Thanks again to everyone who participated in the contest.
Congratulations, Chase Javier Goitia for a great piece of work.
In Our Image: Pop Culture Idolatry
Chase Javier Goitia
Designer at atelier subterra
Though both Kim Kardashian and Lena Dunham arise from the same culture at large, that is to say an affluent slice of society in the United States, they represent markedly differing cohorts who exist as foils in the same space.
Kardashian is a figurehead of the old Hollywood society scene carried to exhaustion, where her public persona is a carefully orchestrated facade of public appearances, tabloid stunts, and fashion braggadocio. We understand innately that there exists a separation between who she may be as a human being and the way she presents herself to us, in fact we know that any information about her personal life is either scandalously leaked or is groomed by PR, ergo no information is trustworthy.
Dunham, by contrast, represents the derivative of that cultural paradigm, deconstructing it in her professional works as well as her public persona, which is approachable and casual even though it would be naive to assume that such a tone lacks intent. Her show “Girls” exists as a bricolage of Gen Y culture; raised on the Internet, wary of popularity, and dismissive of Hollywood’s stunts. Casting a critical eye but simultaneously enjoying mainstream events ‘ironically,’ her works elucidate the struggle of millennials to find authenticity in their lives and find their place in a world created by and for prior generations.
Kardashian is a point of crossover as her fame rests on her symbolic existence rather than on works of intrinsic merit, but her relationship with self-proclaimed genius and hipster hero Kanye West raises questions: Is there substance to Kim Kardashian that the paparazzi and reality TV cameras won’t show? If Yeezy is such a genius, how is he so easily seduced by her T&A and diva lifestyle?
Kim Kardashian’s sex tape is one in a long tradition of young women ravenous for fame, initially considered a scandal and then spun to her advantage as it helped establish her as a contemporary sex symbol. But if a Lena Dunham sex tape were leaked, would anyone care? “Girls” and “Tiny Furniture” feature such unabashed nudity by the characters she plays that there might be no scandal— her position as a feminist spokesperson allows her to admit that she enjoys sex and isn’t ashamed of her body. Young women may covet Kim’s curves but it’s Lena’s confidence and positivity that allows many twenty-somethings to identify with her; Lena’s stardom could appear reluctant if not for the fact that she helped create the environment she now enjoys.
The facade Dunham has crafted brings viewers into a purportedly private world where her insecurities and flaws are evident, where her femaleness isn’t tied to her desirability by men or her privilege, but it is her privilege, namely her family background, that has afforded her this opportunity. Dunham’s first work “Tiny Furniture” was made for less than 50k in her parents’ NYC flat, starring a cast of her friends. Nevertheless, the fact that she was able to produce a slice of her inner thoughts, and in so doing contribute a previously-absent voice to a generation, is a victory.
Kardashian flaunts her privilege loudly in the form of her beauty and wealth every time she appears on a red carpet in an outfit whose value approaches that of Brooklyn real estate, and Dunham flaunts hers subtly in candid Instagrams with comedy luminaries and young New York elite, but both manage to conceal their real selves from the public. Kim’s fame is escapist while Lena’s is populist. Both women appear to enjoy their lives and allow us to bask in the reflected glow.
The further thoughts here are that while both Kim and Lena are obviously considering the way they appear to the public, and doing so in different ways, who holds the stronger position? Because Lena uses the way she presents herself in public to analyze and dissect her insecurities, versus Kim’s plasticized version of her real self, is her glasnost actually a shrewd diversion? We know Kim has had plastic surgery and public meltdowns and is vain because that’s who she needs to be, but Lena doesn’t; she can make an introspective, self-critical show like Girls and use it for her own benefit (both as a platform and as working therapy), and isn’t that less secure, paradoxically?
What we can be certain of: both Dunham and Kardashian are public figures whose clever management of their self-presentation allow each to remain obscured from our scrutiny, but who each serve as a totem of a particular sort of fan. It is the archetypal complement between the extraverted, glam-obsessed that identifies with Kim, and the neurotic, earnest-to-a-fault that champions Lena. Our culture needs both because both those archetypes are in everyone, in varying proportions.
Which is to say: we created those goddesses in our own image.