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We don’t treat Kim Kardashian like a person. Her robbery exposed that.

Kardashian was the victim of a violent crime, one that that exposed our ugly lack of empathy.

Givenchy : Front Row - Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Spring/Summer 2017 Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

There are very few moments in Kim Kardashian’s life that aren’t captured for immortality. Her everyday experiences, the sex she has, her husband’s beef with Taylor Swift, her workouts, her nudity, her shopping excursions — it’s all documented on Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter, in tabloids and magazines, and on her family’s reality TV show Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

Kardashian has an uncanny knack for parlaying these moments into national conversation, media attention, and profits.

But this week marked a rare occurrence, where people can’t stop talking about something that happened to Kardashian that wasn’t broadcast to the world.

According to French police, Kardashian was tied up and robbed at gunpoint in Paris, in the early hours of October 3. The thieves reportedly made off with millions of dollars’ worth of Kardashian’s jewelry, perpetrating their heist by dressing up like police officers.

The aftermath of the robbery has conjured up a deplorable, unattractive public response. People have shamed Kardashian, questioned her behavior, and even claimed that the crime was a publicity stunt. The National Rifle Association used the opportunity to make a political statement:

What was no doubt a traumatic and terrible experience for Kardashian has also become a chance for us to reflect on our own reactions to the news. On why we don’t treat Kardashian like any other celebrity. And on our own callousness when it comes to both Kardashian and her famous family.

The curse of being Kim Kardashian

A crucial thing to keep in mind about this entire ordeal, and the public response to it, is that Kim Kardashian isn’t a regular celebrity, in a way that goes far beyond the idea that celebrities are different from regular people. Her entire image is about exposure — living every part of her life in the public eye.

Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter are her hustle.

She’s famous for being famous, for being infamous for her sex tape, for having famous relatives, for willing celebrity upon her sisters, for being married to a supremely talented, megalomaniacal rapper.

She’s a celebrity whose fame is perpetually sustained by her mere existence. She doesn’t need to sing or dance like Beyoncé, or act in movies like Jennifer Lawrence. Instead, she lives her life in the public eye and is rewarded for it.

Kim Kardashian and her family have crafted and cashed in on a post-privacy version of celebrity.

What’s fascinating — and what her robbery made startlingly clear — is that her life in the public eye seems to have stripped people of any ability to empathize with her. Kardashian’s constant appeal for attention has given people a sense that she’s nothing more than a caricature. That her reality show, her Instagram photos, her temporal pieces of Snapchat art are as edited and curated as any glossy magazine ad or talk show appearance.

If you think of Kim Kardashian as nothing more than a phantasm of Instagram filters, contour makeup, and her mother Kris Jenner’s genius business sense, it’s much easier to explain the backlash directed her way.

“The reaction to the Kardashian robbery has, in many quarters, been unkind,” the Washington Post’s Robin Givhan wrote. “That’s not because people don’t have empathy for a woman, a mother, a wife. They just don’t have empathy for a hollow brand.”

Quite simply, despite Kardashian living her life almost entirely in the open, many people still don’t see her as a person. To her biggest critics, there’s no separation between the woman and her brand. And that allows us to forget our own humanity while calling hers into question.

Many people would rather believe a conspiracy theory than Kim Kardashian

According to French authorities, Kardashian’s robbery took place in the early hours of October 3. As reported by the New York Times, she was in the city for Fashion Week, staying in the Eighth Arrondissement, and was alone in her luxury apartment when two men barged in, restrained her with zip ties and gagged her, and escaped with nearly $9 million of jewelry and at least three accomplices. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Kardashian managed to break free and call her bodyguard at 2:56 am local time.

As is often the case with breaking news, early reports contained conflicting details about what happened. One said the thieves fled by bicycle; another stated that, according CCTV footage, the thieves escaped in a black limousine. At first it wasn’t clear how many perpetrators there were. US Magazine wrote that Kardashian screamed for help and no one heard her, though officials say she was gagged. And now there’s a claim that the robbery might have been an inside job.

Perhaps because of the discrepancies, because many people view Kardashian through an extremely cynical lens, or some combination of the two, many people have mocked her on social media and suggested that the robbery might be a publicity stunt.

Kardashian skeptics and conspiracy theorists point to the fact that Kardashian routinely Snapchats pictures of her jewelry and swag, and note that the ring that was stolen was one she featured on Snapchat and Instagram in the same week as the robbery.

Further, Kardashian had shared an Instagram photo of herself and her bodyguard Pascal Duvier (who has become an internet sensation in his own right) the day before the robbery, quipping that “he’s always in my shot” and implying that he’s always right beside her. That he was not present to protect her when the robbery doesn’t make sense if you believe Kardashian’s account that he never leaves her side.

And as BuzzFeed discussed in a story about whether Kardashian’s social media postings guided the robbers to her location, there was a recent episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians in which some of Kim’s sisters pranked each other to teach a lesson about what they reveal online.

All of these conspiracy theories possess a logical explanation (Kardashian Snapchats everything; her bodyguard might not be attached to her hip, especially overnight; the Keeping Up With the Kardashians episode is just a coincidence, etc.), but the more telling thing here isn’t the actual theories but people’s desires to create them.

To be clear, it’s difficult to distinguish between publicity stunts and reality TV moments when it comes to the Kardashians’ lives. Further, it seems that some humans out there will believe any conspiracy theory you present to them.

But it’s a little easier to say that the Kim Kardashian and the rest of her family have let moments from their private lives, including very intimate ones, play out on television to a chorus of people who believe their behavior and TV show are frequently in poor taste or exploitative.

Some of the Keeping Up With the Kardashians “storylines” the family has been criticized for include: Kim’s massive 2011 wedding to NBA player Kris Humphries, followed by an infamously brief 72-day marriage; Lamar Odom’s (Khloe’s ex-husband) struggles with addiction; Scott Disick’s (the father of Kourtney’s children) alcohol and substance abuse; and Caitlyn Jenner’s transition.

Considering what the Kardashian family has put on television, it’s not difficult to picture a future special episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashiansthough the show has decided to halt production in the wake of the robbery — featuring Kim talking about her ordeal, with the E network marketing it as a must-see event. And as earnest or as “real” as that episode might be, it still won’t change people’s minds about what happened.

Kim Kardashian’s robbery says more about us than it does about Kim Kardashian

The saddest component in the wake of the robbery is that Kardashian has stated that she will no longer flaunt her jewels and clothes on social media. French cops and an ex-bodyguard have claimed that her social media habits were the reason she was robbed. And while I understand some of that reasoning — people do need to be careful about what they post on social media, especially if it’s geotagged (Kardashian didn’t geotag her tweets, but she did use Snapchat to share photos of herself in the apartment where she was staying) — it’s still an instance of victim blaming, with a side of respectability politics.

Kardashian was the victim of a violent crime. And saying the crime happened because of her social media habits isn’t that different from saying a woman was raped because of a skirt she wore or because she got too drunk at party. A woman’s behavior isn’t the crime here.

Sadly, Kardashian has been shamed into believing the opposite.

This isn’t to say there aren’t lessons to be learned. The Kardashian family will surely have a serious conversation, if they haven’t already, about their security team’s protocols and the security of their accommodations when they travel.

And if there’s a lesson for those of us who aren’t Kardashians, it’s that there are certain people in this world with whom we’re reluctant to empathize. People whom we don’t treat like fellow humans, even though they deserve it as much as anyone else. And that says more about us and how we live than it does about anything else.

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