The thing that makes the Kardashian name what it is in the subfield of reality television (and the super-field of celebrity life), actually has much more in common with what goes on in the theater district than on any sound stage. The theater experience is a contract between the actors and the audience that begins when theatergoers sit in their seats and get the first glimpse of the set still in shadow, creatively constructed to subtly suggest the skyscrapers of New York City or gently imply the sand dunes of Rio de Janeiro. It is the same contract that inspired a dowry of gasps per blow from the crowd at WWE matches in South Carolina in 1985. We pay to license out our own skepticism, so that we may also play a part. Couch-surfers tuning in to the assorted Kardashians participate in the suspension of disbelief that allows the mind to turn Kim and the cklan’s lives into something we first pretend – and then pretend not – to care about. We are believers because deep down we know there isn’t really anything at stake. Oh no! The photographer accidentally did a whole photo shoot without realizing Kimmy was in her birthday suit! And published it! How will she bounce back from this latest airbrushed-to-perfection ass shot?
I am tempted here to take a moment to congratulate myself for managing to write an entire paragraph without even mentioning the baby…which is my reason for writing at all. But the forthcoming wee-one needs to be brought into this conversation, because it’s impending arrival is the seam that threatens to unravel the contract we keep with the Kardashians – which allows us to point and laugh, even pine and dream a little, all the while keeping the truly messy and complicated far enough off the screen for everyone to go on with their own lives. A hoax, cash cow wedding? This we can swallow. A hoax, cash cow baby? Full-blown choke.
So what are we to do with this real-live miracle of life and its fragility, dropped directly into the lion’s mouth at the center of the circus ring? And no, we haven’t seen this before – Kourtney’s sideshow, focus group test-babies don’t count. Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, who are a more perfect union than anything since 1776, have managed a remarkable feat. The two most self-absorbed people on the planet – who spectacularly found a way to match in orbit the gargantuan universes of self in which they float – have created something between them that will either bring them back into our atmosphere or ultimately eclipse them both. The baby’s arrival on the gossip circuit, from within the womb, has caused an immediate reordering of the gossip hierarchy. All ears are on deck to receive Blue Ivy’s official resignation. And so the spawn of Kimye is examined from every angle before it is even born. Let the bump watch begin.
Most curiously, there is an evolving absent father narrative, which is odd, because it is clear from every other word in every other article in sight that the father of this baby is indeed present and accounted for. Some are innocent enough: Kanye wasn’t in the picture for this year’s KardashianChristmas card; Marlon Wayans joked when asked about the tot that he is in fact the father of the baby. But Andrea Peyser from the New York Post goes on to speculate that this baby might be vulnerable to a life of shame (as if that wasn’t already the point of being a Kardashian in the first place). Citing the fact that Kanye had not yet announced if he would “cohabitate with the woman he knocked up,” Peyser reports on the increased likelihood that baby West-Kardashian might end up pregnant or in jail if papa doesn’t change his tune. Is this because Kanye is black?
Here’s an easier question to answer: If he wasn’t black, would it be because he’s not black? Easier than that: Did anyone collect and report statistics on kids who grow up without their fathers when then-unmarried Brad Pitt was adopting or inseminating each member of his gumdrop rainbow band?
Kanye’s absence is linked to money, where speculation abounds as to how much the first pictures will sell for, with one source admitting that the photo would probably be “Kim solo, because Kanye always looks miserable.” TMZ reports gushingly about the possibility that the baby was conceived in Rome, and leaps from there to a comparison with the Immaculate Conception , in which the unseen God is the one who plants the seed in a fertile riverbed. I concede that this is a step up from Marlon Wayans, but suspension of disbelief is not quite the same thing as faith; and let’s not forget, the Vatican is hardcore for sure, but Rome is not Nazareth. Another article pouts that Eau de Kimye will surely be illegitimate because of Kris Humphries’ overlong, bungling, passive-aggressive handling of the divorce. Picking up this thread, we are shocked to discover that Kanye was not considered the father for a short while, as many report that, under California law, Humphries will be recognized as the father until the divorce is final.
As if all of this weren’t troubling enough, grand-mama-bear Kris Jenner, already reported to be engaged in bidding wars over rights to various baby-related media splashes, may end up frustrated with the way that Kanye is fond of giving away for free what the Kardashians prefer to play high stakes Monopoly with. Between this and the Christmas card, the message seems to be that if he isn’t already gone, he’ll be gone soon. I get an image of Kanye, being brought up to speed. It’s not pretty. But, for now at least, he seems to be holding his own in the tightly run ship. Huff Post reports that Kanye’s impromptu December 30 pregnancy announcement could not have been timed to make money, because the choice of date and time was out of step with the logic of the publishing schedules of celebrity magazines. And we now know that Kimye has refused an offer of $3 million for the first pictures of their love child once it makes its way into the world. It might be worth it to consider that ‘Ye is a daddy-to-be with full veto powers.
What we are witnessing is worlds colliding. It might mean something that I intended here to write about Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy and somehow ended up writing three consecutive paragraphs that are (gasp!) all about Kanye. Part of the problem is that Kanye West is a celebrity because of something that is talent-based. As much as we may wish it, we are not invited to suspend our disbelief when he shouts his hubris from the mountaintop. So while Kimye match up in so many ways – and yes, Us Weekly has counted the ways , which, together, pretty much amount to ‘they’re rich celebrities’ – there are gaps. Kim needs her 24-hour ‘news’ cycle to stay relevant in a way that Kanye does not. Kanye actually has to spend time in the studio making records, just like Lamar Odom actually has to practice and play basketball to remain in the NBA.
So maybe it’s not (just) because Kanye is black that the premature deadbeat-dad debate has risen to such a pitch. Maybe people suspect he will be absent because “Kim solo” is what’s necessary to keep the money rolling into the empire. Maybe rampant narcissism just isn’t enough to make a celebrity super couple stick through the good, the bad, and the baby. Maybe Jerry Springer was on to something, when he made the evil-genius quip that because of his legacy as one of the fathers of reality (read: train wreck) television, he himself is the baby’s “spiritual father.” This rings true in a way that unfortunately does not absolve the overall creepiness of the image. Somebody get Maury Povich on the line so we can finally get to the bottom of this.