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Kim Kardashian and the New Americana

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Kim Kardashian and the New Americana
Flynn Begor

Flynn Begor

Date
November 1, 2022
Read
3 Min

The mogul’s creative partnership with artist Nadia Lee Cohen paints red arrows toward the American taste.

In the latest edition of Interview Magazine, titled American Dream Issue, a partially bottomless Kim Kardashian dominates the cover in full denim, an exposed jockstrap, Dolly Parton-blonde shagged hair and bleached eyebrows with minimalist glam. She stands in front of a floor-to-ceiling American flag in Bottega Veneta. Her cover story features the mogul’s musings on the happenings of the Supreme Court, no longer being starstruck, and what type of celebrity she classifies herself as. 

The cover shoot was shot by soaring artist Nadia Lee Cohen who recently closed an impressive exhibition in August at the Jeffrey Deitch Gallery in Los Angeles. The British artist displayed her notable work “Hello, My Name Is,” a sizable portrait series of fictional characters the artist developed based on found name tags. Cohen’s style, described as fictional realism, showcases expressions of Facetune-selfie culture with the scenery and ambiance of Every-Town-USA as its backdrop.

The cover for Interview Magazine is the duo’s second collaboration following a campaign for Kardashian’s shape and loungewear company, Skims. The series shot for a collection of metallic swimwear is marked by retrofuturist and Old-Hollywood sensibilities, with Kardashian and models posed as mannequins around a rooftop pool with bright blue eyeshadow and accompanying poodles.

While their project for Skims was heralded by fans and haters alike, their work for Interview Magazine is being received much more critically, or perhaps largely uncritically. With comments about her first semi-nude shoot since the im/famous Paper Magazine cover and her makeup and styling that strays away from the goal of being beautiful, opting for an intentionally manufactured look, the consumer public does not seem to know what to do with a Kim Kardashian who is so candid about her place within the culture that it seems even more out of touch.

In her first fully realized era since the end of her marital/creative/musical relationship with Kanye West, Kim Kardashian is situating herself at the forefront of the commentary on the industry and culture she helped create. Evident in her continued partnership with Balenciaga, with looks such as her head-to-toe covering for the Met Gala, Kardashian has become a self-aware piece of iconography for American hyperconsumption and modification. She is a loaded canvas to be a muse for artists and designers of all forms and an equal (if not contractually more powerful) creative partner. At this point, it might be more fruitful to analyze Kim and her family as contemporary gilded-age era robber barons instead of pop culture figures, all the more ubiquitous as their influence is so cross-industry that it is essentially industry-less.

This budding creative partnership between Kardashian and Cohen is one of the newest examples of the Kardashians’ role within the zeitgeist and their explicit embrace of it. The Kardashians stand at a crossroads of having all the fruits of the elusive American Dream while directly refusing the American/Protestant demand to work conventionally hard (or provide the illusion that they do) to hold a practically incomprehensible level of celebrity and wealth. And while other mega-billionaires such as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk refute and antagonize their place within youth and popular culture, Kardashian taps in and teams up with re/emerging artists to stay not only part of the conversation but in front of it. Cohen’s use of uncanny realism to create a nearly unrecognizable image from one of the world’s most recognizable faces utilizes precisely what it sets out to critique. The choice begs the question, does the use of Kim Kardashian as the face for artistic projects that comment on the mediated and modern practice of self-editing dilute the message? Or does it make it all the more poignant?

The catch of asking these types of questions, however, is that there might never be any clear answer or correct analysis. Umberto Eco, in his essay “At the Roots of the Modern Concept of Symbol,” provides some insight here. In discussing the relationship between myth and symbol, he posits, “In this case, myths develop into specific symbols, or display one or more symbols, or expand and verbalize a symbol- myth being, as someone said, the language of symbols.” He continues on to explain how myth is synonymous with text, describing that text is a manageable format for which discourse can circulate within and through. Eco ultimately concludes on the relationship between text and symbol: “when symbols are inserted into a text, there is, perhaps, no way to decide which interpretation they elicit is the ‘good one.”

Aptly labeled by the issue’s title, Kim Kardashian is a symbol of the myth of the “American dream.” The ideals of the American dream, the possibilities, and impossibilities of it, have been historically scrutinized, and the legitimacy of the myth relies almost purely on the stories of those who have “achieved it.” Moreover, Kardashian continually positions herself as an American success story, especially after she implored people to “get their ass up and work.” Nevertheless, even the staunchest believers of the great American myth find cultural figures such as Kim Kardashian (if there are even comparable cultural figures) a deplorable excuse for a symbol.

It is the temptation to analyze her existence as a symbol as either good or bad, authentic or inauthentic, brilliant or low-brow that keeps her at the forefront of American taste and headlines. But at the end of the day, what could be more undeniably American as curtailing conversations from the foundation of myths, misconceptions, panics, and paranoias towards those who stand at the most obvious forefront of its fruits?

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