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Surrealism as a Secret for Success

Given the striking correspondence in language between Amanda Fortini’s analysis of Kim Kardashian’s success (posted on Papermag.com) and the remarks Susan Sontag offers in On Photography regarding the inherent surrealism of photography, I want to consider whether the latter might refine the former. Per Fortini, Kardashian in person “seems amplified, tumescent”, her features made uncanny by hyperbole: “Her black hair is thicker than any you have ever seen, her lips fuller, her giant Bambi-eyes larger, their whites whiter, and the lashes that frame them longer.” Fortini’s emphasis on perception is redoubled in the way she anticipates one possible objection to Kardashian’s looks: “If some of this is the result of artificial enhancement […] none of it seems obviously ersatz.” The distinction between what things seem and what things are becomes clearer when Fortini denies that Kardashian appears real; her body transcends the terminology of reality, and instead “she is like a beautiful anime character come to life.” This blurred distinction between reality and perception finds an analogue in Sontag’s claim that “[I]n the fairy tale of photography, the magic box insures veracity and banishes error, compensates for inexperience and rewards innocence” (41) since, in a way, Fortini seems to suggest Kardashian’s uncanny beauty extends beyond the confines of the camera (that “magic box”) and renders the everyday magical. “It’s like she comes with a built-in filter of her own,” Fortini offers. Seeking to dispel the main charge critics have levied against Kardashian, that she’s famous simply for being famous, Fortini claims that “the longer [she] steep[s] [her]self in the ambience of [Kardashian’s] pleasantly languid manner and hologram-perfect looks, the more facile this charge begins to seem”. Fortini seems to suggest that Kardashian’s talent is the way her appearance renders reality comparable to a fairy tale, or rather, a living photograph. Perhaps this explains the insistence on photographing her: the form of Kardashian bears out the possibility for fairy-tale perfection, and proof is offered in her unfiltered image that many seem eager to capture and consume.

In accounting for what seems the paradox of Kardashian’s success, Fortini might have added the surreal quality that Kardashian’s real and photographic selves exude, for as Sontag notes of our modern photographic paradox, “a discontent with reality [in modern society] expresses itself forcefully and most hauntingly by the longing to reproduce [our reality]” with a photograph, an act Sontag finds inherently surreal (63).

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