Why do smart people care about stupid things? It’s hard not to wonder that in a week when Paper’s cover with Kim Kardashian’s ass on it competed for our attention with a video of a Russian twerkstress shitting her white pants mid-twerk. It hasn’t been verified whether or not the Russian video was real or staged yet, and many questions remain about the Kim K. photos (some of which I attempted to answer below.) Regardless, both events were ostensibly designed to “break the internet,” as Paper’s cover declared.
What does that mean exactly? While I do believe Kim’s ass is powerful enough to melt my WiFi router, Paper’s more feasible goal was to create a distraction large enough that it would abduct the internet for the week. The cover trolls for reactions, of which there would be countless, both smart and dumb.
But can an ass be that interesting? Especially an ass that we’ve seen so much of before? To help elevate the subject to "something worth talking about,” Paper’s editors skillfully positioned Kim’s rear at the intersection of other internet conversations about race, objectification, self-representation, and fame. The images were desiged to be sexy and funny but also to produce conversation about all the predictable Kardashian topics:
What does it mean to be famous for doing nothing?
How can Paris Hilton’s former best friend and a sex-tape star rise to a position of such cultural power?
What does Kanye think?
Is it okay for a mom to put oil all over her ass and pose nude? (The answer is yes.)
While Paper’s images most defintiely went viral, it’s unlikely they’ll be remembered in the pantheon of great ass-oriented internet-breaking media a la Jimmy Kimmel’s twerk prank (and at least from our nudity-loving corner of the internet, YouTube-watchers seemed more interested in the Russian twerker). It’s difficult for a magazine cover to keep up with video in the attention economy, and the success of this stunt should be measured in relation to other print publications’ attempts to vy for attention online, more than anything.
That’s my two cents.
I reached out to some of my favorite smart and visual thinkers on the internet for their instant reactions to Kim K.’s latest move:
WAS IT HOT?
I took a screen-cap of Kim Kardashian’s ass, so I could keep it on my phone. In case of emergencies, I plan to use it for CPR. Kim Kardashian’s butt looks so good it makes me feel bad for Stevie Wonder. You try telling a blind man what all the fuss is about. That’s like explaining Beethoven to a deaf man. I have one friend who’s an atheist. I showed him the cover shot of Kim Kardashian’s ass. He took one look and said, “…Goddamn!” Needless to say, now he believes in Yeezus.
WAS IT INTERESTING?
Kim’s ass feels distant in my feed—like a lacquered flesh-toned orb floating in outer space. I’ve been busy the past few days so I haven’t had time to dip into the flame war. What are we mad about again? The objectification of celebrities, Photoshop hacking reality, in-app purchases? Is the difference between outrage and #umad word count? Probably.
WAS IT OFFENSIVE?
First reaction: This is some Hottentot Venus shit. Second thought: I want to know more about “Champagne Incident,” the Goude photo that this Kim K. shoot was based on. Turns out Goude took not only an earlier photo of a black model in the exact same pose, he also took a photo of his creative and romantic partner Grace Jones in a similar contortion. Jones, it’s worth noting, adopted many artistic personas that satirized historically racist interpretations of the black female body. Together with Goude, she was subverting primitivist stereotypes (like the h.v.) But Kim is not a black woman, and Goude is a white photographer, and somehow I don’t read much postcolonial criticism in this pose.
WAS IT COOL?
I’ve never liked an image of Kim Kardashian until the Paper Magazine cover. I find what sets Kim apart from every other rich-girl-that-got-famous-from-a-reality-series (namely the cheeky Paris Hilton) is the lack of sense of humor. I live in Los Angeles, where every other girl waiting in line to get into the club looks like her, so her natural beauty goes over my head. Only until my personal art-direction hero Jean-Paul Goude agreed to re-create his Champagne Incident is Kim’s celebrity handled well. Smart, funny, and cool.
—Franc Fernandez, art director working in music and fashion.