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Anna Todd

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  “Taking Selfies and Overthrowing the Patriarchy with Kim Kardashian”

  Kevin Fanning

  “An Unlikely Friend”

  Anna Todd

  “Presidential Kimergency”

  Kate J. Squires

  Taking Selfies and Overthrowing the Patriarchy with Kim Kardashian

  Kevin Fanning

  Imagine . . .

  Kim Kardashian just posted a selfie, and your boyfriend is furious about it.

  You were midconversation when his mood suddenly changed. Or, really, you were just about to be midconversation. You were gearing up to start the conversation. And now Kim’s selfie has ruined everything.

  Your boyfriend had just gotten home from his very difficult and stressful job as a government agent, and it’s one of your rare nights off from your job at Best Buy. You’ve been hinting to him that maybe it would be nice to go out. He hasn’t taken you out on a date, an actual date, in a while. You’ve been together for a while, and it’s starting to feel comfortable. In the good way . . . but also kind of in the not-100-percent-good way. You don’t know how to have the conversation with him exactly, but you’re starting to feel, slightly, like he’s taking you for granted. Not that you don’t still love him! You definitely do. And you are positive that he loves you. You hate that you feel like you even need to have this conversation with him. You know his job is very stressful. Probably everything is just fine between you and you’re making up problems in your head.

  But also: you’re kind of dying inside about another night of doing nothing, just falling asleep on his shoulder in front of the TV. You don’t want to feel bored, but, more than that, you don’t want him to think you’re boring. But you do feel bored, frustrated, overwhelmed on a level that maybe isn’t just about him. But you’re not ready to think about that yet.

  You have resolved to bring up the topic. You say, gently, curiously, nonjudgmentally, “So do you want to do anything tonight?”

  A very easy and blameless entryway into the conversation. Just putting the topic out there.

  He’s looking at his phone, probably going through work emails even though he just left work. He’s obsessed. Not obsessed: driven. Highly focused. It’s a thing you like about him. But you ask the question and it looks like you have his attention, like he’s about to put his phone away and look at you, really look at you, and have this conversation with you, but then he swipes something on his phone and sees something that immediately changes his entire demeanor. A chill descends all around you. His grip on his phone tightens; his knuckles go white. He’s no longer looking at his phone but through it, at some distant object that has suddenly come into focus.

  He’s no longer there in the room with you. You’re suddenly looking at him from very far away. And you know, immediately, that no way is he taking you out on a date tonight.

  “What is it?” you ask. “What’s wrong?”

  Your boyfriend inhales deeply. Something flutters just below the skin of his jaw. Finally he closes his eyes and turns his phone screen over.

  “She posted. Another. Selfie,” he says, viciously spitting out each syllable.


  And you know exactly who he means. There could only be one person he’s referring to, because there’s only one woman who ever posts selfies anymore. There’s only one woman who dares to.

  You reach out to take the phone from your boyfriend. You want to see for yourself. You know you shouldn’t, but it’s like a car crash, a thing that you feel the need to witness, to experience firsthand.

  You slip the phone from your boyfriend’s hand, but then his distraction breaks and he comes back to life. “Wait, no, you shouldn’t see it!” he says, worried.

  And you know he’s right, but you look anyway.

  Kim Kardashian has posted a selfie. She stares at the camera, at you, confidently, boldly, almost happily. Her makeup is perfectly applied, her skin so glossy it’s as if she’s lit from within. Her hair is sleek and black and shiny, like a cat disappearing into the night. Her lips are slightly parted and she’s only barely smiling, but there’s something in her eyes that tells you she is genuinely having fun. That she’s enjoying this.

  The caption below reads: My sincere apologies to my haters for this perfect selfie! There is no law against loving yourself!

  Looking at the picture, you feel something inside you. Something frantic and wild, clawing at the walls of a tiny chamber somewhere deep inside your heart. This selfie of Kim’s is going to ruin your boyfriend’s night, and by extension your night. The aching, the tiny panic inside your heart. It must be anger. At this woman who is acting in a way she shouldn’t. In a way that impacts you. Right? What else could it be?

  You hand the phone back to your boyfriend. He’s eyeing you closely, waiting to see your reaction.

  “Why does she keep doing this?” you ask. “She knows that selfies are illegal.”

  “I don’t know,” your boyfriend says. Then louder, beyond frustrated: “I don’t know!” He turns away. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t let it get to me. I shouldn’t let you see. I just wish there was more I could do.”

  “But you’re already doing so much,” you say, rubbing his shoulder, kneading the solid knot of tension in his muscles. “You’re one of the government’s top agents. You’ve already captured so many notorious celebrity selfie-takers. Lindsay Lohan, Rihanna, Willow Smith, Chrissy Teigen, Ariana Grande—all locked up because of you.”

