Kim Kardashian West officially became the most popular person on Instagram yesterday, edging out the beloved Beyoncé.
Despite Kardashian West’s 44 million Instagram fans, Q Scores polls indicate that she’s the most disliked celebrity in America. 71 per cent of Americans polled this year gave her a negative rating. For context, only 52 per cent of Americans polled gave Bill Cosby a negative rating, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
So if Americans dislike her so much, then why are so many of us following her on Instagram?
Robert Weiss, a social worker and sex therapist who specialises in media and intimacy in the digital age, tells us there’s one simple reason: it just doesn’t matter whether we like celebrities or hate them — we use A-listers to help us relate to each other and make sense of society.
“In all of our very human and understandable needs to feel important and connected, we seek out bigger-than-life figures around us to whom we can connect,” he explains, saying stars like Kardashian West and Beyoncé fill roles as “cultural touchpoints” — much like kings, queens, and emperors filled those roles in the past.
Beyoncé, Weiss continued, fills the role of the ingénue, princess, or queen. She’s beloved by the public — as multiple gushy blog posts about her perfection make clear. It stands to reason that someone with such devoted fans would have legions of followers on social media.
But Kardashian West, Weiss said, plays the role of the “temptress” or the “wicked queen.” And even though she might not be considered morally good except by the 29% of American she can count as fans according to Q Scores, she still has a powerful pull for the remainder of the population.
Since they’re so well-known, Kardashian West and Beyoncé are “playing out universal roles that have been around since Greek tragedy, through Shakespeare, and onto social media,” Weiss said.
To put that into perspective, he used an example from “Game of Thrones”: Beyoncé is the benevolent Margaery Tyrell and Kim is the conniving Cersei Lannister. While media narratives make it seem like Beyoncé can do no wrong, Kardashian West is often looked at with a more critical eye.
To employ some other examples from history: Beyoncé is Catherine of Aragon and Kardashian West is Anne Boleyn. Beyoncé is the pure and good Jackie Kennedy and Kardashian West is the temptress Marilyn Monroe. Beyoncé is Princess Diana and Kardashian West is the wildcard Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson.
People talk about Kim Kardashian West and Beyoncé simply because everyone knows who they are. Professional athletes and politicians serve the same purpose.
“Ultimately we follow those we love and those we hate equally — provided they have gained the kind of status and consistency that allows them to be cultural touchstones or reference points for emotionally relating,” Weiss said. “We need them; they serve a psychological role for us.”
But the message is clear — being famous doesn’t necessarily hinge on how much people like you. You just need to be known, Weiss said.
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