Last night Paper magazine released two of their latest covers, one featuring Kim Kardashian and the other one featuring an even more famous celebrity: Kim Kardashian’s butt. They were emblazoned with the words “Break the Internet,” and they certainly did. The images instantly shot to the highest currency in today’s media: they were trending. But that’s pretty much all they were. There is nothing behind that butt other than it being a really nice butt. That is the end–pun intended–of it.
This is not the first time that we have seen Kim Kardashian’s posterior. And it is not the first time that we have seen Kim Kardashian naked on the cover of a magazine. Strangely enough, she suggested back in 2010, the last time she was naked on a cover, that she wouldn’t pose nude again. She already broke that promise once this year, baring it all for British GQ. We had to know that it wouldn’t be true in hind sight (get it?).
The funny thing about Kim’s latest butt-shot is that all it is intended to do is create a frenzy, much like her famous “belfie” (which is a butt selfie for those of you at home who have better things to pay attention to). There is no reason Kim Kardashian wants to show off her ass or #BreakTheInternet other than because she can, she is expected to, and we fall for the trap every damn time.
It’s really provocation for provocation’s sake, the cheapest kind of stunt. Miley Cyrus, pop music’s current firebrand, was naked on the cover of Rolling Stone licking her shoulder. She revealed less physically, but more intellectually. It was that tongue hanging out, a pose she has repeated again and again while twerking. These moves, and, of course her memorable VMA performance with Robin Thicke, made us all think about cultural appropriation, female sexuality, third wave feminism, and what is appropriate behavior for a celebrity with such a large fan base of young women. Kim Kardashian’s butt on Paper magazine only makes us think about how it looks like a glazed Krispy Kreme donut.
Speaking of pop music provocation, this is nothing that Madonna didn’t do better, first, or smarter several decades ago. Everything from writhing around in her wedding dress on the first ever VMAs to her book Sex was pushing the envelope, but it was always with a purpose. It was about freeing herself from the shackles of the Catholic Church and conventional morality and showing the world that women can own their sexuality without being exploited.
And these aren’t the only women. Joan Rivers (RIP) was telling jokes that often raised controversy to show that if we can laugh at the Holocaust or 9/11, we can ease the pain we still feel about it. Sarah Silverman, another brilliant comic whose mouth frequently gets her in trouble, uses her jokes about racism, sexism, and homophobia to show the world how absurd all of those things really are when you examine them closely.
These are all people that think about what effect their actions are going to cause and see some sort of greater good by causing controversy. Kim Kardashian shows off her butt because she knows that people are going to freak out about it. Maybe it’s because Miley grew up forced into a sort of bright-eyed decorum by the suits at Disney that she knows how to rebel against something. Madonna had the Church and Rivers and Silverman have the male-centric world of standup comedy. They all have a barrier that they’re butting (ha!) up against and trying to tear down. What sort of obstacles did Kim, a pretty, rich girl from Beverly Hills, ever have to fight against?
Seriously, though, this is the only social currency she has in the world. I’m not going to break out that old saw that Kim Kardashian has no talent, but she has no occupation like Miley, Madonna, Joan, or Sarah. She has no outlet to express herself and keep herself relevant other than a highly scripted reality show with sinking ratings and her image. Remember, she is a celebrity whose initial fame, after being Paris Hilton’s closet organizer, was predicated on her having a sex tape. Kim Kardashian can only peddle in her body, and her ass is the most valuable part of that body.
Still, we follow it because that is what she does. It’s perfect that she’s married to Kanye West, whose hyperbole are so outrageous that we now just roll our eyes at them. It’s just Kanye being Kanye, much like Kim applying a liberal coat of oil to her derriere and slapping it on a magazine cover is just Kim being Kim. These two are all just provocation and bluster, repeated images that seem to offer us some sort of truth or insight but are really just self serving.
Kim Kardashian’s butt is the biological equivalent of click-bait. We can’t help but pay attention to it, but we’re always upset by the lack of substance. 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.
Brian Moylan is a writer and pop culture junkie who lives in New York. His work has appeared in Gawker, VICE, New York magazine, and a few other safe-for-work publications.