May 13, 2021

The Jenners are Instagram stars, not icons – the T-shirt backlash is proof | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

Kylie and Kendall should not mistake their disposable celebrity standing for real talent. Superimposing their faces over musical icons is next-level hubris

• Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett is a London-based freelance writer

What makes a cultural icon? You might say it’s a person, symbol, or idea that resonates with a group of people on a meaningful level, usually to the extent that he, or she, or it becomes moment-defining and evocative of a particular time. Were you to choose, for instance, the 1960s (has there been a more mythologised decade?), a visual directory of recognisable faces pops up – The Beatles, Twiggy, JFK, Jackie O, Christine Keeler, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Andy Warhol, and so on.

There used to be a sense that iconic status was earned, whether through artistic output, style, political involvement or influence. But what of now? We live in the age of the Kardashians, those vapid products of “reality” television who resonate only in terms of their image, recognisability and brand allegiances. Yet, in this age of Instagam fame, they nevertheless appear to perceive themselves as icons. Take youngest sisters Kylie and Kendall Jenner, whose line of “vintage” $125 T-shirts saw their own faces literally superimposed over musical stars such as Notorious BIG, Tupac Shakur, Black Sabbath, Metallica, Pink Floyd, the Doors, Kiss and Led Zeppelin. Needless to say, the balls-out audacity of this act has left many reeling. Appropriating someone’s face, apparently without permission, is bad enough, especially when that person is deceased. Slapping your own face on top of it in an attempt to cash in on their immense talent is some next-level hubris.

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