On March 19, Keeping Up with the Kardashians aired the episode centered around the Oct. 3 Paris robbery and assault of Kim Kardashian. The episode, titled “Paris,” was cut together clips of the Wests’ personal videographer, KUWTK film crew and camerawork done by Kim’s assistant Stephanie Sheppard. The result was 42 minutes (no commercials) of the most powerful reality television I have ever seen.
The episode was so effective because it was drastically different from how the Kardashians usually portray themselves. The blurry, ‘80s-style videography from Kanye’s personal archives is not typically (or ever) utilized in a KUWTK episode. Everyone holding a camera is a friend, rather than a crew member, meaning that Kim is much more open. That closeness between friends, Kim interacting with the camera, translates to the episode feeling much more dynamic and intimate.
The show also made the smart decision of not beginning the season with the Paris incident. In the episode-and-a-half period before the robbery, the show intentionally showcased more of Kim’s personality. She has often remarked that the show portrays her as dumber than she actually is, so this portrayal feels more authentic. We see her smiling, nosing around Khloe’s new relationship, thumbing through racks of clothing, laughing about her bodyguard tackling the butt-grabbing prankster to the ground. So when Kim finally gets robbed, and as the story gets retold through Kim and the people around her, we have become so attached to the bright, funny, sharp side of Kim that the robbery burns even brighter in comparison.
The Kardashians have built their careers on documenting their lives, but as they’ve gotten bigger, they’ve gotten better at hiding their true feelings. They say less, and everything they show is very edited. “Paris” is so raw and real and sad, that it’s antithetical to everything else they’ve ever shown.
Some people will criticize her for showing the robbery aftermath in the same way that people criticized her for documenting her life, claiming that she was the reason she got robbed. The common critique of “She flaunted her wealth” permeated every news title, the beginning of every argument. But in the same way that “she flaunted her body” is not a valid excuse for rape, flaunting anything should not be reason for inviting assault.
The gut reaction to victim-blame stems from this hatred of Kim Kardashian for being confident in her womanhood, particularly in her sexuality. Ask anyone who dislikes Kim, and it all begins with, “She’s famous for a sex tape!” As if she released it herself; as if she promoted it; as if Ray J is the most famous man in the world even though, through that logic, it should’ve promoted his career as well. A sex tape in 2007 does account for being arguably one of the most famous people in the world in 2017.
It’s the fact that Kim refused to be shamed or cowed by her sex tape. She didn’t let it define her. We as a society have such a visceral reaction to the notion of a woman not being shamed into the restrictive box set aside for female sexuality. And I truly believe that Kim refusing to be adhere to social norms led to resentment, and that resentment led to hate, and that hate led to victim-blaming.
Even though the sex tape wasn’t mentioned, it hung over the entire retelling. Because Kim is both a celebrity and a woman, the seriousness of the robbery becomes intersected with the threat of sexual assault. When the robbers came into her room, she was naked but for a robe. She detailed one robber pulling her down to the edge of the bed towards him by her legs.
“He pulled me toward him at the front of the bed and I thought, ‘OK, this is the moment they’re going to rape me,’” she said. “I fully mentally prepped myself—and then he didn’t.”
If this had been a male celebrity, I doubt that we would say that he was responsible for his assault. The notion of “asking for it” is so deeply associated with the feminine—blaming victims of rape for their assault by asking what they were wearing, how much they were drinking, who they were talking to—that anything done to a woman, especially a woman so closely linked with her sexuality, leads to victim-blaming. Because we see her “asking for it” in one sphere, and we transpose that onto another.
The Paris robbery has always turned into blaming Kim; blaming her robbery on her flaunting her wealth and life on Snapchat. But it needs to turn into a conversation on how we view women. How we shame and condemn women for owning their womanness; how we get angry about it. How we think, maybe in the darkest recesses of our inhumanity, that she had this coming.
Kim Kardashian did not have this coming. No amount of flaunting ever necessitates robbery or assault. She did nothing to deserve this. And as painful as I’m sure this reliving was for Kim, it was valuable. This is a woman who has an unparalleled platform and access. And instead of shying away from it, she used it for the broader good. She’s (hopefully) changing the way we talk about survivors of assault. Not with victim-blaming but with empathy and understanding.
“I took a tragic, horrific experience and did not let it diminish me,” said Kim on Twitter after the episode had aired. “Rather grew and evolved and allowed the experience to teach me.”