The rapper Kanye West and reality star Kim Kardashian didn’t get married over the weekend in Florence, Italy, so much as complete a celebrity merger. As West reportedly gushed in his remarks on the blessed occasion, evidently overcome with emotion, “The Kardashians are an industry!”
It was like he was marrying General Electric. He was right, of course, and one of the industry’s top products is weddings. There is an impeccable commercial logic to the proposition that it is better to sell two weddings than to sell one.
The last time Kim Kardashian looked stunning in a wedding gown (by Vera Wang), passionately kissed her dapper new hubby (Kris Humphries, a basketball player) and cut into a wedding cake taller than the average person (by Hansen Cakes), she made $15 million.
She released a “wedding fragrance” called, with scant regard for truth in advertising, “Kim Kardashian Love,” and got a two-part special on E! out of the wedding planning and ceremony. Her divorce filing 72 days later wasn’t quite as marketable, but every industry has its core competency, and the Kardashians still haven’t figured out how to make as much out of the end of marriages as out of their storybook beginnings.
For all that the details of the latest Kardashian wedding differ (gown by Givenchy, Kanye West as dapper new hubby, 7-foot-tall cake by Galateo Ricevimenti), the bottom line is the same: Some reports say they will make more than $20 million off it. If Elizabeth Taylor had had a similar knack for martial monetization, she might have died a billionaire.
The rehearsal dinner was at Versailles, and the wedding ceremony at Forte di Belvedere in Florence — appropriately enough, since the Kardashians are part of a degenerate celebrity aristocracy that lacks for nothing except class, grace and enduring accomplishment.
Both Versailles, built into one of the largest palaces in the world by Louis XIV, and Forte di Belvedere, a project of the Medicis, have seen their share of gross excess, needless to say. But the multimillion-dollar Kardashian-West union has to rank among the most sensationally vapid events ever to grace those centuries-old structures.
For all its flaws, there was something noble in the old nobility. It set standards and maintained ideals. Selfishness and greed were usually at least filtered through a commitment to something higher. The Kardashians are a testament only to the tacky art of money- and fame-grubbing, without style, wit or a commitment to the common good. In TV program terms, it is the difference between “Downton Abbey” and “Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami.”
In his wedding speech, Kanye West enthused that the assembled guests included “the most remarkable people of our time,” with the power to “make the world a better place.” Especially if it involves Instagramming photos of themselves.
The celebrity wedding is nothing new, of course. Once upon a time, the famous starlet Marilyn Monroe married the famous ballplayer Joe DiMaggio, and that didn’t last long, either. But the ill-fated Monroe-DiMaggio union had an unmistakable element of tragedy, whereas the Kardashian productions play more like farce.
Kim is the apotheosis of what Jason Roger Moore, one of the creators of the Paris Hilton phenomenon, calls Fame 2.0. It is celebrity with no substance. Kim isn’t an actress, singer or supermodel. She bootstrapped the temporary notoriety of a sex tape into a reality-show franchise that the family has managed to keep going well beyond its 15 minutes through shrewdness and shamelessness.
The magic of Fame 2.0 is that it builds on itself — until it doesn’t. The undoing of the Kardashian clan probably won’t be public revulsion, or any strategic misstep on their part, given their canny. It will be the onset of public boredom, with the artifice and manipulation and the whole cast of uninteresting characters. That’s how this particular industry ends.