Kim and Donald, Separate but Equal
Both figures are defined by one ugly quality, but it’s what’s made them both famous.
By Sofia Rivera, Simmons College
The day after the UK voted to leave the European Union, Kanye West released the music video for his song “Famous.”
If I were going to rank these two stories in order of importance, even as a guilty lover of celebrity gossip, I would readily admit that the British secession is more newsworthy than the visual accompaniment to the “Life of Pablo” single.
“Famous” features wax dopplegangers of a dozen celebrities lying naked in the same bed. Did Brexit really ever stand a chance?
Kanye himself is flanked by wife Kim Kardashian and pop star Taylor Swift—maybe you’ve heard of them? Other celebrity semblances featured in the video are: Kim’s old flame and original claim to fame, Ray J; former president George W Bush; current presidential nominee Donald Trump; Vogue Editor in Chief Anna Wintour; vocal powerhouse Rihanna alongside her abusive ex, singer Chris Brown; Kanye’s voluptuous precursor to Kim, Amber Rose; “Glamour’s” 2015 Woman of the Year, Caitlyn Jenner; and Bill Cosby, whose sweater collection as Dr. Huxtable was almost as vast as the number of rape allegations against him now.
It’s like the most exclusive sleepover where guests have to not only be top tier A-listers, but extremely controversial individuals in order to score an invite. Or maybe it’s just a standard Illuminati meeting. Contentious glamor surrounds nearly every individual in the celebrity-only slumber party, yet they all hail from distinct fields of fame: athletics, fashion, television, music, politics or having a really good butt.
Then there’s Donald Trump. Which category he falls into it’s hard to say (though definitively not the last one). The likeness of the Republican presidential nominee lies prostrate and pale, and for a song entitled “Famous,” it begs the question: What makes Donald Trump famous?
While it might seem like a complicated question considering his theoretical proximity to the Oval Office, in reality the answer is: Pretty much the same thing that makes, say, Kim Kardashian famous. No, not the sex tape, the other thing—having to remain constantly relevant.
Judgy headlines surrounding a 72-day marriage only persist for so long until Kim needs to marry an egotistical rapper, pose in the nude with shining skin suspiciously reminiscent of a glazed donut (thusly breaking the internet), post a pregnant nelfie, or most recently share footage of a phone conversation between Kanye and Taylor on her Snapchat.
The conversation, as you probably already know even if you wish you didn’t, featured Kanye asking for Taylor’s approval regarding a lyric in his song “Famous”— the first lyric he raps on the track. “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that bitch famous.” (He repeats that last part in case you didn’t catch it the first time).
I know what you’re thinking: “Wow, Kanye sure seems like a sweet guy.” A prince among men, indeed. But control yourselves! He’s taken, and the world is short one more sensitive, mellow-mouthed man.
The world may never know the truth regarding how much Taylor knew about the “Famous” lyrics. I’m kind of a conspiracy theorist, so I think it was all orchestrated, but it doesn’t really matter. Whether you see Kanye as the villain and Taylor as the victim or vice versa, they both garnered attention. Not to mention the Snapchat followers Kim must’ve gained.
Trump’s apparent smear campaign against himself works the same way, in that it doesn’t matter how bad he makes himself look, as long as other people are looking. The question of Trump’s actual character is a moot point; the toupee-clad bigot the media has made out of him is a front page staple these days, and every ludicrous statement contributes to the caricature.
Yet his polemical statements lack the finesse of Kim’s selfies and the rhythm of Kanye’s lyrics. Instead, Trump seems to say literally whatever occurs to him, whenever that transient thought comes to mind, whether that is sexualizing his daughter, throwing a tantrum about turning the lights off (as if trying to prove he’s gotten over his fear of the dark) or accusing Mexicans of being drug users, criminals, and rapists. The difference between the Kardashians and Trump is that none of the K clan are running for president (though Kanye has threatened to).
The main point of support I’ve heard for Trump is that he says what’s on his mind; he doesn’t censor himself like most politicians. But even a broken clock is right twice a day. Sometimes he’ll say something worthwhile, but more often than not, his stream-of-conscious monologue reveals some truly unsettling beliefs. I once saw a toddler yell, “I hate you!” and throw a block at his mom one second, then say, “You’re so pretty,” while reassuringly tapping her shoe the next second. Case in point: Having no filter doesn’t make someone a better presidential candidate.
The thing is, I don’t hold Trump responsible for his success. Unlike Kim’s genius timing for her various publicity stunts and FBI level investigative journalism via Snapchat, I’m pretty sure the attention Trump has garnered is dumb luck. The same way that toddler loved destroying block towers, Trump loves talking about building walls; it’s a mindless hobby, meant to provoke a reaction from his mom or, uh, America.
Who’s really liable for Trump’s fame? Me and you. Everyone. Yes, even if you’re voting for Hillary.
Even if you were vehemently feeling the Bern and are now abstaining from voting. Even if you’re voting for Trump because you hate Hillary or love “Celebrity Apprentice.” Even if you are chugging maple syrup in preparation for your Canadian assimilation. All of the above.
No matter the circumstances, by allowing Trump to occupy every front page and headline, Americans have given him a megaphone loud enough to drown out any other news story. “New number, who dis?” the nation collectively said to nearly every other candidate prior to the primaries. In the eyes of the media, anyone who isn’t Trump has been largely inconsequential, a nuisance even— the annoying little sibling who stands in front of the TV while you try to watch your show.
And while to an extent the Average Joe has no say what’s on page one of the “New York Times,” ultimately the media is a reflection of what the general public likes to look at. The Average Joe likes a spectacle, and Trump is nothing if not that.
America’s obsession with the outspoken and the out there—those who start Twitter feuds, interrupt Taylor Swift at the VMA’s, call out Katy Perry in a hit single, or wear dresses made of meat—it’s not a horrible fixation in itself. I mean, it’s not great. But permitting famous people to occupy the nation’s media and minds entirely is not only damaging, but quite possibly damning.
I was watching Kylie Jenner’s Snapchat story when my friend in Istanbul texted me about the coup executed by a sect of the Turkish military. I didn’t know that my best friend didn’t feel safe to leave her house, but I did know that King Kylie was wearing rose gold eyeshadow that day. I felt like an awful friend, but an even worse world citizen.
On a related note, Kim Kardashian has 47.2 million followers on Twitter, nearly 18 million more than the “New York Times.” The public tells the media what it cares about.
Laughing at Trump or ranting about him in Facebook posts that will definitely change Trumpets’ minds may have been a distraction from real issues for a while, but it’s time to put him back in the tabloids with the rest of the celebrities. While he remains in the headlines, readers are better off turning to page two for the bona fide news.
If not, the special brand of voyeurism Kanye displays today in the “Famous” video is doomed to become the masochism of the United States tomorrow. What the American public has been content to watch—whether they’ve been shaking their heads in disapproval or nodding in agreement—will soon be what the country is forced to live if Trump continues to trump all other news.