Kim Kardashian-West speaks at The Girls' Lounge dinner, giving visibility to women at Advertising Week 2016, at Pier 60 on September 27, 2016 in New York City. (Photo: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for The Girls' Lounge)
Last night, armed men posing as police officers broke into an apartment in Paris, held Kim Kardashian at gunpoint, bound and gagged her, and made off with $9 million worth of jewelry. Once it was confirmed that she was unharmed, my worry shifted to how people on the internet were reacting.
Some found the situation hilarious. Some thought she deserved it. Some went as far as wishing the robbers had raped and/or killed her.
And those that defended her couldn't do so without qualifying language: "Remember, Kim is a mother and a wife!" or "You might hate her, but..."
Yes, it's true Kim married Kanye and had children with him, but what if she hadn't? Would that make having basic empathy for someone who experienced a traumatic event that much harder? Shouldn't the fact that she's a human being be enough? And so what if you don't like her show or her app or her vocal fry? Do those opinions supersede the idea that a woman was assaulted and believed she was about to be murdered?
One of the saddest things about these heartless reactions is that none of it is exceptional or surprising. Online rhetoric has become so bombastic that we are becoming immune to hate speech and threats. Someone declaring that the robbers would have done the world a favor by harming Kim is met with a simple "LOL."
As someone who writes on the internet for a living, I've been called a lot of things ("Orwellian f*ckstain" is a favorite, gay slurs less so), but never have I gotten more hate mail than when I defended the Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! producers' decision to have Kim Kardashian play a harmless quiz game on their show.
After wading in the Swamp of Sadness that was that particular episode's comment section, I found reactions like this:
Some fans were outraged, to say the least. One commenter called Kim Kardashian “a shameless strumpet.” Another commenter’s faith in science was shaken: “This woman makes me question the theory of evolution.” Some felt contaminated: “NPR is my sanctuary and now it has been sullied by the vapid KK.” And others wagged a finger: “…shame on all of you at WWDTM for allowing this vapid, vacuous waste of space more media time.” You get the picture.
Why such a fiery response? Could it possibly have to do with the fact that Kim first gained prominence through a sex tape and has expertly played into our culture's fascination with sex, celebrity and objectifying women to build a multi-million dollar empire? I thought so then and I think so now:
A huge portion of the comments I’ve read in response to Kim’s WWDTM appearance mention her sex tape or resort to name-calling. And there are a lot of words for these people to choose from—strumpet, harlot, floozy, hussy, trollop, trash, bimbo, whore, slut, and on and on. On the flip side, you would be hard pressed to find equally derisive language to describe a sexual man. They get called lotharios, players, pimps, studs or, most often, nothing at all. Women are placed under a different level of scrutiny in our culture and nowhere is that clearer than within discussions about Kim.
Kim's strongest detractors will readily proclaim that they've never seen her reality show or read anything about her family. And yet they somehow know enough to pass judgment and write mini-dissertations about her in public forums.
People loathe Kim, as if she isn't an actual person, but merely a symbolic larger-than-life stand-in for the deterioration of American society. What these people don't realize is that their readiness to hate and rejoice in the misfortunes experienced by a woman -- famous or otherwise -- is a far more precise indication of the deterioration of American society than a single Kardashian could ever be.