Fame. Something very few of us get to experience, yet we all feel we have a stake in. How you earn it, what you do with it, when it's over – it's our attention that provides it, so we act like we own it, like we make the rules. And if there's one star we love to throw the rulebook at every time she puts a foot "wrong", it's Kim Kardashian.
Oh, I get it, it's hard for you to feel sorry for Kim K, who was robbed at gunpoint in the early hours of Monday morning in what the press is calling her "discreet luxury residence" in Paris. Kim made it all look so easy, didn't she? Daughter of OJ's best buddy, Paris Hilton's hapless acolyte, sex-tape survivor and now, somehow and much to the rage of much of the general public, wealthy businesswoman with brands and editors eating out of her hand.
Kim's wealth and celebrity status has always been dismissed as "famous just for being famous" or "an example of everything that's wrong with modern fame", like it hasn't always happened exactly that way. Marilyn Monroe didn't just cough and giggle and become famous overnight you know – it took years of good PR, bad PR and hard work.
The reaction to Kim's robbery, in which, reportedly, millions of pounds' worth of jewellery was stolen by armed men dressed as police officers, while Kim was tied up in the bathroom, has been predictable. No Instagram filter is as powerful as schadenfreude when it comes to bleaching out the nasty stuff to get to the result you want. A victory for the common man! 1-0 to proper celebrity earned through "talent"! She's rich, anyway, so what does it matter? Vacuous people deserved to be robbed! It's all there, racing to the bottom at breakneck speed, taking logic, reason and empathy with it.
"Is this really news?" people cry. Not only are we obsessed by ranking celebrity, we assume we control the news agenda too. Never mind that Kim Kardashian is one of the most recognisable faces in popular culture – what about Syria? Well, believe it or not, human brains are very complex machines; there may well be room to think about both. And the cold, hard fact that many of us struggle with is that news strikes a chord more if it's relatable, the more we can visualise the event. Imagining the destruction of Aleppo might be a stretch for some, but most of us have been mugged or robbed, or have known somebody who has. And while we may not live in a "discreet luxury residence" or have millions in the bank, we can still imagine the fear, the feeling of loss when something is taken from you. Does this make us shallow, or merely human? And lucky?
The defence against Kim's detractors has used the fact she is a mother to two small children, a wife, a sister, someone who is loved. This, again, taps into our need to for something to be relatable for us to feel empathy – but this feels just as bogus, because it assumes Kim's value as a woman only exists in her relationship to others. If she were a single woman with no children, in Paris having a good time in a fancy hotel all by herself, would what happened to her be any less horrific? "But she's a mother!" they say. Well, yes, she is, but so what?
Life is all about hierarchies. The world is full of hierarchies we pretend we don't see, but use to our advantage, because to unpack them would open cans of worms that couldn't be contained within our lifetime. It's the difference in the way we treat doctors from nurses, how we react to accents and class, the fact we trust branded headache pills more over generic ones in unattractive packaging. Our daily lives are obsessed with assessing one thing's value over another.
So while Kim scores high in some ways – she is rich, American, beautiful, successful, brimming with self-confidence, a mother, married to a famous entertainer – she loses out in others. Her fame feels less valuable because of its origins and the way she uses it. So, she has points knocked off for her reality show, her shilling for products, her naked selfies, the sex tape, living so publicly. Oh, and the big one, she is a woman. The inability of the public to decipher Kim's "talent" leads to her fame being under continuous scrutiny like it's a prize we can take away.
The defence against Kim's detractors has used the fact she is a mother and a wife, but this feels just as bogus, because it assumes Kim's value as a woman only exists in her relationship to others.
When Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell covers Vogue, nobody bats an eye, but when it's Kim Kardashian, suddenly we need to see receipts. Don't you have to be a famous model? (She has appeared in countless shoots for editorial and brands.) Don't you have to be stick-thin? (She is not a runway model.) But it always comes down to the big one: don't you have to be talented?
You could argue Kim's ability to turn the sex tape leak around in her favour and continued control over her image and what it represents constitutes talent. It is very rare for the men involved in these tapes to come off worse, but Kim has successfully served Ray J his own head every time he's tried to come for her. Reality TV show stars fade quickly – Kim and her family haven't stayed at the centre of entertainment media for the best part of a decade on sheer luck alone. They have successfully kept people interested, reinvented themselves, capitalised on this curiosity and made it work for them.
While you may object to Kim's robbery being labelled "news", the fact is that had it happened to a famous footballer, or a politician or a pop star, it would still have hit the headlines. Your reluctance to see Kim's life reported in the same way says more about you than it does about the state of modern celebrity or the media.
The thing about fame is that while it's rare you'll be selected, it's available to all. There are no entrance exams, no practicals; it is not means-tested. The only thing you need are eyes on you, ears listening out for you, and sustained public interest. You strive for success and recognition, but fame is the poisonous by-product, the pay-off; it's the part most people don't want. Those who crave it tend not to hang on to it too long, but we don't get to decide how someone uses that fame; it's not for us to say what it means to them.
"Famous for being famous"? Honey, look back at Kim's CV – she's earned every second. And I bet she'd trade it all this morning to feel as safe as she did a week ago.