Here's how Kim Kardashian will profit from her nude feud
The publicity-hungry Kardashian has gone a selfie too far for some people, but it's just business, says Hannah Betts
Anyone who keeps an eye on matters zeitgeist will know that a war is currently being waged over the broadcasting of a naked self-portrait (or 'selfie') by social media doyenne Kim Kardashian. Selfies, Twitter spats, cottage-industry porn - these are realms most of us do not usually dirty our hands with. However, sometimes the world of social media throws up issues that are greater than the sum of its (over?exposed) parts.
The history of this nude feud runs thus. At 12.11am on Monday, 35-year-old Kardashian published a naked selfie on her Twitter feed, rendered only just decent by the strategic use of two censorship bars, and bearing the legend: "When you're like I have nothing to wear LOL (sic)".
As an image, it was more naturalistic than the greasy-buttocked shot that appeared on the cover of Paper magazine in 2014, above the incitement: "Break the Internet" - though, given that it achieved the same ends, it seems safe to wager it was just as tactical in intent.
Said shot showed Kardashian preening in her bathroom mirror in the ample-bosomed, minuscule-waisted, fecundly hipped guise that has haunted the popular imagination since she first came to fame via a leaked sex tape in February 2007. That October, she and her family launched a reality-television series, Keeping Up With The Kardashians (which airs on the US cable channel E!, but is avidly watched in Ireland), which she immediately followed by posing naked for Playboy.
In 2013, she began a relationship with rapper Kanye West, a man who wasted no time persuading her to simulate sex topless on a motorbike for his video accompanying the ditty Bound 2.
The pair are thought to have netted around $21m in TV and magazine rights to their 2014 nuptials and by 2015, Kardashian was reported to be the world's highest-paid reality TV star, with total earnings exceeding $53m (€47.5m).
All of which is to say that we know what we're getting with KK and her alliterative clan: Kourtney, Khloe, Kendall and Kylie. These are women who wield their bodies as marketing tools, whether in the world of tabloid television and social media, or on the catwalk in the case of fashion favourite Kendall (who modelled a rather more demure khaki Parka for Miu Miu at the close of Paris Fashion Week). Their bodies are their inventions, trademarks and commodities.
Kim is chief sister in this sorority, a woman whose steatopygia (or sizeable posterior) recalls not merely the 19th-century phenomenon, the Hottentot Venus, but the paleolithic figurines found across Europe and Eurasia with their exaggerated secondary sexual characteristics.
As actress Constance Bennett sighed on viewing Marilyn Monroe's derriere: "There's a broad with a future behind her." In this case, Kim's message seemed clear: three months after giving birth to her second child (a son named Saint, to follow a daughter named North), she was keen to remind the world that she was still one hot mama.
Curiously, for behaviour that might be deemed "business as usual" (especially for a woman who published a 448-page coffee-table compendium of her favourite 'selfies' last year), over the following 24 hours Kardashian's post triggered an eruption of distaste from an unlikely alliance of characters. These included young actress Chloe Grace Moretz, old hack Piers Morgan and comedienne of a certain age Bette Midler, a woman well-versed in saleable vulgarity herself, who waded in with the observation: "If Kim wants us to see a part of her we've never seen, she's gonna have to swallow the camera."
Kardashian responded with killer put-downs to all. Moreover, in a sign that someone in her team boasts a gender studies qualification, she then unleashed a plea for the world to respect her right to self-exposure on what was, by this point, International Women's Day.
This 21st-century version of De Profundis began: "Hey, guys. I wanted to write a post elaborating on my tweets last night... I'm a bad role model for being proud of my body? I am empowered by my body. I am empowered by my sexuality. I am empowered by feeling comfortable in my skin... And I hope that through this platform I have been given, I can encourage the same empowerment for girls and women all over the world."
Our heroine continued: "...The life lessons I've learned from my sisters... I will pass along to my daughter. I want her to be proud of who she is. I want her to be comfortable in her body. I don't want her to grow up in a world where she is made to feel less-than for embracing everything it means to be a woman. It's 2016. The body-shaming and slut-shaming - it's like, enough is enough. I will not live my life dictated by the issues you have with my sexuality... I am a mother. I am a wife, a sister, a daughter, an entrepreneur and I am allowed to be sexy. #happyinternational womensday"
The key word here is, of course, "entrepreneur". Whatever else she is - mother, wife, sister, daughter - Kardashian markets her body as a postmodern event that everyone can buy a piece of.
Kim is more plucked of hairline than a medieval queen, more post-procedure than the performance artist Orlan, whose "carnal art" in the 1990s saw her surgically acquire the chin of Botticelli's Venus and the forehead of the Mona Lisa. Kardashian is a self-created, self-marketed "self" - a parodoxically beautiful fiction that she authors, broadcasts and profits from.
This may not be a form of "empowerment" we would want for "girls and women all over the world", not least on International Women's Day. However, it is a million miles away from the violation of the privacy of 100 celebrity women - including Jennifer Lawrence, Rihanna and, yes, one Kim Kardashian - that occurred in September 2014, when Apple's iCloud passwords were hacked and the stars' naked pictures spread across the web.
As Lawrence railed in Vanity Fair: "It's my body, and it should be my choice... It is not a scandal. It is a sex crime... Just the fact that somebody can be sexually exploited and violated and the first thought that crosses somebody's mind is to make a profit from it.... I just can't imagine being that detached from humanity."
In Kardashian's case, it is she doing the profiting - not carelessly, but calculatedly - and we, the viewer, being exploited, as was demonstrated nowhere more clearly than in the deal she struck over the very sex tape that started her career.
When Vivid Entertainment distributed this film in February 2007, Kardashian sued for invasion of privacy, arguing that selling this material was "despicable".
Twelve weeks later, however, she was prepared to rest content after a $5m settlement, with a Vivid spokesperson commenting: "We've always wanted to work something out with Kim, so she could share in the profits."
Profit (and who gets it), rather than privacy, is the only issue of import in Kardashian world.
In the politics of the selfie, this is the contemporary 'superstar' we are dealing with - knowingly sexualised, commercially astute and pouting all the way to the bank.