The Kardashians want you to be reading this article. So does Donald Trump.
If you're already struggling to breathe while wearing Kim's shapewear and/or have fallen so unconditionally in love with Trump that nothing he does could change your opinion of him, they're happy you're here. But they're especially happy if you're prickling with rage, or if you're preparing to share this on your news feed, along with an angry comment about racism or cultural appropriation.
They're happy you're here because they've both figured out something about the modern media landscape and its purportedly elusive algorithm: Trump and Kim Kardashian know that they can profit off your indignation. They make money, they dominate headlines, and they win elections off the knowledge that any and all coverage, no matter how scathing, will benefit their careers.
This week's Kardashian publicity ploy: Kim has released a new lingerie line called Kimono. This has sparked instant rage from Japan, as well as anyone who has remotely paid attention to a single headline or news report or tweet about the problems with cultural appropriation.
A kimono, of course, is a gown tied with a sash that has been worn by people in Japan for centuries. To appropriate a kimono when you don't belong to its culture of origins is bad enough, but to package it and sell it for profit is an even more despicable act. Kim and her team's actions are, far and away, much worse than those of the white girl who received widespread backlash for wearing a traditional Chinese cheongsam to her prom.
That act, though not excusable, was one 18-year-old's poorly thought-out decision. In contrast, Kim's brand had to be conceptualized, vetted, marketed, and handled by hundreds if not thousands of people. Many of these people are extremely intelligent and well-versed in the ways of media and the social world, including Mrs. Kardashian West herself. They knew what they were doing and went ahead and did it anyway, applying for trademarks for the name "Kimono" in the United States, as well as "Kimono Body," "Kimono Intimates," and "Kimono World."
It's insidious—and brilliant. If Kim had simply released an underwear line, maybe it would've sold well among its target demographic; perhaps it would've provoked a few tweets from Jameela Jamil about the body-shaming nature of shapewear clothing. But now, because of this controversy, everyone with an Internet connection knows that Kim has released a new product. Everyone's sharing it, reading it, spreading it around like it's the plague in 14th century England (or its 21st century equivalent: the meme)—and so now it will reach people who might otherwise not have cared but who will now roll their eyes and say something about special snowflakes. Ideally, they'll buy the Kimono line out of spite and wear it as a kind of twisted testament to their all-American brand of kommodified, kolonialist, kapitalist freedom.
This marketing strategy is actually quite similar to the tactics used by the Trump campaign in 2016, tactics that the president will continue to use as he launches his campaign for 2020. It goes without saying that Trump's brand runs on a steady diet of outrage. It works: Studies have shown that negative press coverage helped elect Trump and has helped normalize him throughout his reign. In addition, the media's obsession with his personal controversies has distracted people's attention from natural and political disasters, as well as, god forbid, actual policy reform.
Donald Trump has built an empire by being more of a cultural icon than a politician, providing more personal drama and generating more rabid media coverage than arguably any Hollywood movie star ever has. His ammunition is controversy: His end goal is the spotlight, at any cost.
He shares this with the Kardashians, who have been open about their addiction to any kind of media attention. In 2015, Kim told Rolling Stone, "We'd go anywhere and everywhere just to be seen. We knew exactly where to go, where to be seen, how to have something written about you."
Image via E! News
For journalists and people against bigotry, hate, and abuse of power in general, this presents an infinite loop. To remain silent would be to ignore atrocity, yet providing more negative coverage fuels the fire. In short, we are running in circles.
So here's another article about the Kardashians and Trump, to be sent out into the labyrinth of the Internet, where it will join the ranks of millions of thinkpieces that burned brightly for a moment, perhaps sparked a flicker of contempt or conversation, and fizzled out to rest in the graves where all thinkpieces older than one week go to die. They'll be covered up by more outrage, more controversy. Fresh cuts will open elsewhere, distracting everyone from the wounds at hands. In the end, we'll all be left with the scars.
Change, if it's possible, will only occur when we open our eyes and see that we are building the walls of our own cage. Perhaps if we realize that we are being played by the same game, we could begin to dismantle this relentless carousel by forgoing brief flares of outrage for critical inquiry and ongoing protests against systemic issues.