October 23, 2015

Remember him as an NBA star, not a Kardashian cameo


Please, just stop this. I really can’t take it anymore. It was one thing when it was just the odd commercial here or there, or the vague knowledge that they’re being paid nine figures to demonstrate to young girls that their Instagram followers matter more than their GPA. But this is getting ridiculous, and the Kardashian’s are taking this too far.

On every magazine cover, Facebook page and news site, I see their perfectly manicured smiles glisten on the page, and I am reminded that the world is a random place, where the worst among us are exalted for their absolute, all-encompassing vanity. But this has gone on long enough. Come on guys, the joke is over. This isn’t funny anymore.

I only really have a passing familiarity with Lamar Odom and his basketball career. Like the average fan, I know he was Kobe Bryant’s second fiddle for most of the 2000s. By most metrics, he was a very effective forward on multiple championship teams. But most people not immediately familiar with his basketball credentials probably became aware of him in 2009 when he married reality star Khloe Kardashian, a month after a teammate introduced them at a party.

After making appearances on his wife’s reality show—a wretched, shallow affair in which a cadre of nincompoops remind us all how obscenely wealthy they are—Odom and his wife signed up for their own spin-off centering around their marriage and personal lives. “Khloe and Lamar” first aired in April 2011, 12 years into Lamar’s exceptional basketball career. Two years after that first show aired, Odom would be largely out of basketball and would be arrested for DUI (Khloe filed for a divorce later that year that never went through). Two years after that, about a week ago more specifically, he would be found unconscious in a Nevada brothel, appearing to have suffered a drug overdose.

In general, I find the collective mourning over fallen celebrities slightly off-putting. Something about it seems necessarily voyeuristic and hollow. Like showing up to the very crowded funeral of a complete stranger. But I was genuinely struck by the absolute inundation of support Odom appeared to receive from the NBA community. As it turns out, he was pretty universally loved, not just by basketball fans, but by players and coaches as well. He was seen by them as something of a success story. A troubled guy who had managed to turn his life around, and who now had a very bright future ahead of him.

Now, nobody can sit here and reasonably accuse the Kardashian family of being responsible for Odom’s problems. To be sure, he had his issues with substance-abuse before being sucked into that swirling vortex of money and overexposure. At the same time, it’s hard not to notice the direct correlation in the steep decline of both his mental and physical health, and his increased involvement with the Kardashian clan.

The rumor now is that the couple is calling off their impending divorce. Khloe rushed to Odom’s hospital bed, and they apparently reconciled. And hey, maybe this time he’ll be able to stay out of the spotlight for a little while and get the help he clearly needs. I really, really hope that’s the case.But I also don’t think it’s unfair to question the Kardashian’s motives in swarming to Lamar Odom’s bedside. The whole thing just reeks of exploitation. That was fair enough when the person being exploited was a seemingly healthy millionaire athlete, but when that person is someone who very clearly needs medical help, the show turns from cheap entertainment to something more sinister. I’m genuinely glad to see that Lamar Odom has begun his recovery, but equally fearful that that recovery will be co-opted and marketed and publicized for the world to consume in digestible 30 minute segments. And if we allow that to happen, if we lend our tacit support for this exploitation in the form of viewership, then it’s an indictment of all of us.

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