Panopticism and How It Is Related to Kim Kardashian's Fame

Categories: Power

Kimberly Noel Kardashian was born on October 21, 1980 in Beverly Hills, California. With her father being a well-educated, famed lawyer and her mother a young, Armenian model, it shouldn’t be any less than expected that Kim Kardashian became the commercial celebrity she is today. Growing up just around the hills of fame, Kim was submerged into the luxury and heinous ways of notoriety. Although it may seem shocking, whilst growing up, Kim and her three siblings underwent very strict, conservative, and religious tradition.

This left them with the responsibilities of the family business, and the cut off from “free” money at the very age of eighteen as stated in her biography Kardashian Konfidential. Even Kim herself saying, “We grew up with privilege so we knew our standards were high … [and] if we wanted to keep it, we had to work hard” (Kardashian). It was then in 2006 that her sisters Khloe and Kourtney joined her in Calabasas, California to open a boutique called D-A-S-H.

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The trio then signed a deal with E! to be the stars of the reality show Keeping Up with the Kardashians which documented every hardship and prize their family then encountered.

This is where the glamour and global obsession of the Kardashian Empire rose and conquered. But, this is also where, “visibility” became “a trap” (Foucault). In a world of hierarchy, the lives of the Kardashians are monitored through the eye of the media and public. With the millions of cameras flashing and search engines filled with articles, blogs, and webcasts pertaining to the simplest aspects of their everyday lives, indubitably the Kardashians are trapped within a “cell”.

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Michel Foucault illustrates this life of the Panopticon. It is to be consistently and anonymously watched by a tower; of which there is no indication of when the surveillance begins or ends. One is entrapped in a cell, where there is little to do, and little motivation to do anything at all. What one does in their cell is their small plate of independence given to them while the guard in the tower feasts at the table.

There is an anonymous coercion towards anyone in the cells because of the lack of awareness of whom may be watching them. It is constant living in fear of disapproval or punishment. It is enclosure, and it is a society of pure discipline. Kim Kardashian’s utterly glamorous and coveted lifestyle lies deeper than the perfected make-up and Rovers. Kim Kardashian’s life would not have taken the media craved form that it has now engulfed if it were not for panopticism. Her life has been monitored since she was a very young girl. Being the daughter of the lawyer of the O.J. Simpson case, she was exposed to media and paparazzi at the young age of a teenager. She understood her actions will directly cause her consequences and rewards. In Foucault’s work, “He is seen, but he does not see; he is the object of information, never a subject in communication” (287).

Kim’s life has become the success it has because she is always being watched. Her time on her reality show is exactly that: her life is documented and we watch it for pure entertainment. Her body and her image is what provides her with fame. It has nothing to do with her ideas for society, charity efforts, or educational discoveries, it is pure unadulterated lust or jealously for this reality actress. There are many instances that Kim has been referred to as “famous” but “famous for doing nothing”. Without her constant “surveillance” no one would even bother with her life and what pertains to it. But what comes with this constant fame and paparazzi chases, also comes the hardships of living in a glass house. Recently, Kim Kardashian got engaged to rapper Kanye West. A very intimate ceremony ironically, stated by the press, it is no surprise one of the founders of YouTube attended the special moment. He then, had to sign a binding contract and take a picture with it as well, that he could not record any moment of the engagement without then suffering legal reprimanding.

It was then, the following day, he published and publicized on the website footage from the engagement. Kim and Kanye are now suing the man for breaking the contract and exposing their moment (E! News). Due to the fact she is not “one of communication” regardless of whether or not she or her rep says, if she is seen with a young, handsome gentleman, there will be magazine articles the following day with several pictures from the night and rumors of all sorts. It is her very own life, and she has absolutely no control over what is said about her and how it is said to the entire world. There are many times not only on Keeping Up with the Kardashians but in interviews and articles as well, that Kim has lost loved ones and relationships due to the pressure of always being under the public eye. Her sister Kourtney has even said in regards to specific instances, “Kim just wanted to go out with a guy, and have some fun and not have it be all about the press and the media and everything that surrounds that” (Kardashian).

