Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, Privilege and the American Dream

Kim Kardashian HollywoodWhat is there to say about Kim Kardashian: Hollywood? If you’re anything like me, you’ve had a celebrity riding around in your pocket for the last month or so, jangling alongside your car keys and loose change. My celebrity is named Eve; she’s an A-list up-and-comer with just shy of 100 million Twitter followers, a girlfriend named Kara (though whenever she calls, her name comes up as “Richard”) and great difficulty remembering what product she’s shilling at her various personal appearances.

What is there to say about Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, then? Quite a lot, apparently – when the game was released a month and a bit ago, the internet was inundated with thinkpieces of every stripe. Some took the opportunity to balance their critique of the game by laying into cultural-punching-bag Kim herself, whose wealth and success apparently encapsulates the entirety of modern vacuity. Others commended the game’s progressive take on sexuality, or noted how hard it tried to present being “famous for being famous” as hard work (or hard gork). Most of them simply chronicled a couple hours spent playing the game in the misplaced belief that it’d be interesting.

So maybe there isn’t a great deal to say about Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, anymore – which is why I ended up giving up on the idea pitching this piece to somewhere that might actually pay for it, as I’m a couple months late. But I’ve been playing this damn thing for weeks now, mindlessly checking it every few hours to get that inane dopamine rush as I accrue a few hundred thousand more followers, and I think I have something to add to the conversation.

To clarify, I do like the game, dopamine rush and professionally-pretty graphics aside. By now you’re probably aware there’s more to it than just another money-gouging social game for teenage girls (though, yes, it’s that), with some trenchant – if relatively shallow – insight into the “fame game” rattling around its interior. I’m not interested in dismissing the game as frivolous fluff with some superior “satire,” but Kim Kardashian: Hollywood’s aforementioned progressiveness and its insight into fame are limited by the app’s need to serve as branding for the Kardashian Empire.

Megan Farokhmanesh’s Polygon piece I linked earlier described Hollywood as “the most progressive game of the summer” because it gave players the option of dating guys or girls, regardless of their character’s gender. I appreciate Farokhmanesh’s argument, but when you can praise a game for simply acknowledging and tolerating the existence of same-sex relationships, it says a lot about the stagnancy and heteronormativity of the gaming medium (in case #GamerGate hadn’t already brought that to your attention).

I don’t mean to dismiss the ability to play a girl who dates girls, a guy who dates guys, or any kind of combination in the game. This is a good thing. But “groundbreaking”? I can’t agree. For one thing, the same options are provided in BioWare games – such as Dragon Age and Mass Effect – that predate Hollywood. More importantly, though, the option to elect your own sexuality – fluid or otherwise – ignores any of the social obstacles associated with such choices. Where are the grotty tabloid magazines running stories like “Is Kim K’s New Protégé A … Lesbian?”

The game might not care who you’re dating – which is great – but for most people, society does. Not to mention the customisability of the game is inherently reductive; anyone uncomfortable with the notion of two people who happened to share the same bits kissing never has to worry about it. Of course, as a product, the decision to avoid homophobia (or any similar prejudices) makes sense. A game including homophobic characters could easily be misconstrued as a homophobic game, and given Kim Kardashian: Hollywood exists primarily as branding for Kim Kardashian herself, you can see why they wouldn’t have taken such a risk.

Kim Kardashian on W magazine coverThe game’s role as an advertisement for Kim KardashianTM isn’t exactly subtle. She makes regular appearances in the game proper, rescuing your character from a life of retail drudgery when you offer her a free dress and ushering you along your path to super-stardom. Normally when you chat to characters in the game, money erupts forth from them as if from a punctured piñata; Kim, on the other hand, wafts rewards like flower petals caught in a gentle summer breeze.

It’s also evident in the design of the game itself, which sees you rushing from photoshoot to catwalk to television advertisement, the blue lightning bolts in your energy bar rapidly dwindling as you try to keep up with the fast-paced expectations of fame. That kind of fame, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood argues, is hard work. You don’t get to be this kind of success simply by filming a sex tape; you have to put in real effort. That’s certainly true; Kim Kardashian’s meteoric rise is undoubtedly born of intelligence and exertion. But could a lowly retail attendant (with magazine-ready looks, admittedly) really rise to the A-list with a few photoshoots (not to mention a very public spat with Ms Willow Pape)?

Maybe. Anything is possible. But Kim Kardashian lofty position at the pinnacle of pop culture is hardly due to nothing but hard work and talent; as Famous in 12’s “finale” pointed out, Kim Kardashian’s “father was a famous lawyer – defended OJ Simpson – you had Bruce Jenner, a famous Olympian … it wasn’t just Kim doing it on her own. She had connections.” (Not to mention her time spent shadowing Paris Hilton.) You see, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is custom-made to conceal the role of privilege in success. It reinforces that oh-so-American myth of the “self-made man” (or woman) whose triumphs are born entirely out of hard work and dedication.

Yes, such people exist – but they’re the exception, and it’s this kind of thinking that sees under-privileged Americans in favour of tax cuts for the rich because they fully believe, one day soon, they’ll meet their own Kim K equivalent and rocket up the A-list. It’s a fantasy, that ignores all the privilege associated with being born in the right place, to the right people, with the right appearance and ability (and sexuality). Kim Kardashian: Hollywood fully embodies the American dream, but let’s not forget how rarely such dreams are realised.

One thought on “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, Privilege and the American Dream

  1. Something I’d considered but didn’t mention here – there’s probably an argument to be made that the “pay to get more resources” system does comment on privilege to some extent; basically, if you got the money, then you will succeed faster in the game. But given you can do everything without paying (and believe me, I haven’t put a cent in the damn thing), failure isn’t really an option so I’m not sure it holds up. I do find it interesting how the game insidiously conditions you to not care about anyone lower on “the list” than you (ie once you hit the A-list, why would you ever talk to a D-lister?).

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