Kim Kardashian West’s Selfish, Clever Existential Rorschach Test?

As recently as last fall I found myself lamenting wondering aloud about the allure of Kim Kardashian. A friend of the male persuasion leered and shared that he completely “got” what she was about. But, to my mind, something beyond pleasing physical attributes had to account for her certainly undiminished, and arguably growing, popularity. This time around she’d caught my attention because her mobile app game, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood was hugely popular and well on its way to netting her millions. Whether it was the appeal of navigating from E-list to A-List celebrity in Hollywood, or the sheer weight of Kardashian’s influence among her followers on social media, the game has garnered huge success. No doubt Rizzoli is hoping for some of the same with Selfish.

After spending a couple of weeks with this heavy tome of snaps, I now consider it to be Kardashian’s clever existential Rorschach test—solely because of the reactions it elicits both from self and other people. I can also vouch for the fact that it kills it as both coffee table book and conversation piece. The photos are a mixture of family and friendship, awards show gloating, provocative sexuality, and the inevitable filler. Yes! It can take upwards of 20 selfies to get just the right one. Yes! Kardashian has perfected the sexy pout, and exhibits it in most of the photos—though there are a few which feature a fresh-faced Kim with a charming smile. I was impressed with the artistry and dedication required in getting just the right on-brand picture, and how she possibly made her selections from so many pictures. Many will be familiar with many some pics from Instagram and other sources, but the book also includes exclusive photos, as well as a subsection of nudes.

My teenaged cousin flipped through a few pictures and sniffed, clearly having no need of either how-to selfie guidance or an entire book of pictures not of herself. Another friend flipped commented, “Self-aggrandizing narcissism at its best. Or worst. It doesn’t really matter.” I might have been more vocal in my agreement if I hadn’t been guiltily thinking of my own carefully curated Facebook, Instagram and Twitter photos, putting my best face forward. Most of us live in glass houses. I also found myself reflected in her excitement over new clothes, and her minimal captions. “Bought a new hat and had to take a selfie in it.”

Too, as the subject of many selfie failures (I have deemed very few of my own acceptable enough for any form of social media), I wondered about my right to judge the work of someone who has clearly mastered the art. In viewing Kardashian’s picture book, I also theorized about the rise of narcissism (and the healthiness of my own), the meaning and growth of art in a technological world, and what deeper meaning a book of several hundred self-portraits curated from over 20,000 could impart. See, Rorschach test!

In the end I found “reading” a book of selfies was no less like holding a camera (phone) away from my face and trying for the best angle. The premise and essence of Selfish is unchanging, it doesn’t pretend to be anything that it is not, but I thought many different things, and brought different selves to it each time I picked it up. As with any pictures we take, they are often best understood in the context of the people who know and love us, and then, within the larger themes of the world (pride, grace, sadness, confidence, joy, etc). Friends and fans who have followed Kim’s journey, will  no doubt savor this collection characterizing one woman’s unabashed confidence, and the savviness that has made the pictures she takes of herself just as famous and worthwhile as any that a photographer has snapped.

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