There’s something about literature that’s sacred. Authors are special people with a special purpose and their stories attain the status of a holy text to their fans, for good reason. And then there are the Kardashians. When I first heard that the young Jenner sisters had written a dystopian YA novel, my first, knee-jerk response was, “Oh God, really?” And then I sat back and thought about it. It’s really not that bad. And I’m not just talking about the book itself.
The virtual avalanche of Internet and official criticism engulfing the release of Rebels: City of Indra takes the form of several different arguments:
The “They hired two ghostwriters; they didn’t even write it themselves!” argument.
So many other film stars, performers, and musicians hire ghostwriters to tell their stories. In this instance, the only difference is that Kendall and Kylie’s “story” happens to be a work of fiction and fiction, as we know, is perceived differently than celebrity memoirs, for example. However, Jason Segel recently sought a collaborator on his children’s book, Nightmares!, to be released in Fall 2014. When asked about his decision to work with a co-writer, he stated that he “wanted the book to be good” and that he “provided the template in the script and [Kirsten Miller] provided a description of the world with the prose the way a director would do visually.” Hiring collaborators shows a level of insight and humility; the Jenner girls knew they didn’t have the talent necessary to give their story its literary legs.
Personally, I find their desire to write a novel commendable, especially given that these two girls were born into privilege and are paid to be filmed continuously. They’re models and have been in the public eye since they were just children, but despite being accustomed to making money from their looks (and let’s face it, they’re beautiful), they’ve taken it upon themselves to do something creative and different.
The “These girls should stick to what they know: shopping and taking selfies” argument.
Criticizing Kendall and Kylie for wanting to writing a book is tantamount to saying that just because they’re pretty, they can’t possibly be smart. Pretty girls who like to shop can’t be interested in books. While there is no evidence to assume these girls read a lot, there is also no evidence proving they don’t. Kendall’s now-infamous comment of “I’m the worst reader” really referred to her public speaking ability. In fact, both girls are self-proclaimed lovers of YA dystopia, like most teenagers. Basically, they’re fan-fiction writers with a famous family, but judging by the level of hatred directed at them, you’d think they’d been caught burning banned books.
Are they spoiled and privileged? Very possibly. But at least they’re doing something more creative than stumbling drunkenly out of LA bars. In fact, with their show, modeling careers, clothing lines and now a book, they’re kind of teenage workaholics. And they’ve channeled their energy and influence into a medium more substantial than a reality show. Where’s the bad?
The “There are so many people out there working so hard, with so much talent, trying to get published and then this happens? It’s a travesty” argument.
While I am utterly sympathetic to the struggling writer trying desperately to get published, this argument is as invalid as the author who asked J.K. Rowling to stop writing books. Kendall and Kylie’s book does not sap the talent from lesser-known or unpublished writers, nor does the fact of their publication bar others from being published themselves. Their book is marketed to a vastly different audience than most authors would wish to sell to. Comparing the marketing of an author’s debut novel, for example, to that of this work is illogical.
Whether this work is good enough to be published I cannot say, but if it’s not, then blame the publishers, not the authors. Publishing houses exist to sell books and they have obviously bet on a proven money-maker. Time and again, the Kardashians have proven they’re an excellent investment.
So is the book itself really that bad? I haven’t read the whole book yet, but from reading it sporadically and reading about it pretty diligently, it’s clear that Rebels: City of Indra shows some pretty sophisticated themes. The setting, Indra, is a small biosphere salvaged from the remains of the earth, and split into two drastically different social spheres: the super-rich and the very poor. Strict standards of beauty are enforced on women through their Governesses, and extensive plastic surgery is the norm to adhere to these standards. Women are second-class citizens judged entirely on their looks. They are even forced to take birth control pills to limit their childbearing.
Set against this rather chilling backdrop are the Jenner girls’ alter egos, Livia and Lex, the former wealthy and the latter dirt poor. In the course of the story, they recognize the faults in their system of government and join a rebellion. Livia declares early in the novel: “I’m breaking the rules, and I absolutely refuse to care.” It’s a common YA trope, but in the case of this particular novel, the quality of the writing and plot are irrelevant compared to the messages of the book and its intended audience.
The truth is that Kendall and Kylie Jenner of Kardashian-reality-show fame have put their names on a work that denounces the ubiquity of plastic surgery, roundly criticizes standards of beauty that oppress young women, and makes some scathing commentary on wealth disparity and the rape of the earth. Even if they didn’t put pen to paper themselves, they have collaborated on—and more important, endorsed—a work that makes positive political statements. Their characters may be dystopian versions of Kendall and Kylie themselves, but their characters’ decision to rebel against their image-obsessed, sexist government has the capacity to inspire positive reactions in their impressionable female readers. I’d say Kendall and Kylie are using their konsiderable klout for the powers of good. And that’s something to be grateful for.
Most of the venom directed at these girls stems from mean-spirited, senseless Kardashian hatred. And I don’t care who you are, how talented, how smart, how worthy, if you hate someone that much without knowing them, reevaluate your life.