The 21st Century Icon
Donning a cream colored wedding gown, million dollar diamond ring, and a tender embrace from fiancé Kanye West, Kim Kardashian strikes a warm, yet powerful glare on the cover of the April 2014 issue of Vogue. Recognition from the now 122 year old, high-fashion magazine is a milestone in the careers of public figures. To secure a cover photo is more than an admission that one has quote unquote “made it” – it is the public’s reception of an icon. However, the harsh criticism Vogue received for its decision to put Kardashian on the cover speaks to the changing perception of an icon.
According to Condé Nast, the media company which owns Vogue, 65% of Vogue subscribers have attended college and have a median household income of $58,612. This high-society readership is rejecting Kim Kardashian’s cover, calling her unworthy of such an honor. The factor of worthiness is intriguing because by all sense of the word, Kardashian is beyond qualified and worthy of Vogue. The daughter of O.J. Simpson’s infamous lawyer, Robert Kardashian, Kim has lived in the public eye for the majority of her life. However, her real stardom is open to ridicule as it came from her participation in then boyfriend, R&B singer Ray J’s publicized sex tape.
To recover from a shamed event like this is impressive for a private individual, but in the limelight this feat is near impossible. Kim, however, has done it flawlessly. As one of the most successful reality television stars to date, she has a massive following which has allowed her to expand the Kardashian brand toward the fashion industry. She is a household name and the public is heavily invested in what Kim Kardashian will do next. All of these successful business ventures and large fandom should deem Kim worthy of Vogue’s cover, but the controversy still stands.
Despite her accomplishments, critics say Kim Kardashian lacks talent and bring up her sexual history as proof of her tasteless behavior. We can classify the latter argument as “slut-shaming” and thus dismiss it. As to her lack of talent, it’s true. Kim does not have a body of work whether through film, music or athletics that one can point to and identify as her “talent.” This is an out dated definition of what it means to be an icon. Kim Kardashian is an icon for the 21st Century, an icon for Generation Y.
Kim embodies Generation Y in a way most celebrities do not. In large part her success is due to her use of social media – a forum that the millennial generation has conquered. How Cool Brands Stay Hot a company that studies consumers and markets published an infographic called “Millennials & Social Media” by Joeri Van den Bergh. This infographic claims that:
more than 8 out of 10 Gen Y Internet users are members of at least 1 social network” and “around 80% of GenYers logs on daily”
this means that Generation Y is constantly connected and communicating with each other and Kim has joined the conversation.
Kim’s social media accounts bring new meaning to the title of her hit show “Keeping up with the Kardashians.” On Twitter alone Kim has a total of 17,200 tweets and has reached 20.7 million followers, a number which can easily be doubled, if not tripled because of the retweet feature. She is an active tweeter and responsive to those who seek her out. Her level of connectedness with Generation Y is, in this regard, personal. Further, with 13 million followers and rising, we cannot discount her presence on Instagram. In a recent Huffington Post article titled, “Teens Are Leaving Facebook for Facebook,” Bianca Bosker speaks to the prominence of Instagram. Bosker says:
For the first time, teens now consider Instagram the most important social network on the Internet, according to a semi-annual survey conducted by Piper Jaffray,
with this information, it is grossly inaccurate to claim that no one cares about Kim Kardashian. Bosker goes on to say that regardless of which particular social media teens are using, they will continue to use this forum and Joeri Van den Bergh agrees showing that:
92% of Generation Y has no intention of stopping their social media membership.
For Generation Y, an iconic status is not limited to spectrum of talent. Instead a new standard for an icon emerges – an icon of the digital age.
The backlash Kim faces is similar to the arguments used to scrutinize Generation Y. Social media addicted, talentless, self-entitled are all attributes associated with Generation Y. For someone who has built and maintains her image through social media, Kim Kardashian’s fame shows that her critics are reluctant to accept Generation Y trends as legitimate. The outrage at her Vogue cover photo is what happens when the two separate worlds of high-fashion elitism and Generation Y attempt to meet. This is not to say that prior icons whom Vogue has placed on its cover do not use social media. Mega pop star, Katy Perry, featured on the July 2013 issue of Vogue has 52.3 million followers on Twitter, the most in Twitter’s history. However, the difference between Perry’s acceptance by Vogue readers and Kim’s rejection exposes a cult of talent which many feel Generation Y is subsequently ruining.
To some degree it is shocking that Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue and seemingly far out of touch with the millennial generation, would accept Kim Kardashian as an icon. Wintour is known for her exclusivity, especially in regards to Vogue, but she is also known for her vision. In response to the controversy she released a statement quoted by Huffington Post:
Part of the pleasure of editing Vogue…is being able to feature those who define the culture at any given moment, who stir things up, whose presence in the world shapes the way it looks and influences the way we see it.
Anna Wintour understands our shifting cultural values. This issue is bigger than Kim Kardashian’s Vogue cover; we are witnessing a social transformation. Social media is widening the doorway to fame. Those who were previously denied access can seek public acceptance through their own means. Kim Kardashian is an icon who represents our new culture.
 Leibovitz, A (2014), Vogue Magazine, photograph, viewed 17 April 2014. Available at: http://edition.cnn.com/2014/03/21/showbiz/celebrity-news-gossip/kim-kardashian-vogue-cover-april/