nipple!' kind of person. I'm not that person at all." My reaction to that moment can be best summed up with this Tyra Banks gif:

tyra-rooting-for-you

GM: Yeah. Like, come on, really? How controversial is it to just say, “Yeah, women should be treated fairly and have equal pay”?

And so many of her answers were like an eighth grader who hadn't studied for the test, who "answers" with thinly veiled rewordings of the question. I'm paraphrasing here:

Q: How do you plan on having a conversation with your children about racism?

A: Well, we’re going to have a conversation with them about racism.

It wasn't just the important questions, either; she even ducked frivolous questions.

Q: Tell me how to use lighting and angles to achieve the best selfie.

A: Oh, well, lighting is really important. And it's good to get the right angle.

You know?

EH: And the platitudes. My god, the platitudes.

Q: What advice would you give a young female entrepreneur who's trying to make it in a man's world?

A: Be determined! Have a good work ethic!

Q: What would you say to a girl struggling with body image?

A: Have confidence! Be proud of who you are!

Q: What advice do you have for women facing discrimination and sexism in the workplace?

A: Stay focused!

It was all so pageant-y and safe. I loved when LaDoris Cordell (the interviewer) added "Lawyer up!" after Kim failed to give a legitimate answer to that last question.

GM: Kudos to LaDoris Cordell, who actually asked some pointed questions. Like about the famous Paper magazine cover: “Your photo was a recreation of a photo of an African-American woman, in the same pose, that was denounced as degrading or objectifying the black female body. Were you surprised at the reaction to that photo, and were you aware of the earlier photo of the black woman?” It’s pretty crazy for Kim to sit there and say, face-to-face with a respected black woman, “I can see how someone would think that, but that wasn’t my intention. The photographer, it was his idea.” And just leave it at that.

Or how about when the audience was able to ask questions, and one was simply, “Do you think you promote an unhealthy body image?” Kim’s answer was like, “No, because my makeup is inexpensive, and my new website coming soon is going to have a lot of tutorials on how to do your brows!”

EH: Kim so readily saying that she would absolutely pose for that Paper magazine photograph again, despite knowing the loaded history behind the image, seemed kind of selfish to me...which happens to be the name of her book of selfies! So maybe she bombed that question so I would call her selfish and plug her book?? Wow, she really is good at marketing!

GM: Ah, yes, her book, two copies of which were given out to each attendee in that bizarre-looking tote bag with a stencil of her face on it. Is this an appropriate time to note that due to low ticket sales, this event was moved from the Paramount Theatre (3,040 seats) to the Castro Theatre (1,400 seats)?

I imagine that Cordell also was strongly advised and/or forced via the mucky trenches of the celebrity-publicist industrial complex to ask about certain subjects, like the softball questions about Kim's app (the developers, Glu Mobile, sponsored the event) or her work with the Children's Hospital. That was a letdown.

But hey, enough wallowing. What did you *like* about the conversation? As someone with a Master's Degree in Kardashian, what stood out?

EH: Wait, I need to get one more negative thing out or it will stay inside my body and slowly poison me until I drop dead days from now, while I'm innocently scrolling through Taylor Swift's Instagram feed!

When she was asked about whether she was surprised about the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision, she said "It's about time." Yay, she got it right!, I thought. But she wasn't finished: "I'm proud of Obama for getting it done."

luke noooo

Maybe she missed the day in eighth grade when her History teacher explained how the three branches of government work?

But on the positive tip: I think she was charming, gracious and funny, for the most part.

I liked when she opened up about Caitlyn Jenner and how she has made her a less judgmental and more compassionate person.

I also loved that she brought up the need for stricter gun control laws, when asked to give an idea to change the world. It's obviously a hot button issue in America right now so I appreciated that she stepped out of her safe stock answers and got a bit real with that one.

And her anecdote about being obsessed with eBay back in the day and making a profit off of reselling Manolo Blahnik Timbaland shoes from a J. Lo music video was like an early aughts time capsule. I loved that blast from the past.

GM: Yeah, there were a few moments where you were like, "Oh yeah, she's actually a person with a family and a life." My personal favorite part was when she was asked if she could interview anyone in the world, who it would be. And she answered, "Donda West." (For those who don't know, that's Kanye's mother, who passed away in 2007.)

rihanna cry

I just realized I have one last gripe too. She talked about how Kanye advised her on her app, how he envisioned and supported her book, how he had all these creative entrepreneurial ideas. And when asked if she gives any advice to Kanye, she was all, "Yes, I tell him what to wear, and that we need more storage space in our kitchen."

This all goes back to the question you mentioned, about if it’s realistic for young women to be successful in a male-dominated business culture, and I thought her answer was telling: “I see so much from social media. There’s this generation of girls that are beautiful, but I don’t see a strong work ethic.”

What I took away from that, and from her answers about body image and objectification of women in the media, is that Kim operates under the assumption that it's not just her goal to be as beautiful as possible, but it's *every girl's goal* to be as beautiful as possible. They just have to work hard at it and they'll be successful for their beauty -- not their talent. Numerous examples of this cropped up, like her "I can't code, I leave that to the developers, I just tell them that the dress in the video game needs straps" comment.

EH: Yeah, I was bummed when she kept being demure about her achievements and giving Kanye so much credit.

GM: There are a lot of reasons why I root for Kim Kardashian, and my favorite theory about her is that she helps young women accept their own bodies by showing, openly and publicly, just how much time, effort and money goes into maintaining her own body. More than any celebrity before her, she broadcasts the 24/7 work of her wardrobe and makeup team, and even her plastic surgeons. If I were a teenage girl, I'd look at the unattainable effort Kim Kardashian is putting into her look, and I'd feel a lot better about how I look after 10 minutes in front of the mirror.

But to reduce a woman's role to helping dress her husband, or to assume all girls could be successful if they were just prettier is, to borrow a phrase from Antonin Scalia, pure applesauce.

EH:  Like you, I root for Kim. Anyone who follows this blog knows that, considering the posts I've written about the outrage that followed her appearance on Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! Despite her not sounding as smart as I'd hoped she would tonight, I still think NPR shows geared toward celebrities and comedy should feel free to have her on. I still think public radio is a place where people should be able to discuss Kim and other facets of pop culture in a thoughtful way. And I still believe that a lot of the negative attention she gets is fueled by sexism and slut-shaming.

While we're on the topic of that whole NPR hubbub, Cordell asked her what she thought about it. Kim seemed like she had never heard of NPR before, which I think is hysterical. Here are all these people flogging themselves because they're so upset that Kim wants to destroy their sanctuary and she's like...who?

When pressed to give a response to why she thinks people freaked out so much, she said "I don't know and I don't care." So there you have it, thousands of people who commented on the issue. And contrary to the opinion of some of my friends that my essay had gotten big enough that she had probably seen it, now we know that she has definitely not.

GM: At any rate, I think we can agree: there may be a whole college course to be taught on Kim Kardashian, but based on tonight, Kim Kardashian is not the right person to teach it.

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EH: khloe-kardashian-amen

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