The Monitor is a weekly column devoted to everything happening in the WIRED world of culture, from movies to memes, TV to Twitter.
Even the few people who don’t follow Kim Kardashian West’s wildly popular social media accounts often get wrapped up in her life. The lives of her and her ilk have become aspirational as a result of the celebrity culture Kardashian herself helped create. Thanks to Instagram, Twitter, and Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Kim and her family have built their careers by championing a lifestyle—fashion, travel, face contouring—that few people could ever realize for themselves. That’s all well and good—to stan is to peer longingly into the universes of the idolized—but at a time when a pandemic is taking lives, raising unemployment, and keeping people locked indoors, sharing how good one has it can seem a bit gauche.
That, dear reader, is the lesson Kardashian herself learned this week as she entered her 41st year.
It started, as these things often do, with a tweet. Kardashian, who has been on a social media blitz in recent days chronicling the events of her 40th birthday celebrations, posted a series of photos from a recent trip with “some of the people who have helped shape me into the woman I am today.” The pictures show her friends and family traipsing in a tropical location, maskless, enjoying what appears to be a lavish vacation. The event made her feel “humbled and blessed,” Kardashian wrote, adding “there is not a single day that I take for granted, especially during these times when we are all reminded of the things that truly matter … Before Covid, I don’t think any of us truly appreciated what a simple luxury it was to be able to travel and be together with family and friends in a safe environment.”
You see where this is going, right? For anyone unable to travel, for those who are sick or fearing coronavirus infection, for those who didn’t have “simple” luxuries before Covid-19 and likely won’t have them after, this felt tone-deaf at best, cruel at worst. It had all of the self-awareness of celebrities singing “Imagine” in their palatial quarantine digs and saying “we are in this together.” Then came the kicker. Above a pair of photos showing various members of her crew enjoying the revelry, Kardashian wrote: “We danced, rode bikes, swam near whales, kayaked, watched a movie on the beach and so much more. I realize that for most people, this is something that is so far out of reach right now, so in moments like these, I am humbly reminded of how privileged my life is.” Also, “After 2 weeks of multiple health screens and asking everyone to quarantine, I surprised my closest inner circle with a trip to a private island where we could pretend things were normal just for a brief moment in time.”
Yes, a private island. Again, it’s the simple luxuries, the normal things. When I say Twitter was not about to let this privilege go unchecked, I mean it. Within hours, users began posting that last bit of text next to their own interpretations of Kardashian’s tweet. Some posted images from Jurassic Park, others from Game of Thrones or Cast Away. Still others pointed out Kardashian’s obtuse insensitivity with replies like, “Happy birthday. I hope someone got you an alphabet book as a gift, so you can learn to read the room.”
As Twitter drubbings go, it was pretty standard. But it also pointed to something deeper when it comes to comfort in the time of coronavirus. As the weeks of quarantine have turned into months, and as the US faces a new uptick in Covid-19 cases (not to mention the most fraught election in recent history), the media people turn to varies widely. Some folks devour 24-hour news, searching for answers; some watch documentaries or read histories about pandemics past, seeking clues to the future; others merely want escapism. The latter seems fairly common. Some may get lost in films or TV with even uglier truths than the current ones, but lighthearted fare about the days of our lives pre-2020 can provide a nice reprieve from the dark timeline the world is on now.