We white people are good at three things: ignoring systematic racism, detecting and complaining about a single molecule of chili pepper in a bowl of Pho, and engaging in displays of garish, disfiguring racial minstelsy as a desperate bid for relevance.
Exhibit 1: Kylie Jenner, 17-year-old beta-Kardashian, PacSun designer/model, mobile gaming icon, and living embodiment of the duck-face, kissy lips emoji.
In case you’re not an Instagram power-user and proud, selfie-stick slinging Millennial like yours truly, here’s the background: The daughter of Kris and Bruce Jenner, Kylie was once on the periphery of the Kardashian family, a thin-assed lips-having teenager known only by people like your grandmother, who still reads US Weekly, and your little sister, who still watches shit like the Teen Choice Awards.
Then, a watershed moment in fake-ass white girl history: 2014’s iHeartRadio Music Festival. The debutante ball for Jenner’s puffy, bee-sting, Lana Del Rey getting attacked in the face by a Roomba type lips. Where once they were Times New Roman, Jenner’s lips were now full, bolded bubble letters, like the balloons spelling out the words “Robin Thick has a Big Dick” in the Blurred Lines music video.
In response to this blooming pucker, your grandma and your little sister lost their shit. Across social media, people clamored and speculated. Where did Jenner get those pillowy, Jessica Rabbit, Big Mouth Billy Bass the Singing Fish type lips?
Kylie admitted to over-lining her lips and surrounding face with oxblood-colored lip liner, like a 1910’s blackface performer raised from the dead and unleashed in Sephora.
But this revelation left white Millennials everywhere unsated. We needed to know how to achieve a full-lipped look. Like corn rows, twerking, rap Grammys, and the phrase “on fleek”, we needed to claim full lips for ourselves.
So began the #Kylie Jenner Challenge, which summoned thousands of young people far and wide to stand before their mirrors, hold shot glasses to their lips, suck, and selfie.
How it works is simple: sucking against glass creates friction. Negative pressure applied to the lips encourages blood to flow into the targeted area, creating vessel engorgement. The pain causes an inflammatory response. Chemicals like histamine flood the region, prompting swelling.
You ever been fucked so hard that one of your inner labia swelled up into a weird, perfectly smooth kidney bean shape and blocked entry into your cervix for, like, a few hours? It’s like that. But on your face.
And that’s when it goes well!
If you suck for too long, blood vessels can overflow with blood and fluid and rupture, causing bleeding, infection, and scarring. The stringy connective tissue on the inside of your lips can burst out and migrate under the skin of the face, resembling a prolapsed anus. Large calcium deposits like kidney stones can form inside your lip, requiring surgery. Or the shot glass can shatter and leave shrapnel embedded in your mouth.
These results aren’t that rare. If you search for the Kylie Jenner Challenge on Instagram or Vine, you’ll find tens of thousands of wide-eyed Future Leaders of America pulling shot glasses and Gatorade bottles from their mouths, gasping at their distorted lips, and mumbling Oh My God, and admonishing their viewers; Do Not Do This, Do Not Try It.
But, much like Kylie Jenner’s fake-ass lips, or the sack of inflammatory fluid that you might develop from trying to emulate her, this trend is still growing.
Of course, this is not the first time the Kardashian Jenner Kommunal Attention Kapturing Klan has profited from having features that are maligned in black women. Black women with large asses are stereotyped as slutty or trashy; the big assed but white Kim Kardashian is seen as a fashionable, business-savvy icon who, okay, is also a little slutty, but slutty in the good way, slutty in the way that sells iPhone apps.
But beyond that injustice, the Kylie Jenner Challenge is extra gross because it involves mocking a grotesque exaggerated stereotype of black features. It’s literal minstrelsy. Instead of celebrating black beauty or lampooning white people for emulating it, we’re cringing at a distorted, fake caricature that in no way represents anything real.
And speaking of distorted fake caricatures that in no way represent anything real, Warner Brothers just released their first image of Jared Leto as the Joker, for the upcoming Suicide Squad movie.
Have you guys seen this trash heap of a commodified corporate concept of what “edginess” looks like? In the photo, Leto has super pale, ashy white skin with hair dyed Manic Panic green. He’s screaming with his hands on his face like an adult Macaulay Culkin who is somehow even creepier than the actual adult Macaulay Culkin. He’s covered in tattoos – a skull with a jester’s hat, the words “ha ha ha” spreading across his chest in an unsteady scrawl, and the word “damaged” emblazoned on his forehead. He’s got pimp rings that look like they were stolen from a 1990’s Law & Order set, and a FUCKING GRILL ON HIS TEETH WHAT THE FUCK.
This juggalo-ker looks like something a 14-year-old on Fanfiction.net made up for her SLC Punk meets Marilyn Manson slash porn. He looks like an Ed Hardy salesman from a mall kiosk banged one of the Monster High Dolls and fell asleep in the closet where Lady Gaga keeps her bad wigs.
Predictably, the nerderatti was incensed by this injustice. The Joker is Batman’s archenemy, and the explosive wildcard of the Suicide Girls! I mean the Suicide Squad! How could Jared Leto’s Joker be taken seriously when he looks like Riff Raff’s slightly more dangerous Faygo-chugging cousin? How could he run around killing people and causing mayhem when his costume is, presumably, JNCO Jeans and an Invader Zim wallet on a chain?
Of course, the film’s production team at Warner Brothers wasn’t completely off the mark. In creating the costume for an infamously homicidal, unstable, capricious, sadistic, trashy, powerful, mind-numbingly frightening, inhuman monster villain, they did get one thing right:
They made him a generic white dude.
This piece was originally read at The Paper Machete, Chicago’s live magazine.