Kim Kardashian’s ‘Selfish’ Turns Narcissism Into An Art Form
SERIOUS BOOK REVIEW: the infamous book of selfies is more revealing than you'd think.
Kim Kardashian West is all things to all people. It’s pretty tough being one of the most photographed women in the world, as well as a wife, mother, businesswoman, reality TV star, and aspiring style icon. To some, she’s a symbol of the collapse of Western civilisation as we know it. But with every Instagram post, every time you think the world’s finally overdosed on Kim Kardashian, her stock only rises. She could be a walking punchline, but her public image is Teflon. Maybe when capitalising on your sex tape makes you famous, nothing can bring you down. “Vulgar” isn’t in Kim’s vocabulary.
You may have mistaken Selfish, Kim’s 445-page book of selfies, for yet another assault on good taste. But Selfish never attempts to justify its existence, and therein lies its marketing genius. There are thousands of Kim K selfies online for free, and she can still sell you a book of them. In another life, Kim would make a masterful politician or poker player. Something about her utter blankness practically begs the world to weigh in on her every move — as The Atlantic’s Megan Garber put it, she’s a modern “unlikely embodiment of Duchamp’s urinal.” All publicity is good publicity. The people talk; Kim Kardashian just does.
Selfish is a work of art. Well, at least literally. Printed by the (otherwise) prestigious Rizzoli New York, at around $24 AUD, Selfish might be the first, cheapest and least pretentious art book many people ever own. It opens in 1984, with Kim’s very first selfie: her four-year-old self, and a crying Khloé, wearing her mother’s clip-on earrings. How prophetic — Kim preens for the camera, and it still causes people misery. Nothing’s changed.
Selfish might be the least ghostwritten book ever put out by a celebrity. Kim took and compiled every picture, and the childlike captions could be no one’s but her own: “I love doing photo shoots and having memories and so many different vibes.” You spend as much time looking at each picture as Kim spent taking them, but that’s the point! This book is a low-risk, guaranteed publicity win. Even its NSFW section, with pictures taken directly from the 2014 iCloud hack, is nothing you haven’t seen before. As Kim would say, “I’m not mad at them. lol.” You’ll probably never read Selfish unless you’re already Kardashian-curious; you can’t possibly offend the usual suspects more.
Like Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, her $200 million-earning mobile game, Selfish is fascinating because it’s so frivolous. As a baby-faced 2006 Kim gradually morphs into the heavily contoured, bionically proportioned Kim of today, you see the endless daily grind of the celebrity machine. “I was in Santa Barbara horseback riding with Khloé.” “I was in Africa in a diamond mine.” When Kim’s the subject of every picture, what’s the difference? The thing is, if you look at enough of anyone’s selfies, they eventually start to resemble some authentic approximation of life. Selfish is practically the consumerist lifestyle-porn Boyhood. It’s #nofilter in book form. Kim took these photos for no one but herself. Its core isn’t vanity; it’s just a woman who loves her life, glamour, and her own body. Why shouldn’t she?
Selfish has a twist ending: the girl who craved fame and fortune — SPOILERS FOR REAL LIFE — just wanted true love all along. It’s the new princess dream: baby North, Kanye as Prince Charming, an absurdly extravagant Florence wedding, and the cherry on top — the all-time most liked photo on Instagram. You have to ask: what’s the lesson here? What has Kim ever done but be rewarded for being pretty? But what have princesses, historical or Disney, ever contributed to society? Not very much! They inspire the population, or more cynically, distract the proletariat from the real problems.
But the Kardashians aren’t your typical capitalist success story. They’re vaguely ethnic — most people couldn’t point to Armenia on a map — but these days, that only makes them more American. Their lives play out as both tabloid drama and reality TV farce, but like a sitcom, everything always turns out fine. Having survived multiple marriages, divorces and a coming-out, they’re the ideal post-nuclear family. And in the middle of it all is Kim, crossing paths with every celebrity and trend of our time, like a 21st century Forrest Gump. Kim isn’t a mirror to society: she’s a front-facing camera. It’s all right there in Selfish — beyond all the glitz and glamour, the culture lurks and shifts in the background.
You tend to think of “celebrities with sex tapes” and “marketing geniuses” as mutually exclusive, but it takes an unprecedented kind of talent to go from Vivid to Vogue. As much as any figure in history, Kim Kardashian delights in fame for fame’s sake — and that’s why she’s so good at it. She doesn’t need art or songs or films to promote: she is the product. Selfish is perfectly Kardashian: totally innocuous, and inescapable. Either no one deserves their own book of selfies, or everyone deserves one. That’s not narcissistic, it’s egalitarian. We’re all selfish. Only Kim’s bold enough to embrace it.