14.03.2016

The Kim Kardashian NSFW selfie – what would John Berger say?

ART | | |

When the internet blew up last week at yet another Kim Kardashian body-shock picture, it was THE question everyone was asking: OMG, what would John Berger have to say about this?

No, it wasn’t.

Yes, it was. That was what everyone wanted to know. Unfortunately the man himself was unavailable for comment, so we’re going to do it for him. Don’t worry, everyone on the internet, you can thank us later.

If you say so. And, um, just remind us again – who the hell is John Berger?

As if you didn’t know. He’s one of the world’s most respected art critics and theorists – best known for his seminal BBC TV show and book ‘Ways of Seeing’ from the 1970s, which transformed a whole generation’s relationship with art – and introduced many to the idea of ‘The Gaze’ as a defining aspect of art history. He’s British, and he’ll be 90 this year. All of which: duh.

The gaze, huh?

Precisely, the gaze. Berger thought that the way in which we see the world, and are seen by others, establishes our place within a hierarchy. For centuries western art was dominated by the image of the female nude: women portrayed without clothing for the sole purpose of being looked at by male viewers. So in Berger’s theory, the nude becomes a politically charged means of establishing power, since paintings of female nudes contained the assumption they were being observed by a clothed man, and therefore intrinsically subservient to the male gaze.

I’m sorry, that was at least 90 percent gibberish. Come again?

Bond girls in bikinis? Page 3 models in British tabloids? Servers at Hooters? Ingres’s ‘La Grande Odalisque’? None of them has anything to do with the women having a good time. They’re literally just there for men to look at.

 

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres’s ‘La Grande Odalisque’

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres’s ‘La Grande Odalisque’

 

A Bond girl

A Bond girl

 

Dude, this is all pretty sexist.

Indeed.

OK, but what’s all this got to do with Kim Kardashian?

It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? That when Mrs Kardashian West posted a nude photo of herself on International Women’s Day, she wasn’t just making a joke about having nothing to wear. Clearly she was also offering a critique of the gender politics inherent in the nude. Her image undermined the traditional status of the male viewer by prioritising the female gaze. It’s feminism cubed.

When you’re like I have nothing to wear LOL

A photo posted by Kim Kardashian West (@kimkardashian) on


So presumably when she captioned it “When you’re like I have nothing to wear”, by ‘you’re like’, she really meant: “Yes you, millions of male eyeballs, gazing at me on Twitter, you are both literally and figuratively nothing to me, like the nonexistent clothes you do not see draped about my person.”

You’re getting the hang of this.

And by ‘LOL’, presumably she meant…?

Laugh out loud. Clearly a reference to this guy:

 

‘The Laughing Cavalier’, by Frans Hals (1624)

‘The Laughing Cavalier’, by Frans Hals (1624)

 

But yes, I think essentially we’re all agreed. This isn’t a photo of a naked lady smiling flirtatiously at her invisible male spectator-owner. No. This was a woman looking at herself taking a selfie in the mirror, to be shared with her largely female fanbase. Essentially it’s a woman enjoying her own sexuality – in private, yet in the most public space possible. A modern patriarchy-parodying paradox.

Or maybe she was just a woman taking a photo in her bathroom?

*silence* That too.

 

Next week: Caitlyn Jenner as the new face of H&M: What would Jacques Lacan say?

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