There were photos of Kim Kardashian West embracing her siblings on the beach, throwing up peace signs next to friends and raising a glass to celebrate her birthday on a private island in Tahiti — no face masks or social distancing required.
“We danced, rode bikes, swam near whales, kayaked, watched a movie on the beach and so much more,” Kardashian, who turned 40 on October 21, wrote in a Twitter thread Tuesday. The goal of the celebration, she noted, was “to pretend things were normal just for a brief moment in time.”
Yet, it also had a seemingly unintended consequence of unleashing the internet’s wrath. For most on social media, her photos of the bash — which pictured plenty of people in her “closest inner circle,” all partying like it was 2019 — were about as out of touch as one could get during a pandemic that has killed more than 226,000 people in the United States.
“Happy birthday,” wrote the British actress Kelechi Okafor. “I hope someone got you an alphabet book as a gift, so you can learn to read the room.”
Indeed, many people have had little to celebrate this year, especially in the US. Besides the coronavirus, there are wildfires ravaging the West, unemployment at a high, the economy at a low, kids stuck at home for virtual schooling, college students stuck in lockdown on campus, and voters waiting for hours to cast their ballots in a bitter presidential election that has managed to further divide an already deeply polarised nation.
But in 2020, it seems, we can still rely on the Kardashian clan to unite us in collective rage. As of early Wednesday, the posts in her thread had been retweeted more than 65,000 times, most of them criticising or mocking the media personality for blasting out images from the celebration.
It is the latest celebrity moment underscoring the rampant inequalities in how the crisis has been experienced, forcing most people to hunker down as elites have exempted themselves from many coronavirus restrictions — and, it seems, from much of the pandemic entirely.
In March, as the country was just entering its early lockdown, a cadre of celebrities assembled by actress Gal Gadot were panned for a rendition of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ filmed from inside their spacious mansions. Not long after, NBA players and Hollywood A-listers were slammed for taking coronavirus tests when they were still inaccessible to many health professionals and front-line workers.
Since then, the virus has created plenty of opportunities for the rich and famous to take advantage of their existing investments or make new ones. As high-powered media executives fled to second homes on the beach or in the countryside, private island sales have seen a surge of interest from those able to afford them, the New York Times reported.
True to form, Kardashian’s celebration probably could not have occurred without some kind of massive loophole at the airport. Even though an uptick in coronavirus infections has led her home state of California to advise against all forms of non-essential travel, Elle.com pointed out, Kardashian rang in her fifth decade of life by chartering a private plane to the South Pacific.
The realities of the current moment were not lost on her. “Before COVID, I don’t think any of us truly appreciated what a simple luxury it was to be able to travel and be together with family and friends in a safe environment,” she wrote.
So after two weeks of “multiple health screens” and “asking everyone to quarantine,” she surprised her family and friends with the six-day vacation.
That tweet in particular spawned a meme that took over Twitter for much of Tuesday, as users collectively derided Kardashian for showing off her wealth. Online, many pasted her words beside a range of disaster scenarios and island trips from across many eras and spheres of pop culture.
Kardashian did offer a disclaimer among her tweets, writing, “I realize that for most people, this is something that is so far out of reach right now, so in moments like these, I am humbly reminded of how privileged my life is.” But most of the internet was not having it.
“Wow so fun my family still hasn’t met my six month old baby,” one person wrote on Twitter, “but I’m glad you’re rich!”
“Very cool!” added another. “I haven’t seen my grandma in months because she could die.”
In the UK, where new restrictions have recently kicked in, a third social media user noted, “We’re not even allowed to meet one friend in a cafe. But glad you had a fun time!”
Many on social media also brought up a meme constructed from one of Kardashian’s previous trips to Polynesia, when she broke down on camera over an uninsured $75,000 earring that had fallen into the ocean.
As she tearfully searched around the crystal-blue waters of Bora Bora, sister Kourtney responded with six words that went down in reality-TV history: “Kim, there’s people that are dying.”
Throwbacks to that line, which has experienced a resurgence this year, were all over the replies on Twitter.
Others, meanwhile, pointed out one person in her photos whose presence suggested the possible health risks associated with the island gathering.
Behind one table was a masked waiter, presiding over what appears to be a tray of silverware or food, as the guests in front of him ate and drank with their faces exposed.