Doug Bock Clark

You are currently browsing articles tagged Doug Bock Clark.

In “The Sadness of the Kardashians,” Sophie Gilbert’s Atlantic essay about the Reality TV family that has stretched its 15 minutes of fame into a decade-long stay in a Warholian vomitorium, the writer shines a light on the melancholia the women may be feeling about their less-than-brilliant careers, which seems like an odd place to put the piece’s emphasis. “If Kris were offered the same Faustian bargain again,” the article asks, “would she accept, knowing everything the next 10 years would bring?”

Hell yeah, she would. Kris Jenner is a monstrous person who was happy to shamelessly sell her soul as well as her daughters to the highest bidder in exchange for some recognition and a string of shiny baubles. Even if she hadn’t been especially good at her disgraceful line of work and they’d never managed to attract an unblinking spotlight to their famous-for-nothing act, they would have been a damaged brood drowning in their own tears. With that mother, they were doomed from the start.

The more important questions are what enabled the Kardashians to be famous, and why do so many people all over the globe wish for the kind of notoriety they possess? The first question is easier to answer. Two technological changes made the brand possible: A decentralized media allowed for an explosion of channels on TV and the Internet which created an overwhelming need for cheap content and new stars, and the advent of computer-based non-linear editing systems for video made such Reality fare technologically simple to piece together. The second query is more knotty. There is currently a hole inside us that makes many crave for attention beyond all satisfaction. The Kardashians may best represent that dynamic, but they are far from alone.

· · ·

In Doug Bock Clark’s excellent GQ exegesis of Kim Jong-nam’s Malaysian airport murder, he writes of how simple it was for North Korean agents to dupe fame-hungry young women into unwittingly committing murder with a nerve agent by convincing them they were merely participating in a hidden-camera Reality TV show. As shocking as the wetwork was—and it was purposely so bizarre to send a chilling message to the world—you could hardly blame the clueless culprits for failing to recognize the ruse, not in a world of endless cameras and emotional cruelty, in which reality and fiction have become so blurred. 

An excerpt:

After James enticed Siti [Aisyah] with his too-good-to-be-true offer of salvation, they toured the luxury hotels and malls of Kuala Lumpur from January 5 through 9, smearing oil and hot sauce on Chinese-looking men. Each prank was rewarded with another windfall.

According to Siti’s lawyer, Gooi Soon Seng, before long, “Siti started telling James she was tired of her present career, and that she looked forward to the new life of being a star.” She bragged to acquaintances that she was going to be a celebrity. When a friend video-called Siti on her birthday and joked with her that she would soon outshine a famous Malaysian actress, Siti agreed, laughing and jauntily flipping her hair.

At least once, Siti asked to see the recordings of herself, but James told her the film was still being edited and, according to her cousin, wouldn’t let her see it because it would make her self-conscious. 

Then, on January 21, James flew her to Cambodia for more “spoofing,” as they called it. Gooi told me, “It was when she went overseas that she really started to believe she could escape her old life.” James had even suggested she might spoof people in America.

In Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, James informed Siti that “Chang,” a 34-year-old “Chinese” man who spoke fluent Bahasa, would replace him. Chang led Siti through three practice sessions at the airport.

Siti passed the end of the month back home in Ranca Sumur, with her family. She was there when Chang called, ordering her to return to Kuala Lumpur. Before flying out of Jakarta, Siti visited her son a final time.

On February 3, 4, and 7, Siti dirtied victims at Kuala Lumpur’s airport under Chang’s supervision. He increased her salary to two American Benjamins per hit, instead of half that in Malaysian ringgits. On February 8, Chang gave Siti $4,000 to arrange a trip to Macau—Jong-nam’s home. But the next day he canceled that. Jong-nam was already in Malaysia.

Two days later, she practiced again at the airport. It was Siti’s 25th birthday, and when they were finished, Chang bought her a taxi ticket home as a present. He told her that the next prank would be in a few days, on February 13.

Siti spent her last innocent night at a Hard Rock Cafe decorated with an enshrined Gwen Stefani bra. Her friends chipped in for a steak that cost two-thirds of her monthly salary at the sweatshop. An American pop song wailed over the speakers: I was supposed to do great things. At a table laden with fruit-bedecked cocktails, a friend announced, “And now the person next to me will become a celebrity!” Siti exposed her braces and bashfully tossed her hair. After her friends sang “Happy Birthday,” she blew out a lone candle on a cupcake-sized cake. Then they clubbed into the witching hours.

By 8 A.M., Siti was drinking coffee with Chang in a faux-Colonial coffeehouse that offered an excellent view of the airport terminal. Finally, Chang led her behind a pillar near the AirAsia self-check-in kiosks. There, Chang told her that a second woman would join the prank and that she should leave after the second woman struck. When Jong-nam strolled into the terminal, Chang identified him to Siti by noting his gray blazer and dark backpack. Then he told her to look away and stick out her hand, likely while unwrapping something from a white plastic bag he’d withdrawn from his black backpack. An oily substance slicked her palm. She noticed it smelled like machine oil, though the previous liquids had been odorless. Chang reminded her to apologize after striking and to leave quickly, since the target “looks rich.”

As Jong-nam approached, Chang ducked away, and Siti advanced on her target. After rubbing Jong-nam’s face, Siti fled. Her first few strides were measured, but by the time she neared the bathrooms, she was running. There, as she’d been instructed, she washed her hands of the affair. Then she went shopping at a middle-class mall. By the afternoon, she was laboring again at the spa, awaiting the next spoof, which would inch her closer to the life she had dreamed of when she had left Ranca Sumur.

_________________________

What Siti would not comprehend until weeks later was that the North Koreans had stage-managed every detail of her recruitment and the assassination.•

Tags: