Irecently met a well-known actor at a party, and we talked, as one often does with successful actors, about his work. Eventually he asked me what I did, so I told him. “Journalist, eh? I’ve always thought I’d be rather good at that,” he replied. And maybe he would be because, let’s be honest, the kind of journalism I do is not brain surgery. But even if it were, he probably would have made a similar response: “Brain surgeon, huh? I fancy I’d be a dab hand at that.” I have great admiration for people who make sharp left turns in their career – an actor one day, a firebrand politician the next, like the mighty Glenda Jackson – rather than staying in the same job for ever, out of fear they can’t do anything else. But the only people who casually tell me they could do my job, or indeed any job, are celebrities.
Famous people have a habit of believing they are gifted at, well, everything, and not always to other people’s benefit, as anyone who ever found themselves in an Ibizan club on one of Paris Hilton’s DJ nights knows well. This is what happens when an enormous ego is inflated further by wealth and sycophants. Princess Margaret, in the misguided belief she was a gifted singer, famously once regaled obediently enthusiastic guests with Cole Porter tunes. Francis Bacon, drunk to the eyeballs, booed loudly, and the princess, astonished, ran off in humiliation. “Her singing really was too awful. Someone had to stop her,” Bacon later said.
So that was my favourite example – until now. Kim Kardashian has had the supremely 21st-century career portfolio of reality TV star, fashion designer, workout DVD presenter, memoirist and perfumier. Consider this the gig economy, celebrity-style. But her latest career shift to studying law, revealed in an interview with The Law Society Gazette, is her most intriguing yet. (Apologies, I’ve just heard the interview was in Vogue, on the cover of which she posed in a wet knitted top, just as Clarence Darrow once did.) I love that she was inspired to study law after – for reasons I have yet to grasp – President Trump summoned her to the White House to discuss a legal case. I love that she issued a huffy statement insisting her decision to study law had nothing to do with “privilege and money”, because clearly any random gets invited to the White House to discuss a prisoner’s conviction. And I really love that she issued that statement on Instagram, beneath a photo of her looking at a laptop. After all, as Kardashian observed in her Vogue interview, “The reading is what really gets me. It’s so time-consuming.”
But among all the think pieces about whether this represents the ultimate in celebrity hubris or a new era of celebrity seriousness, the real story has got lost. I have no problem with Kardashian wanting to use her absurdly high profile for good as opposed to, say, flogging “appetite-suppressing lollipops”, as she has been wont to do. But, in her Vogue interview, she makes a comment that has been remarkably unremarked on, one that shows that Kardashian is finally embracing her roots. It has long been an inconvenient truth that the Kardashian name came to public prominence because someone once leaked a sex tape of Kim, and because her father, Robert, was OJ Simpson’s best friend and part of his legal team during his murder trial. Kardashian reclaimed the tape as a positive, pointing out, correctly, that she has nothing to apologise for and arguing, more dubiously, that her brand of exaggerated sexiness is a feminist statement. But being associated with a man most people assume is a murderer – despite being found not guilty at his criminal trial – is harder to spin as a positive. When the case was dramatised in the 2016 TV series The People Versus OJ Simpson, with David Schwimmer cast as Robert, the Kardashian klan pointedly said they hadn’t watched it.
But now Kim is reclaiming the connection, treating Vogue to anecdotes about how as a teenager she loved to read her father’s “OJ evidence books”. “I was really nosy about the forensics,” she says, seemingly omitting that (a) these “forensics” included details of the savage murder of her mother’s best friend, Nicole Brown Simpson, who had gone on holiday with the Kardashians, and (b) her father later admitted he had “doubts” about OJ’s innocence, despite helping him to get off. Still, the most important thing is that it set young Kim – OJ’s goddaughter, incidentally – on the path to becoming a lawyer, right?
The Kardashians’ synthetic fame spun off from a real tragedy, and it’s hard not to admire Kim’s chutzpah in claiming one of the most notorious murder cases of the 20th century as a footnote in the story of Kim Kardashian: Legally Brunette. If she wants to be a lawyer to help people, then hats off to her. But her suggestion that she is following in some kind of noble family tradition is a little less heartwarming than she seems to think. This is celebrity narcissism taken to a level heretofore unknown, even in Los Angeles. Frankly, it’s enough to make one miss the appetite-suppressing lollipops.