You don't have to meditate with monks at the top of a mountain if you want the answers to life's biggest questions. Sometimes you just need to wait and trust that the universe will deliver answers to you. On Tuesday, April 4, 2017, two events unfolded that together asked and answered one of humanity's most vexing questions.
The question was delivered in the form of what might be the most tone-deaf commercial ever produced. We live in an age of great division, of political and social upheaval. Our disappointment in our leaders has compelled us to take to the streets to turn our frustrations into powerful shows of millions of us gathered all over the world, united in opposition to the regressive philosophies of old. This generation will be defined by our unwillingness to believe the status quo cannot be changed, while understanding that the road toward developing solutions is riddled with deep complexity.
So Pepsi made a commercial in which a member of the Kardashian/Jenner family ended a tense standoff between protesters and police officers by handing a cop a can of Pepsi so delicious it ended racism, ensured gender equality, took all the with jobs away from robots and gave them back to people, and invented flying cars.
There's a lot wrong with that commercial. But by suggesting Kendall Jenner is the champion who will lead millennials into a brighter future, all Pepsi did was remind me of one of the most vexing questions of our time: Why the are the Kardashians famous?
The answer is complicated. It's has a little to do with our love of scandal, of trashiness, of the melodrama of the rich and famous. But the key to at least understanding why anybody gives a shit about the Kardashian family was posted on a Reddit thread on the same day Jenner's commercial reduced an entire generation's efforts to change the world to an authority figure cracking a smile after drinking a can of bubbly sugar water.
It turns out it's the Mona Lisa.
Leonardo da Vinci
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On the "Explain Like I'm Five" subreddit, Reddit user Buusakasaka posed a question:
For centuries, Leonardo da Vinci's most famous work wasn't well-known outside of artistic circles. It was just another painting from the guy who brought us The Last Supper. You might remember Steven Spielberg as the director of Jurassic Park, but you probably don't know him as a director of 1989's Always, starring Richard Dreyfuss and Holly Hunter. The Mona Lisa was da Vinci's Always.
Coulda' used a couple dinosaurs.
It's not like people thought the Mona Lisa sucked, either. Critics loved it. But as the recent financial success of Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice goes to show, people don't give a shit about what critics have to say. And it's not like it's an underappreciated classic. It was handed down from one French monarch to another, until eventually Napoleon displayed it in his bedroom. Yet to most people on Earth, the Mona Lisa was just another painting, no more significant than any other. Until it was stolen.
One day in August of 1911, three Italian brothers walked into the Louvre and walked out with the Mona Lisa. The theft made front-page news all over the world. The scandal had all the sensationalist intrigue of the O.J. trial, though without the horrific murders. It even had celebrities wrapped up in it. Pablo Picasso was brought in for questioning because four years earlier he had unknowingly bought art that had been stolen from the Louvre by the secretary of a famous poet and playwright named Guillaume Apollinaire. Even American banking tycoon J.P. Morgan was tossed into the mix when French newspapers pulled a conspiracy theory out of their asses by claiming he funded the heist so he could add the painting to his private collection.
The Mona Lisa went from just another painting to the most famous painting in the world seemingly overnight, and it's remained that way ever since. Almost none of its immense fame has to do with da Vinci's artistry. The Mona Lisa is as famous as it is because it's famous for being famous.
That sounds suspiciously like the legacy of a family Americans treat like royalty, even though not a single one of us can explain what the any of them have done to become famous.
Other than fuck Brandy's brother in a sex tape.
If you like to blame the existence of useless celebrities on a character flaw carried by a whole generation of people, let the story of the Mona Lisa remind you that the Kardashians are nothing new. They will always exist because we want them to -- whether that's as people, as paintings, or whatever version of them comes next. What I'm saying is prepare for Pluto Nash to become priceless in the future.
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How did these hyper-specific tropes spread so quickly?
The Hollywood rumor mill has been playing games with celebrity deaths for at least a century.