Marcel Proust said, “If only for the sake of elegance, I try to remain morally pure.”
Those who abide by this creed find its worst offender in Kim Kardashian. (For those of you who haven’t heard, the promiscuous reality TV star married in August 2011 and was divorced just a short seventy-two days later—an incident which resulted in heavy criticism and ridicule.)
The ridicule usually goes something like this:
Kim Kardashian is so stupid.
Do you KNOW how much her ring cost?
That thing was doomed from the start.
It was all for the money.
Wow. Like anyone actually took that “marriage” seriously.
Ha! You know they’re trying to get an annulment. An annulment!
And it goes on.
The responses amaze me. Usually, when we hear of divorce, we pity the couple. And yet, when Kim’s story hit People magazine we did not leave room for any pity.
Many women will respond that she doesn’t deserve pity because she “knew what she was getting herself into” (do we know this?) But many will go further than denying pity. They go on directly to despising her. There is a cruel cattiness in the mindless chatter in the grocery store checkout line. And that that cruelty originates from a profound insecurity within us.
We despise Kim Kardashian because we can’t deal with the things we despise about ourselves. Deep down we know well our ignorance, our lust, our selfishness, our vanity, our pride—but we can tend to spend much of our lives trying to hide it, avoid it, or project it on to others. Kim is too clumsy and too sloppy to hide anything. She gets divorced, and it doesn’t matter if half the country is also divorced—she just doesn’t have the right timing. It doesn’t matter if the rest of the world sleeps around. Kim sleeps around just a little bit too much. It doesn’t matter if more than half of the women in the world have forgotten the concept of modesty, Kim’s shirt is just a tad bit lower and she is labeled trash. Kim lacks one of our female culture’s favorite false virtues—the ability to keep up appearances. Kim doesn’t play the game right. And so she is easily made the scapegoat. Her story riles us not because it represents the degradation of marriage—we already know about the degradation of marriage. Her story riles us because it gives us an opportunity to forget the ways in which we have failed—because her failure is so outright and obvious.
This attitude is something we women struggle with a lot. We tend to despise the “slut.” And we tend to get a sinister sort of pleasure out of that. It is ironic. For we are in the age of relativism when any sort of moral opinion is often seen as judgmental by its very nature. But often the same women who don’t ever want to be “judged” or have their moral lives challenged are those who rant about the town/school/community “slut.”
And we rant because it gives us power. Gossip, slander, all of that gives us a sense of power. If we can put down the one who is easy to put down, we feel ourselves momentarily elevated. For if I can let everyone know about how awful she is, perhaps then I won’t feel so bad about myself.
But we know that the power is fleeting. We know that Mr. Proust’s quote is quite empty. For elegance, while appealing, is only an outer garment. If there’s anything that Kim’s story should do for us, it should make us examine what is beneath that outer garment. It should make us examine our own moral purity. Rather than despise her we should wish her well and pray for her. For we do not know what Mary Magdalene we throw stones at with our words. And although we may have hid it well with our class, we often forget the many times when we were that Mary and someone reached out a loving hand.