With fame achieved by the public eye, there is no guarantee or possible existence of privacy. With paparazzi in undercover cars, as tourists, in bushes, even helicopters, there is no escaping it. The Panopticon induces a sense of permanent visibility that ensures the functioning of power (Foucault), and the paparazzi and media have accomplished exactly that. Ironically enough, although Kim lives under the highest magnification of a microscope, in slight contradiction to Foucault’s Panopticism, Kim does hold some of the power. Foucault says, “The practice of placing individuals under ‘observation’ is a natural extension of a justice imbued with disciplinary methods and examination procedures” (309). What can be interpreted by this is that although one may be encaged, it is what one does with this space that makes all the difference.

Although Kim Kardashian may be the prisoner of the Panopticon, she at times can be the one sitting in the tower, watching us as well. Does one truly believe that every argument and dramatic moment that takes place on the show, is really something that happened to the family? Could Kris Jenner, the manager of the famed Kim really have accidently booked two photo shoots at once therefore almost losing Kim’s shot for fame? If one possess common sense, then one would know almost the entirety of this “reality” is scripted. The show gives the viewers what the viewers want. If the views go up when Kim breaks up with her boyfriend, then by all means will the producers keep Kim single on the show for as long as they feel necessary. If by making the family fight over whether or not they should get chickens in their backyard is something that would be humorous or entertaining, it will happen.

By us as a nation feeling like we are the ones watching them, it can also be said that they are in fact “keeping up” with us. They, the producers, pay very close attention to what draws viewers, what gets annoying, and what is truly desired as a plot in a show. Although we laugh at their over dramatic scenes, explicit language and sensual photo shoots, the Kardashian family is laughing at us. For every increase in a viewer that watches the episode that Kim kick boxes in, although she gets “hurt” and “embarrassed”, her paycheck per episode will also increase. If Kim Kardashian has a wardrobe malfunction, as if that actually happened by accident, the next years’ worth of tabloids will have some form of reference to it. Said in Leah Feinman’s Endorsements in Non-Traditional Advertising, “It comes as no surprise that Kim Kardashian can command up to $25,000 to mention a product or brand in a tweet” (Feinman).

Kim Kardashian can earn the down payment on a yacht because she told the world she enjoyed drinking Fiji Water. Regardless of how much we watch her, it is truly her that watches us and our reactions. Michel Foucault’s Panopticism did not see the days of extreme media, paparazzi, and the exposure our world has today with celebrities. It did not see much of the internet or television series that have become overwhelmed with fame and popularity. Michel Foucault and Panopticism will have seen or heard simply nothing of the Kardashian family and their heightened fame come 2006. But, seemingly enough, Panopticism has also defined and paved the road for Kim and her family. The life of constant surveillance and visible but unverifiable power (Foucault) dominates the modern life of fame.

In fact, Kim Kardashian has successfully taken over the media through the light of panopticism. She and her family would not have come this far without the life of surveillance. Without being constantly followed and watched in their daily lives, we would not know about it. Without Kim’s commercial ads, spoke’s model statuses, famous boyfriends and fashion disasters, she would be another woman on the face of this earth. But the Kardashians have taken the world by storm. It can indeed be said that one is living under a rock if the Kardashian Family is unheard of. Kim Kardashian and her highly luxurious and publicized life is pop culture. It is what we seek as a guilty pleasure due to jealously or pure enjoyment of seeing someone else’s life’s drama unfold in front of the nation to see. It has taken over all media.

Although Kim is indeed being constantly followed, enclosed, forced to look perfect, make her life interesting so we as the public feel as though our lives are interesting, she benefits from the fame just as much as we give her. The more surveillance she is given, the more money is also granted to her. Although the hardships of paparazzi and cruel critiques of her every move linger amongst Las Angeles, CA, so does every opportunity towards incentive. Undeniably, it is Kim Kardashian’s world, and quite frankly, a good portion of the time, we are just living in it.

Annotated Bibliography

  • Feinman, Leah W. “Patenting Biotechnology in the European Community.” Celebrity Endorsements in Non-Traditional Advertising: How the FTC Regulations Fail to Keep Up with the Kardashians (2011): 1-47. Web. 21 Nov. 2013. <>.

