18 April 2021
Indulging in a celebrity gossip magazine is a bit like indulging in crack. It instantly stimulates the brain’s pleasure centre, leaves you desperate for more, and provokes a lot of judgemental looks on the train. And I’m an unashamed fan. Of gossip, that is. When I’m hungover, feeling low, or mentally drained from a hard day at work I’ll treat myself to a Who, or an NW to read on my commute home.
It’s not as though I choose to have lowbrow taste. On my bedside table is the Colson Whitehead Pulitzer Prize winner ‘The Underground Railroad’– which I’ll open as soon as I get the time. I’ll start the day reading world news online- before my attention is cruelly snatched by the entertainment and showbiz section. Once, when stranded at a retreat without WIFI I devoured Stan Grant’s biography- a searing and powerful statement on Indigenous identity in modern Australia- in a week. Then the retreat ended and I was straight onto Instagram to binge the celebrity content of which I’d been starved, the scandal of Khloe Kardashian’s photoshopped thighs replacing reflections on race and identity.
It’s something I’m working on. But be honest, deep down, which of these stories piques your interest?
Yes, they’re shallow, and mean spirited, and voyeuristic. But try telling me you didn’t click on the one about Jane Fonda.
But I’m setting myself a hard limit. I will not click on any link or buy any magazine that contains a story about Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s custody arrangements.
The five Kardashian-West children, whose names and ages I can recall with worrying little thought, are aged between one and seven years. And they’re probably some of the most famous kids in the world, born to the King and Queen of what is part family, part billion-dollar business, and part dynasty. When North, the eldest, was born designers including Hermes and Stella McCartney sent custom made baby blankets and booties, while Kim and Kanye’s celeb “couple friends” Jay Z and Beyonce gifted the newborn a $12,000 USD Swarovski crystal-studded highchair. At the age of two, the Kardashian-West’s second born joined his elder sister and dad Kanye on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar, while the littlest Kardashian-Wests Chicago and Psalm have already experienced more luxury- think five star accommodation on private Caribbean islands- in their young lives than most of us could imagine.
As for what their future holds? Who knows- but we might find out sooner than we expect. North is only a few years younger than Kim’s sister Kylie was when she made her television career (or should that be Kareer?) debut as a full time cast member on Keeping up with the Kardashians at the age of nine. (Kylie, the wealthiest Kardashian with an estimated net worth of $900 million, is now raising her own little girl in the spotlight, bringing the family business closed circle.) The lives of these kids are, I say with no exaggeration, bonkers.
At the same time, right now they’re experiencing something entirely relatable that no amount of money or social media clout can fix. Their mum and dad are getting divorced.
Whatever your thoughts on Kimye the couple (of which I have many- but that’s a whole other article), parents separating is an objectively sad thing. I didn’t experience it personally, but I watched a lot of nineties kid’s movies. And on a slightly more serious note than The Parent Trap, I also happened to do work experience in a family law firm and observed quite a few parental responsibility matters.
I’m in no position to judge any parent’s choices (really though, I struggle to keep my plants alive), but what I did learn from my time in the family law courts is that being the subject of adversarial proceedings hurts kids. Knowing that your parents are fighting, knowing that you’re the reason, and not knowing what your future will look like is destabilising and confusing for kids. Even a phrase like “custody battle”, or “fight for custody,” reinforces the idea of children as property to be lost or won, to take from the other party or to have taken from you. (In recognition of this, Australia’s family law system actually uses the term “live with” instead of “custody” and “spend time with” instead of “access”. The US doesn’t bother with such euphemisms.)
It would be great if Kim and Kanye figure out parenting arrangements in a co-operative way. But the obsessive media will latch on to the story regardless- it already has. And despite my every instinct urging me to click on any headline that contains the word “Kardashian,” I’m doing my best not to get involved..
Kim doesn’t necessarily discourage interest in her children’s lives. Her social media accounts are full of cute family photos, and the kids have even made brief appearances on Keeping up with the Kardashians.
But Kim (Kanye is not as big an Instagrammer) shows us the sanitised, Disney-fied face of parenthood- birthday parties, cousin playdates (if there’s one way to guarantee likes it’s Kardashian babies squared) and adorable outfits. She doesn’t show us the tantrums and the fights, the disappointment and the dysfunction. Of course not; what mother would? And there’d be no public appetite for it even if she did. Would there?
If that’s the case, apparently no-one told the tabloids that ran stories (accompanied by paparazzi photos) of a six-year-old Suri Cruise’s fractured relationship with her allegedly absent father. Or in even weirder scenes, speculated on the gender identity of one of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s pre-teen children (in doing so, shockingly lacking some of the delicacy befitting this sensitive subject). The thought of grown adults monetising young children without consent or consideration for their wellbeing is creepy at the best of times. But when the story involves a child in trauma, it reaches a whole new level of wrong.
Fame encourages the rapid fluctuation between idolisation and demonization- both of which dehumanise. It can therefore be hard for us to sympathise with the offspring of famous people that appear on social media and magazine covers and see them as real kids, deserving of the same protections and boundaries as anyone else their age. Or maybe we assume that their wealth makes up for any amount of hurt feelings- as though all children from rich backgrounds grow up perfectly well adjusted.
The whole Kardashian brand is making audiences feel a part of their big, crazy family. And because they let us in, we feel like we have a right to be there.
But at some point the stories we create about their lives say more about us than they do them. So in a break from tradition, let’s treat the Kardashian-West kids like actual children and give them a shot at as normal a childhood as possible as they navigate the inevitable sadness and uncertainty of growing up. To do otherwise would be, in the words of Kim Kardashian herself, like, literally not cool.
Girls Locker Room Talk: art, articles and entertainment by women, for women (and everyone else)