  “It’s not enough,” he says, staring off into the distance. “Until we catch Kim Kardashian, it’s not enough.”

  “You’ll catch her,” you say. You hear the words and can almost see them floating up like strange bubbles out of your mouth. Do you believe them? It doesn’t matter. What matters is comforting your boyfriend. What matters is how he feels.

  “She’s the most wanted criminal in the country,” you add. “You’ll catch her eventually.”

  The sun is setting outside. The sky is going slightly gray, the same color as your boyfriend’s eyes. You were hoping to see a movie tonight. There’s a new Matt Damon movie, about a man who has to overcome certain obstacles. It’s supposed to be very good. They say it’s going to win awards.

  It’s fine. You need to be taking care of your boyfriend, anyway. This is where you need to be.

  THE GOVERNMENT, and particularly the men in charge of the government, felt that people were spending too much time looking at their phones, too much time taking pictures of themselves, too much time thinking about how they looked. They said it was weird and unhealthy for people to be constantly taking and posting pictures of themselves. They said it reflected poorly on us as a nation. They said it was a hazard, a safety issue. They said we should be focusing on other, more important things. They did not mention specifically what the more important things might be.

  The government had already made so many decisions about what women could or couldn’t do with their bodies that in the end this was just one more thing. The act that made selfies illegal didn’t even have its own bill—it was just a line item tacked onto a longer bill that took away various other rights.

  Certainly the law was not written in a gender-specific way, but it really only
affected women. Men had never been good at selfies, anyway. What did they care if they were illegal? Frankly, it was a relief: one less thing for men to be terrible at.

  At first, women kept taking selfies. No one believed the law could really be a law law. Was this really something they were going to enforce? But then front-facing cameras in phones were banned. Cars need to meet certain safety requirements in order to be safe for use by the public, the government said; so too phones. Front-facing cameras were too much of a threat. They encouraged people to look inward rather than outward, which was bad.

  Then the government task force was formed, and they began going after the most egregiously selfie-taking celebrities, rounding them up and putting them in jail.

  Everyone remembered the videos of Kylie Jenner, how the idea of not being able to take selfies anymore had driven her completely insane, the righteous fury blazing behind her demonic eyes as she was dragged, kicking, thrashing, screaming, from the courtroom to the psychiatric hospital.

  And after Kylie was locked up, her sister Kendall disappeared and was presumed dead. It wasn’t clear if her hypothetical death was accidental or not, since they never found the body. But the notes left behind at her apartment indicated that if her sister was imprisoned and she could no longer take selfies, there was simply no reason to be alive.

  The media and the government spun the story, like they do. Do you see? the government said. If this is how selfies make people behave, making them illegal must be the right thing to do.

  As the task force rounded up more celebrities, there was less inspiration for regular, noncelebrity people to take selfies. And then marketing took over the rest. Instagram changed, pivoted to become a makeup company with a line of foundations based on the different filters of yesteryear. Who cares about selfies when you can look like a selfie all the time? It was a huge success.

  People’s interests changed. People forgot why they had been so upset about the ban on selfies, why it had seemed so important at the time. Everyone moved on.

  Everyone except Kim Kardashian.

  Kim refused to go down without a fight.

  Kim was an outlaw, a self-professed freedom fighter. She lived on the run. She had walked away from her entire life, from everything, and disappeared. No one knew how she lived, how she survived. They only knew that every so often she would turn up again online, post a selfie, leave everyone freaking out, and then go underground again.

  The government had their best hackers trying to figure out where she was, how to triangulate her location, but they were never able to do it. They had software that they used to detect and erase selfies online. It had been a big help in discouraging people from taking and posting such images. But Kim was too good for them, too smart, always one step ahead.

  They closed all her accounts, all the access points they were aware of. But then suddenly there’d be a new account, with just one picture on it. Her followers would find it and it would go viral, everyone sharing this illegal new selfie from the criminal, the one true master of the form, the once and future queen.

  The men were furious. There was no way this was going to end well for Kim. They would get her eventually. It couldn’t last forever. With every selfie she posted, they got one step closer to catching her. They had fantasies about taking that phone away from her. Smashing it while she ugly-cried in front of them.

  But all they had gotten for their troubles was more selfies. Kim’s calm, beatific demeanor, her contoured and highlighted face, smiling. At what, they had no idea.

  ON THE DAY you meet Kim, you are feeling aggressively bad and hopeless about life.

  It’s almost the end of your shift at Best Buy and your manager is completely hassling you. He says that he received a complaint from a customer that you had not been helpful, and that you hadn’t smiled enough during your interaction with this customer.

  Like what does that even mean, smiling enough? You hadn’t smiled at all, actually, that you could remember. Why would you? The customer was a complete jerk. He asked you about Bluetooth speakers and you had politely and helpfully and accurately told him where to find them, even suggesting which one he might like the best. You had fulfilled your end of the social contract governing the interaction.

