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Was Kim Kardashian West trolling the White House with her Jackie O photo shoot?

This is a very deliberately defiant act wrapped in a pretty editorial package.

Kim Kardashian attends The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute benefit gala celebrating the opening of the Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between exhibition on Monday, May 1, 2017, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
Kim Kardashian attends The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute benefit gala celebrating the opening of the Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between exhibition on Monday, May 1, 2017, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

Hate her or love her, you know what Kim Kardashian West looks like.

She has those unmistakable surgically obtained curves, weaves that rival Beyoncé’s wigs, and the perfect selfie pout. Signaling her is easy: Wear something painted on, or barely there to begin with, and pose in front of your phone. Contour your face for extra credit. We can hear her valley girl with the slight twinge of vocal fry way of speaking. Her image is clear.

So it’s worth noting when this iconic celebrity — whose claim to fame is largely maintained by the cult of herself — fades completely into the channeling of another person.  

On Monday, West tweeted out a September Interview Magazine cover in which she attempts to do exactly that, conjuring the iconic political image of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Kardashian West pouts at us with the iconic slick black Jackie O hairdo, dressed in a white dress fit for a mid-1960s White House. North West, her oldest child with husband Kanye West, is posed closely beside her on the couch in an adorable black dress with a white collar. Inside the magazine and on the website, you’ll find more glossy images by photographer Steven Klein smoothed over with an edit made to look like an old newspaper shot. There are pearls, gloves, black leather handbags fit for the finest of grandmothers, and of course pillbox hats. The accompanying interview is conducted by the iconic Janet Mock.

What is on display here is fascinating.

It’s easy to argue Kardashian West is channeling Jackie O simply for the glamorous thrill of it, but we know her better than that by now. She’s a very deliberate woman, particularly when it comes to her presentation. She is a celebrity who communicates primarily through her body and her styling. And this is a very deliberately defiant act wrapped in a pretty editorial package.

The September issue of any major fashion magazine has a clear goal to accomplish: to announce what our culture’s collective attitude towards style is, or, in this case, should be. Interview, it would seem, is communicating that defining the American identity in any way you see fit is in this season.

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We are currently eight months into an administration that is actively stomping on civil rights and liberties affecting several different communities on the margins — including, to a certain extent, Kardashian West’s family. She has a black husband and together they have biracial children. In this context, Kardashian West channeling Jackie O is not necessarily about aligning herself with another famous wife. Rather, it’s about proclaiming that she represents what Jackie O represents, and what our current First Lady is supposed to represent: America.

Jackie O is one of America’s most recognizable figures. Just like Kim K’s long black hair and curves, it’s easy to picture Jackie’s pink knock-off Chanel suit. She’s become the blueprint for how a FLOTUS should sit, speak, and — most importantly here — look.   

Then there’s the sheer genius ploy in securing Janet Mock, a transgender woman of color, to conduct the interview. This is on brand for Interview, a magazine that always casts someone to interview a relevant figure who’s maybe even more influential themselves. Last month, for instance, Dave Chappelle interviewed Kendrick Lamar. In January, we saw Beyoncé interview her baby sister, Solange.

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Mock’s role here could be a subtle jab at Kardashian West being accused of performing black womanhood — juxtaposing her against another woman who’s also been accused (albeit for very different and completely wrongful reasons) of “performing” black womanhood. But it could also read as a swipe at this administration’s apparent disregard for the trans community, which was on full display last week as Trump officially banned transgender people from serving in the military.

This notion that the Kardashian West family is America’s pop cultural first family came about back in 2015, thanks to Cosmopolitan magazine, which ran a piece featuring Kris Jenner, Kim’s mother, and Kim’s sisters with that title. GQ stoked the fire by suggesting she emulated the American Dream, writing, “If you bristle at the designation, remember: Someone who lives the American Dream is not, strictly speaking, an American hero. They’re just someone who turned less into more.”

This shoot is not an especially surprising move from Interview, which was founded by Andy Warhol in 1969 and specializes in these type of daring and challenging cover stories. But it was immediately a controversial one. After all, loving to hate the Kardashian family is almost a sport. Kardashian West’s status as one of America’s most recognized figures is a polarizing one, not that unlike President Trump: A reality television star with a salacious history occupying a position in public life many feel she doesn’t deserve.

Shortly after the cover hit social media on Monday, the backlash began. Most of the criticism was specifically in response to the imagery drawing a direct parallel between Kardashian West and one of America’s most iconic political symbols. Tweets calling the photos a disgrace and insults of “you’ll never be the First Lady” were hurled at Kardashian West. Interview’s website went down briefly due to an onslaught of clicks.

It’s telling that, though the Kardashians were referred to as a “first family” of sorts in a tongue-in-cheek way before, this is the first time that connection has been drawn so explicitly. Would Interview have released this cover while the Obamas were still in the White House? Or is the cover made possible because First Lady Melania Trump is, thus far, a non-factor in her husband’s administration? Melania and her husband did not attend the White House Correspondents Dinner and have announced they’ll be skipping this year’s Kennedy Center Honors as well. Melania’s only major stated policy initiative, an effort to combat cyberbullying, hasn’t gotten off the ground. Melania made headlines Tuesday morning for arriving in Texas wearing stilettos; meanwhile, just 24 hours after releasing this shoot, Kardashian West pledged $500,000 to the Red Cross for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. The White House is left empty figuratively and literally (President Trump has been on 58 different golf trips since taking office).

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Maybe we didn’t get this cover during the Obama administration because we didn’t need it. When the first black First Family graced the covers of magazines, the presence of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama already did enough to communicate a powerful vision of America’s future. Michelle Obama was strong and had agency separate from Barack from the start. Melania is asleep at the wheel, so why can’t Kardashian West take over?