“A Time magazine writer commented that, unlike previous celebrities’ nudes that represented the women’s rebellion against repressed society and “trying to tear down” barriers, Kardashian’s exhibition was “just provocation and bluster, repeated images that seem to offer us some sort of truth or insight but are really just self serving. We want there to be something more, some reason or context, some great explanation that tells us what it is like to live in this very day and age, but there is not. Kim Kardashian’s ass is nothing but an empty promise.””
The fact that the quoted remark answers and points out how to deal with with the very problem it poses left an impression on me.
The context is something like this: Kim Kardashian got published with her buttocks and the slogan “Break the Internet”, and above we have one way to react to it. I’m not sure it is the worst way, but it surely is not the best. Why? Because “we want there to be something more, some reason or context…”
I’ll try to be as clear as possible. There is no point in expecting there to be something more in Kim Kardashian’s butt than there is. Expecting some sort of reason or context in a celebrity’s nude photos is futile. They are photos of her naked skin and shapes; there is nothing more to them. We may add some slogans or perhaps an inspirational quote, but in the end that is all there will ever be; text and nudes. There is no substance or a deeper reality to it: it really is just Kim Kardashian’s butt.
What fascinates me here is the fact that anyone in their right mind would ever expect anything else out of it.
The problem isn’t that Kim Kardashian gives us an empty promise, a vague hint towards a meaning of some kind. I would never expect anything else out of her. She’s a celebrity and a fashion model, not some well-educated, deeply troubled, artistic genius who shows us pathways towards an ever more intricate culture helping us solve our social and psychological issues. Butt pictures are not meant to inspire revolutions: they’re meant to inspire sexual feelings – yes, they’re about sex, and aesthetics. I’m sorry to say, but no matter how much participatory co-creative cultural revolutionary transformations we intend to witness, expecting Kim Kardashian’s butt to signify some deeper truth is just silly.
I have a guess as to why someone might, though. It is because we are a generation of humans raised and educated to be consumers. The key idea and phenomenon of today is consumption; and what the Time magazine writer was trying to do was consume an idea of something revolutionary and rebellious, but it turned out that there was nothing to consume. Or perhaps there was nothing left to consume.
We can think of it like this. A consumer does exactly that: consume stuff. You put something in, but you don’t get anything out. You put in things like TV:s, cars, videos, computers, porn and smart phones – but also things like culture, art, music, videos, ideas, zeitgeist, revolutions – and all these things get consumed in the process. A consumer doesn’t mind what they consume – they just consume.
This isn’t a completely conscious process, really. It’s more like a subliminal attitude towards whatever we are conscious of; something educated to us and formulated in between the lines of our everyday interactions. Make no mistake; it is a destructive attitude, but what makes it possible is the ever more increasing influx of information, novelty and material, which feed straight into some of the most primitive precognitive circuitry in our brains which are supposed to keep us motivated.
What keeps us consuming is the fact that novelty is addictive: that is, we’re junkies.
Meaning can be thought of as something that is created in our minds, when we more or less intuitively combine whatever information and experiences we happen to have at hand. I dare say that nearly all experiences and ideas of any lasting value have in common the fact that they are not brought on by instant gratification and novelty, but instead demand that we actually engage with whatever is going on in our head; that we solve real problems in our real lives and grow wiser and stronger because of that. This is not something that can be done by watching TV – or reading a book, for that matter. What needs to be done is to actually think and live out the ideas in order for them to have any substance.
It isn’t exactly obvious on plain sight, however, that this is the case. It’s a tempting thought: why shouldn’t I read a bit more news? I need to know what’s going on, alright? I can’t form an opinion of what’s happening unless I know more, right? Why shouldn’t I watch inspiring, thought-provoking movies? Each of them has an unique message, which helps me from more complicated opinions on a variety of matters. It’s not merely that I can engage with all this fascinating culture – it’s almost a moral obligation that I do, in order to further our common goals and expand my own understanding!
Yeah, kind of. Except that you’re not engaging at all. You’re consuming. Why do I think so?
I think that way because of the attitude so many people have towards anything that repeats something they’ve already seen. “Oh yeah, but there’s nothing new about virtual reality, Neuromancer did it already.” “Why would you listen to Nickelback; they’re not unique at all! All that’s been done already.” “Why do people still listen to that pop music they play on the radio? It’s all repeating the same pattern over and over again!”
