In October last year, Kim Kardashian West very publicly endured a serious trauma. Robbed at gunpoint in her Paris hotel room, press flocked to the scene, liveblogs sprung up at major news outlets. Then came the waves of criticism: hadn’t she caused this, after all? Didn’t the robbers only know where she was, and what jewellery she had with her, thanks to her own Snapchats? Wasn’t this simply the logical conclusion of her saturated social media profile?
A silence followed. Kardashian West stopped posting to Snapchat – and Instagram, and Twitter, and her own app. Her family seemed to hang back, too, with none of them commenting on the incident on their feeds, and many of them not posting at all in the ensuing days and weeks. Khloe Kardashian was the first to comment on it at all, talking to Ellen DeGeneres about the family’s social media use. “It’s all a wake-up call for all of us,” she said.
While the rest of the family’s social media use eventually returned to normal, Kardashian West still refrained from posting – until this week. First uploading an untitled, unlisted home video of her, her husband and children to her YouTube channel, she then posted a family photo to Instagram and Twitter. She also posted clips of the video to Snapchat and Twitter, with the comment that Kanye West had had it made for her for Christmas, and replied to fans’ gleeful comments on her reappearance.
It’s tempting to see this as a glorious return to her old social media usage. But the way Kardashian West is now using her feeds suggests a change in direction for her online strategy.
One of the key features of Kardashian West’s approach to the internet was her focus on immediacy. She used Snapchat and the livestreaming function on her app more than most celebrities use Instagram or Twitter, which gave fans the sense that they were let in on her life in real time, that they could always pop in and see what Kim was up to at that second. This, of course, wasn’t the case – Kardashian West was carefully selecting which small windows of her life to air live, or almost-live – but it gave the impression of a door left always open to the dedicated fans who wanted glimpses of her every move.
These updates are not in the same vein – instead they deliberately put distance between the present moment and the moments they record. The nostalgia factor of the video’s grainy aesthetic and analogue style encourages us to see these snapshots as fragments of the past (even though we know, from the dates of certain events and the age of their children, that all these moments can only come from the last year of Kim and Kanye’s life). In her Snapchats, Kardashian West’s reference to the video as a Christmas present puts another couple of weeks between her receipt of the gift and its unveiling to the public. The family photo, too, seems to suggest reminiscence and reflection – while it could, for all we know, have been taken hours or minutes before being posted, its soft focus hints at nostalgia and the passage of time.
The photo also seems to have been through several different filters which reminds us that time has been taken to edit the picture. In her Snapchats, Kardashian West tells us that Kanye made “two versions” of the home video: she posted different ones to YouTube and Twitter respectively. This means that as we watch the videos, we have an increased awareness that this overtly rosy film offers a curated glimpse at a family home, not raw, unfiltered access.
Kardashian West’s brand has long rested on a strange coalition between transparency and artifice. She might spend hours contouring her face to give the appearance of razor sharp cheekbones that might not be as prominent in reality, but she’ll damn sure show you how she did it, too. She’ll do a glamorous, over the top photoshoot – and release a behind the scenes video on her app showing the hours of preparation that went into it. She’ll hold a ridiculously lavish party, and devote several scenes of Keeping Up With The Kardashians to a last-minute panic about a floral arrangement.
These latest updates are a departure because, although Kardashian West deliberately reminds you of the time and editing that prevents these updates from being immediate or unabridged, she doesn’t invite you to see the transitionary process, or give you the option to watch live. A handful of replies on Twitter are the only evidence that she is really there, in real time, at all.
Perhaps this is the new strain of Kardashian West’s fame for the new year. A renewed emphasis on family, and a sense that domestic life is private life, with just the occasional glimpse revealed to the public. A conscious move away from updates in real time. A shift towards the cultivation of precious memories, generously but sparingly shared. Looking at Kardashian West’s Instagram in 2017, then, has the same sense of ephemerality as looking at stars in the night’s sky: tinged with the knowledge that no matter what you see, you are miles away, and looking at the past.