Of course, reality -- along with such terms as “celebrity,” “success” and “fashion” -- are slippery concepts, especially with this crowd.
Superficially, of course, the usually high-toned Vogue and Ms. Kardashian, the regularly slut-and-fat-shamed reality and sex-tape star, would seem to be models of anti-synergy. But not so fast with the knee-jerk judgments -- can’t we all just get along and celebrate our differences?
Granted, it’s hard to know where to begin with all the desperation and disingenuousness involved with this cover collaboration. After seven years on the E Network, and with a failing clothing line in Sears, the Kardashians are a dying brand. And as a once-prestigious product and cash cow, Vogue is, like so many other major magazines, just limping along. As such, it’s a blind-leading-the-near-dead situation, and vice versa.
Certainly, editor Anna Wintour seemed sensitive to protecting herself from the widely held notion that in putting the couple on the cover, she had caved to Kanye’s very public manipulations. He had famously said that his fiancee would be a better cover subject than Michelle Obama, because (to loosely reinterpret) the FLOTUS couldn’t create an Instagram selfie with the impact of one of Kim’s. (Since he referred to the photo showing her top-to-bottom oversized orbs slipping out of a skimpy bathing suit to prove to the world that she had lost the baby weight, he was indeed correct.)
In an Editor’s Letter as carefully worded as the Camp David accords, Wintour spoke to any preconceptions. “You may have read that Kanye begged me to put his fiancee on Vogue's cover. He did nothing of the sort," she wrote. "There's barely a strand of the modern media that the Kardashian Wests haven’t been able to master, and for good reason: Kanye is an amazing performer and cultural provocateur, while Kim, through her strength of character, has created a place for herself in the glare of the world’s spotlight, and it takes real guts to do that."
So it’s a fancy way of saying that Kim has the intestines (and one assumes, the private parts) of a superstar. Talk about damning with faint praise.
But let’s get real, or at least a simulacrum of it. The real breakthrough here is not in putting an interracial couple on the cover. (That honor already went to the 2006 cover showing basketball star LeBron James and the model Giselle in an action shot that seemed to refer to King Kong, with LeBron as the big ape and Giselle playing Fay Wray. It was criticized as racist.)
Nor is it a big deal for a woman with “natural curves” to appear. (Yes, Kim’s not a hanger-thin social X-ray, but her famous curves have been surgically improved many, many times) Rather, the revolution was in trotting out #WORLDSMOSTTALKEDABOUTCOUPLE.
To a more digitally savvy audience (to put it mildly), it might seem beyond belief that, eight years after the founding of Twitter, this is the first hashtag to appear on Vogue’s cover.
But it is, and as such, it also caused Annie Leibovitz to open a Blue Birdie account last week and send her first tweet.
So never mind their cover-worthiness or not: Kanye has 10.3 million followers and Kim has 2.3 million. Compare that with Vogue’s 267,849 single-copy month-to-month sales as of the end of 2013 (a decrease of 20% from the previous year), and you start to get some perspective on the colliding cosmos of popular culture.
Not that Twitter pays. But it’s Vogue’s Unified Hashtag Theory of Survival: Kim and Kanye's fans are not Vogue readers, but if even 5% of them buy the issue, that would double the previous month’s newsstand sales.
Desperation breeds strange bedfellows. I get it. Still what surprised me most was the sheer banality of the image. Shot by Annie Leibovitz, the portrait shows the K-2 as chaste lovebirds engaged in a heart-shaped faux bridal photo, with Kim in a classic long white gown, Kanye in a tuxedo. (K is for Kiss-Up?!) For a sophisticated publication built on provocation, the image features almost Poconos-based symbols of newlywed bliss.
But then again, the simplicity of the stance, with the logo above, allows for easy parody and memehood. Hundreds of heads have already been photoshopped on top of Kim and her fiance's. (Seth Rogin and James Franco are pretty obvious, but so far my fave is Kermit and Miss Piggy.)
There’s more editorial and photos inside, featuring the Ks and their adorable baby North (sadly, Kim is already following in her momager Kris’ footsteps in the unbridled selling of her progeny). Baby North is the only one in her family who can still furrow her brow. And furrow she does, looking quizzically at the lights and cameras with the innocence of an authentic, outraged human being at such fake and over-the-top proceedings. One of the photos aptly captures a hall of mirrors, showing Kim taking a selfie as she holds the baby and faces a mirror, with Kanye facing them, with the image of Kim and North on his iPad.
In the end, I’m sure that the faux controversy, plus all this attempt at using new media, will result in a very temporary circulation bump for Vogue. And it will certainly help elevate Kim’s image.
Thus, it’s a win-win. So there you go, haters. Although these days, it’s tough to tell the players from the played.