Image by Gareth Elliott Illustration
Whenever a celebrity is spotted donning metal or punk gear, the tribe in question bristles. Seeing a rich, flashy, almost certainly clueless interloper appropriating our culture—our aesthetic, one of the few things that we deem precious and sacred in a world that still sees us as "dirtbags" (thanks, Complex, real cute)—is enough to launch a thousand pissy tweets and blog posts bemoaning this enduring phenomenon. When Justin Bieber unveiled his latest line of tour merch, the metal internet collectively plotzed; yeah, the Purpose merch was designed by Mark Riddick, an actual metal artist with impeccable credentials, but still… Bieber. I mean, we’re still mad about Lady Gaga’s G.IS.M. patch, Lindsay Lohan’s Iron Maiden shirt, and a host of others, including self-proclaimed fashion maven Kanye West (a repeat offender—remember those fucking sweatpants?). Metal, and even moreso, punk is cooler than it’s ever been, and fashion designers are taking notes.
It was only a matter of time before West's missus, Kim Kardashian West, caught the punk fashion bug. Earlier this week, she stepped out in an Enfants Riches Déprimés (translation: Depressed Rich Kids) spike-studded black leather jacket, replete with various patches bearing various anti-establishment slogans. The icing on the extremely expensive cake— the jacket apparently cost $11,000 and was made by some nouveau riche boarding school dropout who seems to think wearing an Operation Ivy shirt means he understands the struggle—is located on the back. Yup, you saw that right: a Disclose patch.
For those just tuning in, Disclose is a much-loved Japanese hardcore punk band who had a raging hard-on for Discharge and released a handful of killer D-beat bangers between their inception in 1992 and disbandment in 2007. They’re not exactly a household name—their guest appearance on Kardashian's jacket is definitely the most mainstream exposure they’ve ever had—but they’re important, and extremely rad, and it’s hilarious to see them in this context. What would the band who wrote songs like “Once the War Started,” “The Bombardment,” and my personal favorite, “The Aspects of War,” think of a spoiled socialite strutting down Hollywood Boulevard with their logo in full view?
They probably wouldn’t fucking care, and we shouldn’t either. Passing judgement on fashion—deciding who does and does not deserve the right to wear a band’s logo—is a childish waste of time and energy that could be spent on infinite better activities. Yes, it’s annoying to see it happen; it irritates me too, but it really shouldn’t. You want to be pissed off at people you don’t know? Be pissed off at the politicians who poisoned Flint, or the police officers murdering unarmed black people in cold blood, or the capitalist billionaire class strangling the people and working us to death while they jet off to Fiji. Direct your energy somewhere useful—that’s what punk is really about, isn’t it?
Think about it. What is the essence of punk—the true meaning behind the three-chord menace that's been inspiring and infuriating the world since its sweaty birth pains on NYC's Lower East Side (sorry, London, I'm calling it)? Rebellion. Nonconformity. Angst. Outrage. Bucking trends and smashing the system. Trying to create a better world with fists and power chords and broken bottles. Loud, sloppy, angry songs about revolution, apocalypse, and fucking shit up, or sad songs about the mess we've made already, or beer-drinking and hell-raising songs to scream out with your buddies—punk is many things, and even though there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that Kardashian can tell Discharge from Disclose or Antisect from Anti Cimex, what could possibly be more punk than a woman steamrolling over any concept of what is "proper" or "respectable" and rising to international fame on the strength of her own sweat and blood, to say nothing of that perfect storm of sexual agency, business acumen, and ego? Kim Kardashian West is the Sid Vicious of Calabasas.
She probably can't play the bass, either.
Photo by Light Brigade/Bauer-Griffin/Getty Images
Punk is political, and so is Kim Kardashian West. Even her most vociferous haters had to give her some grudging respect for her insistence on speaking out about the Armenian genocide. Not even the Turkish (formerly Ottoman) government—who orchestrated the systematic robbery, starvation, rape, and murder of roughly 1.5 million ethnic Armenians—has done that, despite overwhelming evidence and the fact that the word “genocide” itself was coined to describe this horrific event. Kardashian generally abstains from comment on American politics, but used her significant media power to bring awareness to something that remains one of human history’s darkest moments. As recently as last month, this granddaughter of Armenian refugees wrote a blistering essay on her website decrying the Wall Street Journal’s decision to run a genocide-denying advertisement.
“The ad was paid for by Turkic Platform. I won't list the group's website, as I don't want to give them the traffic, but basically they say that not as many people died as historians say, and that the Armenians were to blame,” she wrote. “For the Wall Street Journal to publish something like this is reckless, upsetting and dangerous. It's one thing when a shitty tabloid profits from a made-up scandal, but for a trusted publication like WSJ to profit from genocide — it's shameful and unacceptable. Why is it that every time we take one step forward, we take two steps back?”
Her continuing efforts to publicize this tragedy matter, too, especially given that the United States of America continues to avoid recognizing the genocide for fear of damaging its relationship with Turkey (though Kardashian's home state of California has done so). That’s right: Kim Kardashian West is more principled than the US Government.
In addition, and most importantly, Kardashian built an empire off her own exploitation. The sex tape with Ray J that launched a thousand reality shows, fragrances, fashion don’ts, and online comment threads was the best thing that ever happened to her, but it was also the worst; it robbed her of her ability to be anyone else. At a time when most twentysomethings are figuring themselves out and trying to decide who they want to be, the narrative was already written for her; in a society that still offers women only two options—the Madonna, or the whore—Kardashian was assigned whore status. Instead of quietly accepting it or working overtime to "repair" her image, though, Kardashian went rogue. She fucking ran with it. If society was going to paint her as a dumb bimbo with nothing to offer but a rich dad and a big ass, she was going to take that ass straight to the bank—and that’s exactly what she did. In her own way, she raised a middle finger at the establishment, and in true SLC Punk fashion, she didn’t sell out; she bought in. She also doesn’t give a shit about what you think of her. “When there's so many haters and negative things, I really don't care.”
Kardashian is smarter than most of us give her credit for; only her actual friends and family know how much of an act that ditzy demeanor is, but even if she’s not quite book smart, she comes armed with street smarts (a punk value if there ever was one). As she’s noted, “There's more pressure to be famous for being yourself than if you're being a character,” and she’s managed to turn herself into a brand rivaled only by actual product brands for market dominance. Punk is fundamentally anti-capitalist, and Kardashian is a gleaming example of rabid capitalism; at a time when traditional conservative views and the 1 percent are more distrusted (and hated) than ever, one could argue that her very embrace of this poisonous system is punk in its subversion. After all, punk is also about pissing people off, and Kardashian is very, very good at doing that.
“You make mistakes, but I don't have any regrets. I'm the kind of person who takes responsibility for it and deals with it. I learn from everything I do. I work very hard, I have so many things going on in my life. Get to know me and see who I am.”
You can't take any of this seriously, so fuck it. Whether you love her, hate her, or think that her entire family should be jettisoned into the eye of the sun, there's no denying the simple truth: Kim Kardashian is punk as fuck.
Kim Kelly is on Twitter; please do not go wild in her mentions, because this was fun to write and we all die eventually.