Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s Quest to Become America’s Favorite Superheroes


Kimye’s rewriting of some common cultural scripts about family might have sounded like a political act, but their mission also came with a clear subtext: commerce. (“I’m Shakespeare in the flesh. Walt Disney. Nike. Google,” West said, in a 2013 radio interview. “Now who’s going to be the Medici family and stand up and let me create more?”) According to May, the formation of the atomic-age family – which offered “security at a time when public life was very unstable and frightening” – coincided with newfound prosperity and consumerism. During World War II, May said, “there weren’t many ways to spend your money,” leading to a “pent-up desire for consumer goods.” It is also a time when purchasing becomes political. “If the Soviet Union represented the opposite of American individualism, because communism was based on collective values, then the United States would celebrate individual consumerism,” May explained. “They were going on vacation. They were renovating their homes. They were getting new furniture. A similar dynamic can be seen in “KUWTK,” which faithfully documented this type of family spending: each season followed the Kardashian-Jenner clan on an annual vacation in a different resort in a new destination, with the camera resting on the names of the hotels and restaurants they visited. But they didn’t just provide product placement for other companies; they also had a keen interest to promote their own businesses.They followed a path laid out by Walt Disney, who had been described by his brother Roy as having found “the answer to using television both to entertain and to sell one’s product”. 2015, a “KUWTK” storyline was about the launch of a cosmetics brand created by Kim’s younger sister, Kylie Jenner. Later, when Kardashian launched her own beauty brand, KKW B eauty, she capitalized on not just her show, but the area most associated with the Kardashian-Jenners besides reality TV: Instagram. KKW Beauty focused on a makeup technique called contouring — garnering an even buzz among influencers — and by 2020 the company was valued at $1 billion.

For the Kardashian-Jenners, cosmetics, another booming industry in the atomic age, had a distinctive family side. Kim and Kylie advertised with sister-focused content campaigns. Kim also posted videos of her daughter trying on makeup (“North, what are you doing? Why do you have my Mario palette?”), and an episode “KUWTK” featured the North’s admiration for a KKW model. In 2019, Kardashian launched SKIM, her shapewear company, which could look like a pantyhose company or a lingerie brand, depending on how you see it. Episodes of “KUWTK” showed the sisters lounging around in the brand’s pajamas as they chatted, argued or shopped. In 2021, Kardashian released a ‘Christmas card’ featuring her and her four children, all strung together SKIM—a holiday portrait combined with an advertising campaign. As the family has grown — Jenner has gone from having no grandchildren to ten while the show aired — her cultural significance has grown, reminiscent of an idea from The Mythologies of Roland Barthes. The concept was summed up by a character from “Birdman”, a 2014 film about a superhero actor: “The cultural work done in the past by gods and epic sagas is now done by laundry detergent commercials and comic book characters.” The Kardashian-Jenners were like comic book characters who were ready to star in laundry detergent commercials.

By the time West officially joined the cast of “KUWTK” in 2019, his wife was, as Ms. Incredible would say, “at the top of her game.” But his own public image was in rehabilitation after a few nihilistic years of pro-Trump tirades and a visit to the offices of TMZ, where he said slavery had been “a choice.” Despite this, he thrives as a father and as a musician; he was working to unveil his gospel group, Sunday Service, and preparing to release the album “Jesus Is King”. It couldn’t have been a better time for him to board the ship “KUWTK,” which was decidedly the hallmark of West, a born-again Christian and family man. Since its inception in 2007, the fables episodes of the series have always concluded with the same message: in the end, what matters most is family. “The Incredibles” told the story of a family who achieved greatness by combining their superpowers; 2019 was the year Kimye joined forces to champion their family’s brand.

