You might have heard by now that Kanye West has a sex tape that is being shopped around for public release, or maybe you’ve just heard his denials. Perhaps you’ve heard that Kim Kardashian is in it, a shocking second starring role in a sex tape that could undermine her marriage to Kris Humphries even further. Or, that she isn’t in it because there isn’t one, or she isn’t in it because, instead, an eerily similar look-alike shares the screen with Kanye. Regardless of how you feel about either of these characters, I’m quite sure you’ve heard some of this by now.
And, regardless of the truth, Kanye West’s sex tape exists enough for our purposes. Just like the contents of the suitcase in Pulp Fiction, the tape is a MacGuffin, a real life plot device. It is an idea that is filling up headlines, blurring the lines of public and private, performer and person, and empowering normal, everyday, unexciting, nobody people everywhere to turn a critical eye on an American socialite and a hip hop star.
It’s also an idea that's incredibly easy to wrap one’s head around. Both West and Kardashian have built impressive careers on their identities and particular talents, which include the deft ability to present simply being who they are as a talent. Naturally, wouldn’t the combination of two egocentric stars result in a sex tape? West crafts a short films and albums about his life and thoughts and calls them art; Kardashian has us buy her books, wear her clothes, and watch only her family on TV. Why wouldn’t they take their romantic relationship, brand it, package it, and serve it up to us as well? Especially when the world seems so eager for it.
There was a time when “sex tape” was a truly edgy, provocative, uncomfortable term — not a buzzword in danger of being as far removed from its original punch as “synergy.” Once, a public sex tape was the product of a huge breach of trust and courtesy and the proper response was for the public to clutch its pearls. Now, we’ve reached a point where a sex tape is simply another blurb in the swirl of celebrity gossip. It’s a plot point on The L.A. Complex. It’s something that was released by Screech in the hopes of reviving his career. It’s a piece of evidence in the trial of John Edwards, former senator and presidential candidate. It’s an annoyance that Kendra Wilkinson has to deal with before returning to her role as one of Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends.
We want there to be a sex tape. We want a reminder of the power of this genre, so much so that people may have hacked into West’s computer to obtain the footage, risking legal action because they knew there would be a market for whatever they found. We want that violation of trust and privacy because it’s a fresh excuse to scrutinize and judge these glamorous people. We still want the ability to take something from the celebrities that offer up their whole lives for our entertainment. Sex tapes used to be scandals; now, they are consumer power plays.