This article contains legal evidence and direct quotation and proof about Kim Kardashian’s life and struggle as a woman in the public eye. Several quotations from family members and friends refer to specific incidents and moments where the paparazzi has followed her from her home to every destination she has gone to. It talks about the struggle and frustration of this life style and how Kim wishes it could be different but acknowledges the cost of fame. This article also has evidentiary support for my essay because it talks about the countering of how she can control the public eye and the public eye doesn’t necessarily control her. It discusses branding and how if Kim says a specific brand on television she receives $20,000. She manipulates the audience of her show and what she wants them to pay attention to. Overall, this article is exemplary of the Panopticon and Kim’s life living in it.

  • Foucault, Michel. “Panopticism.” Ways of Reading: An Anthology for Writers. Ed. Editor’s Name(s). Bartholomae, David and Anthony Petrosky, eds. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011. 282-309. Print.

This text is the entirety of the thematic theme towards Kim Kardashian. It is the concept of visibility and being watched. It is to be watched and not know who is watching you or for how long they are watching you, but you know you are under surveillance. There is no sense of communication, and you are enclosed in a cell and left alone but are constantly being watched. It shows that society controls the people within the cells and the lack of control they have on their actions.

  • Kardashian, Kourtney, Kim Kardashian, Khloe Kardashian, and Nick Saglimbeni. Kardashian Konfidential. New York: St. Martin’s, 2010. Print.

The Kardashian Konfidential offers honest, bibliographical information of the scandalous, highly-publicized lives of the Kardashians. It beings with early childhood of the family, and their lives with their biological father, Robert Kardashian. It shows the beginnings of fame and involvement of the entire family on their road to success. Although it does speak of achievements, it speaks of sadness and disadvantages as well throughout the book. Kardashian Konfidential begins with their mother Kris, today their manager, heavy involvement in her daughter’s lives from very young ages. She helped scout all auditions, ran all clubs they were involved in, and set the cement for the road they all later took to fame. It discusses the troubles and hardships of coming to fame, such as paparazzi, dating, family issues, and personal problems. Chapters in this book could easily be included in the concept of Panopticism and support the theme of Kim being in the public eye. Several of the chapters address their lives and their road to fame, the key element to their “panoptic life”. It can serve terrific input on those who may not know the Kardashians and how they have come to where they are today in the lime light.

  • “Kim Kardashian and Kanye West Sue YouTube Cofounder Over Leaked Proposal Footage.” E! Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2013.

This article, provided by E! News is an informative, unfortunate summary of the lives of Kim Kardashian and her fiancé Kanye West. It is evidence towards the theme that Kim’s life, even if initially under legal supervision and contract that no recordings or photos may be taken, that people will risk incarnation for a public eye on Kim. It discusses how a YouTube founder was at the proposal by Kanye towards him and signed a binding contract that no footage would be leaving the scene. Just a few hours later, it is on the new YouTube page, and he proudly and publicly announces that he has footage of the couple. This directly supports how much Kim is in the public eye, yet even when she thinks she is no longer at risk for being watched or exposed, people will break laws to follow and photograph her. Her life is the epitome of Panopticon, because she now truly does not know who is watching her, but they can see her. Her life is a video on YouTube, so to speak, literally and figuratively, that anyone can watch her. This article is very much textual evidence towards this prompt and the idea of Kim being in Foucault’s society.

  • “Kim Kardashian Biography.” A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2013.

This website and scholarly article completely obtains and the childhood, celebrity transition and current life of Kim Kardashian. It is biographical information pertaining to her entire raising and how she achieved the light of fame by whom she knew and came to know while growing up. It is very informational and provides many facts about her life, and family/personal history. This is a crucial element to this essay because as a research project, facts about her life and history and how she became the commercial name of “Kim Kardashian” and the obsessive element of pop culture and media is exactly how she is related to Panopticism and therefore a very strong piece of support.

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Panopticism and How It Is Related to Kim Kardashian's Fame. (2021, Sep 27). Retrieved from

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