Walt Disney once said that “all cartoon characters and fables must be exaggerations, caricatures”. Kimye has almost always bought into this notion, although the couple’s self-mythologizing reached new heights during their divorce. In July 2021, six months after filing for dissolution of her marriage to West, Kardashian attended the first listening party for “Donda,” her new album, named after her late mother. With the kids in tow, she wore a head-to-toe red outfit that matched her Yeezy-Gap puffer jacket. Photos from the event, in Atlanta, showed West falling to his knees in the center of a stadium as he repeated, “I’m losing my family.” With this performance, West, perhaps unwittingly, was re-enacting another scene from “The Incredibles.” In the first film, Mr. Incredible is led to believe he has “lost” his family when a plane they are flying in explodes. After their reunion, Mr. Incredible tells his wife, in the film’s emotional climax, “I can’t lose you anymore.” . . . I’m not strong enough.” (Her power is superhuman strength.) West’s “Donda” event set an Apple Music record, with 3.3 million people tuning into the live stream.

That record was broken less than two weeks later, at the second “Donda” event, which drew an additional two million viewers. This one ended with West soaring to the ceiling in a harness – or “steering wheel” – in the midst of an epic light show. At the third and final event, in his hometown of Chicago, a masked West performed in front of a replica of his childhood home. Then he set himself on fire, and unmasked himself to meet Kim Kardashian, on stage, who was wearing a Balenciaga wedding dress. In front of a dumbfounded public, the former power couple got “married” again. The scene concluded a multi-urban lyrical experience, which somehow felt both precariously improvised and hyper-organized.

“Donda” events – a blur of red, white and black; fashion, theft, fire, home, wedding ceremony – were the main TikTok headlines, memes, retweets and takes. It was an innovative model of hype, which took advantage of the speed and multiplicity of the new media of late capitalism. Throughout this period, Kardashian continued to dress in Balenciaga, occasionally wearing outfits that resembled “The Incredibles” costumes — monochromatic jumpsuits, thigh-high boots, and eye masks. Superhero cosplay coincided with the next chapter of her career: a nine-figure contract with Disney. That year, the Kardashian-Jenners ended their E! show and signed on to star in a new reality series, “The Kardashians,” on Hulu, a streaming service owned by the Walt Disney Company.

Six months before her new show premiered, Kardashian hosted “Saturday Night Live.” In a steamy skit, she played Princess Jasmine and kissed comedian Pete Davidson, who played Aladdin. A few weeks later, the two started dating and the eccentric couple captured the tabloids. West, flustered, began tweeting about Davidson. He coined a viral nickname for the comedian – ‘Skete’ – correctly situating his ex-wife’s new boyfriend as the unwitting villain in his self-proclaimed superhero story. But who was the real bad guy here? As Kimye’s divorce grew more acrimonious, West went from an adorably eccentric patriarch — the kind of dad who surprised his kids by taking them to school in fire trucks — to the villain of the Kardashian universe. While his ex-wife dressed in hot pink and neon green lycra, he had started dressing all in black and wearing full-face masks, much like Screenslaver, the villain in “Incredibles 2,” who sought to dominate society by projecting hypnotic content onto screens. West’s antipathy towards Davidson had also turned into full-blown harassment. He took to Instagram, his ex-wife’s home territory, to post screenshots of his terse text exchanges with Kardashian and Davidson, and he posted a video clip of Claymation that depicted Davidson with a head. decapitated. West, addressing the relationship in a now-deleted Instagram post, claimed it was all made by Disney. “THIS IS NOT ABOUT SKETE PEOPLE, THIS IS ABOUT SELLING YOU ALL A STORY,” he wrote. “SKETE IS JUST PLAYING HIS ROLE IN FROZEN 3.” It was a Disney movie that was not in theaters, West wrote, but rather on the Daily mail, and Disney had cast Davidson for the role in an effort to appeal to a wider age group. The post may have sounded conspiratorial, but at least some of what West said was true: His ex-wife was in a new relationship that made for some good TV. When “The Kardashians” aired, in the spring of 2022, Davidson was described as her good boyfriend.


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