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Wednesday, 6 September 2017

The Kardashian Gap


There are many arguments for and against the legitimacy of the fame of the Kardashians. Most of the arguments for have to do either with a perception of their positive influence on someone or other, or their existence as a kind of fait accomplis. They're famous now, so are therefore important to know about. The arguments against are pretty obvious, and are mostly put in the form of questions about why they exist, what, at the end of the day, they actually do, and so on and so forth.

What these arguments ignore is that there really isn't any legitimate basis for fame of this kind, and nor does there need to be. The Kardashians and others of their ilk are not rational products of a rational system, and it's a little bit foolish to try and explain them as such. Just like Rockefeller, Beau Brummell, Trump in his pre-presidential phase, or Alcibiades, the Kardashians are clearly manifestations of the cult of celebrity. So far, so obvious. But what I wonder is how clearly we see the implications of the very existence of this cult.

The last half century or so has seen a massive acceleration in attempts to systematise and formalise social and political mechanisms. The recently revolutionary notion of 'bureaucracy' has become ubiquitous, standard rhetoric for the nations of the west always includes talk about being 'a nation of laws', and most people in western democracies, if you really push them, will admit that their particular societies are at least supposed to be based on equity, fairness, and egalitarianism. Given this, why aren't we all currently living in our own various utopias of freedom and whatnot?

There's a lot of potential answers to this question. Many people will argue quite cogently that the gap between ideology and practice is created by corruption, greed, institutionalised unfairness, popular apathy, and a host of other factors. I don't disagree, but I think that there's probably something deeper at play. In a world where everybody is shouting about fairness and compassion, the fact that so little of these things seem to exist in our systems must surely be down to something lurking beneath our conscious impulses. Something that we're not entirely aware of.

And the Kardashians are my proof of its existence. In short, the Kardashians and other celebrity cults speak to the insane human compulsion to create gods and aristocrats. As far back as we can see in time, humans have always set up shrines or images to some sort of divine or semi-divine personification of a perfect or ideal other. It doesn't matter how many systems you put in place, how much you try to scrub out the influence of church or tribe or nobility - all this does is create a gap into which something like the Kardashians can spring fully formed as objects of trivial worship. Huge sections of our informal systems of culture are built solely around the elevation and emulation of these people, and built in such a way as to leave absolutely no doubt that the veneration of these images is very much an aspect of the popular will. As in, nobody is being compelled to slavishly admire these idiots - they're actually paying to do it. And this teaches us an important lesson about the current limits of the human animal when it comes to the acceptance and judicious use of freedom.

It would seem that our social development has outstripped our collective cognitive evolution. Still today, unchanged for thousands of years, it's all too possible to observe the inability of people en masse to understand anything if it is not cast in the form of a story containing at least one hero and one villain. And it would seem that it is collectively impossible for us to understand even ourselves without recourse to some more or less artificially constructed ideal. The impulse to quarantine our aspirations into some inaccessible, otherworldly realm is a recurring theme in the story of humanity's constant falling short of its ideals. The horrible familiarity of our current problems is a symptom of the fundamentally unchanging patterning of our minds.

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