The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Monday, Sept. 25, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Column: "High peasantry" shows how celebrities can't read the room

US media personality Kim Kardashian attends the 2020 Vanity Fair Oscar Party following the 92nd Oscars at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills on February 9, 2020. (Jean-Baptiste Lacroix/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

You might have noticed certain trends gravitating across your Instagram feed, depending on who you follow. Maybe it's the Kardashians posing with peace signs at gas stations and truck stops, or the marketing of low-quality merchandise at virtually impossible prices (now you can buy a for only $300 from the Drew House Collection by Justin Bieber!).

Many notable players in Hollywood are capitalizing off a specific style that involves dressing up as working-class people. Known as the “high peasant” look, it's a glamorized aesthetic featuring clothing that looks low-quality but comes through using abundant resources. This "cosplay of poverty" is an opportunistic money grab for celebrities and their PR teams, and a poor attempt to connect with fanbases more intimately.

Utilizing less-than-thought-out tactics to relay to audiences that celebrities are relatable and "just like us” is blatantly disrespectful. You might say they’re living just as comfortably as the average person, enjoying the company of all the untaxed profits growing exponentially in their pockets. But the "us versus them" narrative is another topic that deserves its own essay. 

A 2017 Kim Kardashian and Kayne West photoshoot showcases this"high peasant" aesthetic, where they promote a low-cost lifestyle even though they have access to a never-ending flow of revenue. Sitting on a tattered couch with stained white-paneled walls isn't very effective messaging of relatability —  especially when you're a billionaire. 

The photoshoot took place in Rick Rubin's home in Malibu, which hasn't been altered since the 1970s and gives off an archaic, vintage vibe — even though it is an exclusive setting only accessible to celebrities. Perhaps deciding to keep a room looking outdated while the rest of the lifestyle is entirely unattainable is for sentimentality's sake. Meanwhile, some working-class people can't afford upgraded appliances in living spaces: This "outdated look" is many people's reality.

Not only does this aesthetic communicate problematic messaging in fashion, but in music as well. Beyoncé, a revolutionary icon to everybody and their mother, is an exemplar of this. With little to no possibility of Beyoncé maxing out her American Express Centurion Black Card, she has us convinced that she can relate to the working-class struggle. 

Beyoncé’s song "Break My Soul" in the album "Renaissance" displays her attempt to wear the workman's boots while singing and dancing to "work by nine, then off past five." "Break My Soul" peaked at No. 1 on both the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and the US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart. To date, Queen B  is worth around $500 million and has sold tens of millions of solo albums worldwide.

Moving like a venture capitalist but speaking like a revolutionary with class solidarity is a blatant contradiction. Acknowledging your target audience as working-class citizens and intentionally appealing to them for profit does not equate to the ability to read the room, let alone knowing how to walk into one progressively. 

With all that social and financial capital, you have a free pass to create the world you'd like to live in. The elites are taking note of the growing class consciousness and are deciding to run and have fun with it – once that happens, the politics of it becomes ineffectual. It seems out of touch to candidly market music to the masses with anti-capitalist sentiments. 

This agenda is a desperate attempt and a common shortcut to buy authenticity. Not everything is as black and white as it seems, and this approach is totally strategic. 

This "grass is always greener" complex has been documented throughout history. Marie Antoinette would cosplay as a milkmaid when she became tired of royal life. There are "van people" who romanticize homelessness, while others simply don't have any other choice but to live in their vans. 

It's important to note that this "high peasant" aesthetic is more condescending than appreciative. If anything, it implies mocking the working class rather than solidarity with them.


To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.