  But then he had tried to flirt with you, asking things like how long you’d been working there, how was it you knew so much about music. Asking what you liked to do when you weren’t at work. None of his business! You are not under any obligation to return the unwanted flirtations of customers that you were aware of. Best Buy is a national consumer electronics chain, not a brothel, the last time you checked.

  And then the customer saw that you weren’t being super receptive to his advances and switched tactics. He started arguing against your opinion about Bluetooth speakers, belittling the information you’d given him, explaining the myriad ways in which he thought you were wrong. About speakers! The thing that he had asked you for help with!

  Which, fine, dude, whatever. He asked you a question, you gave him a solid answer; if he wanted to argue about it with you, that was his problem. You know more about electronics than he will ever comprehend in his entire life. But having to stand there politely while he berated you, you got just the teensiest bit eye-roll-y with him, and then he stormed off to find your manager.

  So now you’re receiving an extended lecture from your hack manager about customer service. You could try to explain the situation to him, but what would that even get you? You really need this job. You barely have any marketable skills. You’d had a whole career path laid out in front of you once. Sort of. Was YouTuber a career path? You’d been really happy making YouTube videos about electronics. Reviews of products, teaching people things about how they worked. Showing ways to hack apps and software to get them to do things the companies hadn’t intended.

  But you’d eventually decided to give it up, and “Minor YouTube Star” is not exactly something that impresses people on a résumé. Which was how you ended up with this crummy job at Best Buy, where you are easily the smartest and most overqualified person on staff . . . despite the fact that your boss and the customers routinely treat you like you’re an idiot. You are just really into electronics, and this seemed like a good, safe place to do something vaguely related to your interests. At least until you figured something else out.

  But you’d never figured out the something else. And working here involved this terrible uniform of black slacks and ill-fitting, cotton-poly-blend polo shirt that makes you feel as unattractive as possible. Although apparently not unattractive enough to keep men from being creepy! So maybe there’s still hope! Who knows?

  As your boss continues his tirade, you notice out of the corner of your eye that there’s a customer hovering weirdly close by. It’s a woman? Maybe? She’s idly perusing the cameras, which are kept locked up behind glass. She’s dressed in all black, a long hooded coat that sweeps across the floor, and giant, dark sunglasses cover most of her face. She’s standing there and pausing in front of the cameras in a way that makes you think she’s not really looking at anything, but rather eavesdropping on your conversation. LOL, “conversation.” Eavesdropping on the long one-sided lecture you’re receiving.

  You can hear words coming out of your mouth, totally disconnected from anything happening in your brain. “Oh, yeah, customer service is key,” you’re saying, on autopilot. Just anything to get through this moment so you can go back to reshelving cables or whatever, something that makes you look busy enough that customers are less likely to come up and talk to you.

  This is the fourteenth time you are hearing the words customer satisfaction during this little instructional moment, and it’s starting to sound insidiously sexual. That’s just your brain, right? Hearing a word so often it starts to lose all meaning.

  He’s still talking, still saying the same thing over and over again, and you are wondering what could possibly ever end this lecture when the woman in black comes over and interrupts your manager. Like liter
ally right between the words customer and service.

  “Excuse me, are you the manager?” the woman asks. Her voice is husky, low.

  “Yes, that’s me,” the manager says, surprised at the interruption.

  “I wanted to ask your opinion about these cameras,” she says.

  The manager looks curiously at the woman. “You want to buy a camera?”

  “Oh, no,” she says, laughing, placing one hand on his chest in an obviously flirtatious gesture. “Not for me, for my husband.”

  “Oh, sure, we’d be happy to help,” he says, looking around for you, but you’ve already taken your cue and walked away, leaving that conversation behind thanks to the momentary distraction of the flirtatious wife. And you certainly aren’t supposed to know very much about cameras anyway, so you feel safe walking away like you’re all excited to get back to work.

  You mentally thank the woman for the moment’s peace and the grace of the exit she granted you. You spend the rest of your shift staying as far away from potentially threatening customers and your manager as can reasonably be expected while still appearing to perform a worklike function.

  LATER, THE LAST CRABBY CUSTOMER has finally wandered out of the store, your team members are gone, the store is locked up, and you are alone in the storeroom, finishing up some inventory work your manager gave you.

  You are rushing to get everything put away in its proper place when you hear a voice coming from somewhere back past the shelves of printers. You look at the rows and rows of towering metal shelves, each packed tightly and chaotically with different boxes and bins of consumer electronics. You peer into the place where the storeroom recedes into shadows.

  “Um, hello?” you call. There definitely should not be anyone here. You’re probably imagining it. You go back to sorting boxes of SD cards.

  Then you hear another noise. A box being slid along a shelf. And humming? Maybe?