In the early hours of Monday morning Kim Kardashian was robbed at gunpoint. The whole ordeal took six minutes, but the globe has spent the week trying to account for every second. And somehow, across three days, we've witnessed the year's most poignant biopsy of our relationship with celebrity culture.
Even the most sympathetic responses have taken her horror and distilled it into conversation starters—Did they take her engagement ring? Did you hear Kanye cancelled his performance mid-song? Was she wearing her pajamas or dressed? It seems that because Kim offers her whole life to the public, we treat it like fiction.
We've always been obsessed with the lives of the famous. Since the movies took over Los Angeles we've been wondering what Mary Pickford served Douglas Fairbanks for dinner. But reflecting on our predatory fixation on Kim Kardashian's ordeal demonstrates how our vision of fame has changed.
In 1993 Monica Seles, one of the world's most famous athletes, was stabbed by an obsessive fan of her sporting rival Steffi Graf. The attack took place during a German tournament and caught on camera. The footage of her grasping at her shoulder before collapsing was shown around the world, it's been viewed millions and million of times. You couldn't ask for a more sensational news story, but reports around the attack were steeped in concern and support. She was after all part of the mythical class of disconnected celebrities that people barely knew but valued so deeply.
When Kim Kardashian was bound, gagged and robbed alone in an apartment we argue over the details and possible subplots. On less reputable parts of the internet, conspiracy theories are being discussed as though they're predictions for the next season of Stranger Things. People are immediately suggesting it was either insurance fraud related to her husband's much discussed money troubles, or a publicity stunt for her semi-fictionalised reality show. We can't divorce ourselves from her familiar, artificial, TV self. Despite having perhaps the world's most intimate relationship with the public, we can't see her as human.
In the past, we were fed morsels of celebrity's actual lives—and strangely it made them more human than any of the Kardashians. Stage-managed interviews and press opportunities used to divulge snippets of personal information to feign intimacy. It worked: we knew Julia Roberts didn't like deodorant, Michelle Pfeiffer worked in retail before becoming famous and George Cloony worried about his pet pig's weight problem. These glimmers of normality—well, with the exception of the pig—fed our love for, and loyalty to, these strangers.
We've spent years watching Kim Kardashian's show, we've witnessed her fall in love, get married, divorced, married again, and literally go into labour. After so much time together, we don't feel like we know her real life: we feel like we're watching TV. In getting closer—digitally—we've grown emotionally distant.
In 2016 it seems that when an individual reaches a certain pay bracket, or inhabits a certain percent of media space, they are apparently no longer truly real. Public figures like Lindsay Lohan and Courtney Stodden have allowed fans and strangers into their own personal crises through social media. They share posts and snaps, often in deeply vulnerable states, in an effort to create a connection—maybe they even need to feel it. Their candor sees them meld with the page and screen, becoming characters open to our judgement and evaluation.
Kim Kardashian hasn't spoken publicly about her attack, or even given any indication she wants a public outpouring of support—she probably doesn't expect it. But hopefully, she hasn't been able to witness the darker responses. The jokes broke almost in time with the story, and they haven't stopped. No Kardashian, or any celebrity in 2016, is new to public backlash or mockery. From relationships to business dealings, every part of Kim's life has been a punchline. But this isn't an outfit, interview or even a marriage; the public has never seen her go through something so violent or traumatic.
Yet our response is the same: Tweets and comments offer up rewarmed, weak jokes playing on perceptions of her intelligence, sexuality and physical worth. At their most toothless they asked if Taylor Swift was behind it, while the vilest comments asked why she had been left unharmed.
They're offered up without thought, the people writing them aren't making considered statements about class, wealth, intimacy and personal worth. But viewed collectively, as part of a never ending feed of dull public opinion they're a reminder that in in 2016 celebrities are another species. One we're given constant access to, but still somehow struggle to sympathise with.
Follow Wendy on Twitter.