Yes, that’s correct. A great part of the culture provided for us by the music, literature, gaming and movie industries has no function besides selling; they are all about finding a pattern that works and then reworking things around that pattern so that consumers stay happy and keep consuming. However, you’re not any better. What you’re doing is saying that now the pattern is getting old and you’re getting bored; they’re no longer doing a good job at entertaining you, and you need a new batch to keep your attention at it. You’ve already consumed this, you know how it works, and now you need something more to keep you going. This won’t cut it. You need more.
Be it a pop song meant to inspire emotion. Be it a story meant to inspire rebellion. Be it a tragedy meant to inspire suffering and catharsis. What people do is that they consume all these and then complain how vanilla and naive all the movies, stories and songs used to be back in the 80’s. However, what’s changed is not the culture. It’s the people whose addiction towards novelty and highs has built tolerance so that the old doses of feeling won’t cut it anymore.
Consistently complaining about the way others produce entertainment or culture is a sure way to tell that one has, in one way or another, become a junkie towards culture, and is now experiencing withdrawal from all the motivation, emotions and highs they once got from experiencing it all – now they’ve consumed it and are feeling empty.
There’s nothing wrong with timeless stories. There’s nothing wrong with listening to the same song over and over again. We’ve merely become so accustomed to consistently being brought something interesting and new on a silver plate that we no longer understand that meaning is not novelty. And that’s what’s wrong with the Time writer’s reaction towards Kim Kardashian’s ass. They’re so used to everything being another revolution, everything being all about some new battle to fight that they mistake a fashion model’s more or less well marketed butt photos for something that gives their lives meaning. They’re so desperate to experience that vigor of rebelling against the authorities again that they pattern-match a human bottom to a revolution – and then get all disappointed and confused when that doesn’t make any sense.
What I’d like to offer as a solution is authenticity.
The point is very simple. Stop caring so much about whether or not someone has something new to offer. Instead ask yourself: is if effective? Does it work? What is it trying to do, and more importantly: what are you trying to do with it? If it doesn’t suit your purposes, why are you still paying attention? Why are you critiquing it online or in a magazine? Why aren’t you creating something better or helping someone create? What exactly are you hoping to accomplish by pointing out that this or that no longer gives you kicks? Is it really necessary?
Be authentic. If you want to be authentic about watching a movie, then watch a movie you wouldn’t maybe normally watch, and actually try to engage with it. If the movie sucks, is it the movie’s fault for not pushing your buttons the right way, or does it have to do with your expectations? Why does someone else enjoy it, then? And if you can’t make it work with whatever you’re trying to accomplish, why are you still talking about it? Life’s too short to waste time on things that aren’t worth your time – by definition.
Be authentic. If you want to be authentic about an inspired rebellion and a cultural transformation, ask yourself: how are you going to help bring that change? If all you’re doing is commenting on someone else’s lack of effort, are you actually being serious about it? Or are you more about getting kicks out of simulated inspiration? Or are you maybe more about forming a clique of followers around you, which helps you use and abuse the power of your opinion over people trying to actually create something?
Be authentic. Live your damn life and experience real things – and that doesn’t mean “go on an awesome vacation and post it all over Instagram to show people how much fun you’re having”. It means “do something that matters to you and try to maybe grow as a person while at it“. It means “how about you actually put yourself into creating a more healthy and functioning community and helping other people”. If posting hot photos on Instagram is what blows your hair back, then by all means, go do it. But if you’re going to complain over someone else doing that (too), then it might be that you could use some more authenticity. Give it a rest and let other people do what they do. Influence them however you can if that’s what matters to you, but don’t expect them to bend to your whims just because that’s what you get a kick out of.
There’s really nobody else who can make you grow and become a better human being than you, yourself. No amount of novel social, technological, cultural or entertaining transformations will do, if all you’re going to do is suck it all up and demand that others produce more. Get out there and do it yourself – and if you end up failing, that’s at least real.
And if you feel like I’m just repeating something some other person has written or said out loud before me and that I’m not really contributing to your development as a human being here: by all means, do it better or shut up. Not because I’d care – most probably I won’t – but because of yourself. And that’s what matters.