Seeing the photo of Kim Kardashian in the Oval Office at the White House during her visit to discuss prison reform was like being handed a snapshot of some alternate reality where celebrities run the world.
An upcoming episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians perhaps, where Donald Trump declares her “hired” for his new business venture. It’s easy to be seduced by Kardashian’s stylish ways, and Trump’s charisma, but look a little closer and the photo is chilling, because within this Oval Office decisions are made that not only affect America, but the entire world, and that power, it seems, today, is in the hands of the celebrity.
Kardashian was at the White House to discuss the case of 62-year-old Alice Marie Johnson who is serving a life sentence for a non-violent drug offence. “We are optimistic about Ms Johnson’s future and hopeful that she – and so many like her – will get a second chance at life,” she said in a statement on Wednesday night.
While I support celebrities using their popularity for humanitarian purposes, an issue such as America’s broken prison system seems a far reach from the Kardashian beauty empire. Recently she was under fire for promoting appetite suppressant lollipops. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind an episode of the Kardashians every now and then, and the family have a lot to be proud of. They have built an empire worth billions, and these women have accomplished this in a man’s world. But her seeming influence in politics is troubling, especially since it was Trump’s celebrity status that gained him his seat, and that he is reinforcing a culture where wealth and fame buy you power by bringing into the White House one of the most talked about celebrities in the world.
This is not about dismissing Kardashian because of her gender or seemingly indulgent attitude towards life – I cannot comment on her intentions or genuine interest in the topic. According to Vanity Fair, the meeting had been in the works for some months, with back-channel talks between Kardashian and senior advisor and son-in-law to the president, Jared Kushner.
The internet has been quick to mock her for her attempts, with the New York Post running a sexist and patronising front page reading: “The other big ass summit: Trump meets Bump”, and referring to Kardashian as “Kim Thong Un”.
Kardashian can be lauded for her attempts to bring an important issue to the forefront of American politics, but she could have done so in a number of ways. That she – rather than those who have been campaigning for prison reform for decades, or even people who have been impacted by the issue – was offered a coveted moment of the president’s time is an embarrassing state of affairs.
At the end of the day America is in the predicament it is in. Donald Trump is its president, and no amount of jumping up and down can change that for now. So if his system operates in a world where celebrities like Kardashian are allowed access and can actually influence the administration to make a change for the better to a system that is in desperate need of reform, can we honestly fault her for going there?
As has been argued many times, America has a huge problem when it comes to rehabilitating its prisoners. While the United States represents about 4.4 per cent of the world’s population, it houses around 22 per cent of the world’s prisoners. Nearly 80 per cent of prisoners are rearrested in the American prison system within five years of being released.
Compare this with Norway, for example, which has one of the lowest rates in the world at 20 per cent, and whose prison system is based on rehabilitation and not “revenge” as Michael Moore puts it in his documentary Where to Invade Next. Prisoners there live in small houses with country views. The only punishment they receive is the removal of their freedom to be part of society.
This isn’t the first time a celebrity has been invited to the White House. Celebrities including Bono and Oprah Winfrey have popped by in the past. But the photo displayed on Kardashian’s Twitter feed in the Oval Office didn’t appear to be just a visit, it showed the world that there was business discussed, almost as if Kardashian herself was a congresswoman or important visiting parliamentarian.
Apart from these recent talks with Kushner and a few tweets here and there, I haven’t seen Kardashian advocate this issue before. Why the sudden interest? Are we looking at Kanye West with Kim as first lady in the next US presidential election? It is the existence of these questions which forces onlookers to ultimately see the meeting as an American democratic mockery of sorts, and that’s chilling, because one day it won’t be a celebrity with seemingly good intentions visiting the White House.
Koraly Dimitriadis is a freelance opinion writer, poet and author of ‘Love and F*** Poems’
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