A number of years ago, Kris Jenner had the foresight and ambition to pitch an idea for a new reality show to Ryan Seacrest. It would involve cameras following her family around on a daily basis, giving viewers an insight into the pandemonium that exists within their household. It was snapped up and was to be called Keeping up with the Kardashians. And the rest, as they say, is history…
The Kardashians – a name, a brand, an empire, and often forgotten, a family. The modern day Brady bunch, who; through frenetic exercises in alliteration, cunning opportunism and unapologetic capitalism, have become media powerhouses, who protect and expand their brand very karefully. Whether you view them as deplorable testaments to anti-intellectualism, or as canny marketers who really are a loving family, behind all the drama; Kris, Bruce, Kim, Kourtney, Khloe, Rob, Kendall and Kylie are undoubtedly one of the most famous families in the world. Love them or loathe them, admire them or despise them, the Kardashians are an inescapable presence in twenty-first century popular culture, dominating the media world with tales of bust-ups, break ups and general sensationalism.
Whether or not you Keep up with the Kardashians is a personal choice, but I for one, have spotted a family who has taken every opportunity that has come their way, advertising, promoting and selling everything from clothing to incontinence pads, all the while, embodying commercialism for all its gilded virtues, and you know what? I say why not?! And thus begins my defence of the Kardashians.
Kim and Co. have had every insult under the sun hurled at them – being verbally chastised by a world in which everyone is a critic goes hand in hand with being a Kardashian. Few onlookers will say that this family are twenty-first century role models, but instead claim that they are vile exemplars of the American Dream gone horribly wrong. For the most part, they’ll be viewed as a family, who have cashed in on the back of their daughter’s sex-tape and exist as definitive personas of immorality and classless vulgarity, showing no shame when it comes to making a dime. You blot your copy book once, eh?
Yes, everyone knows Kim had a sex tape, and everyone knows the infamous reality TV show that she and her family star in is a perceptible capitalisation on that. But what’s a girl to do? Live her life in shame and regret, refusing the opportunities that come her way? The Kardashian family, undoubtedly under the guidance of matriarch Kris Jenner decided to let the cameras into their lives and for the most part, their fame has been achieved by parading their private lives on screen for millions of viewers to see and squirm at. But that’s the thing – the viewers really are in their millions, squirming or otherwise.
It’s because, behind it all, there’s something endearing about this family – the hilarious ‘airy fairy-ness’ of them, the mother who will do anything and fight anyone for her children, or the constructed moral that is taught in each episode – ‘don’t get Botox, don’t smoke, don’t drink underage, don’t go to Vegas for a tattoo without your parents’ consent, give back to charity and appreciate your blessings etc.’. Does the fact that Kim and her family let the cameras film their daily lives for a few months a year make them ‘cheap’, ‘vile’ and the butt of even more absurd profanity? If they’re ‘famous for being famous’, it’s because we have created them and made them popular.
From a sociological perspective, any one person or individual cannot be studied in complete isolation, but rather, has to be viewed and considered in terms of their cultural background and the society that created the Kardashians, is the very one that lays judgement on them. Without sounding Freudian or facetious, one could argue that the sole reason anyone speaks negatively of someone else is because they recognise in that person the qualities they so despise in their deeper self. And if I can borrow from Sigmund Freud once more, it’s likely that these characteristics are repressed within their own consciousness, so the disgust that is felt for Kim’s apparent disrespect for matrimony, could very well be a manifestation of one’s own ambivalence towards marriage. Kim says she is an idealist and believed in the fairy-tale – the general consensus is that her 72-day marriage to basketball player Kris Humphries was one of convenience, constructed to add cash and further acknowledgement to the alliterative family empire.
I am in no way saying that every single person who loathes what this family stand for are simply subconsciously criticizing themselves, but equally, I’m not saying that a family whose recognition is the subject of much debate should be so grossly defiled and admonished. But if they stand for all that is wrong with the twenty-first century (which I don’t think they do), then we can only blame ourselves for letting Keeping up with the Kardashians become the most-watched reality TV show in the world. Whether we watch or not, Kim, Kourtney and Khloe are still going to continue in the fashion business and momager Kris will still manage her family’s affairs. Nobody is expecting them to change the world or lead us out of the global economic crisis – their show exists as entertainment and they are recognised figures within that epoch. If you don’t like it, don’t watch, don’t comment on the copious amounts of articles written about them and don’t waste your time spewing vitriol onto online forums, championing the ‘fall’ of the family or urging that their show be axed. If it’s not being talked about or watched, it will be axed, don’t worry – you can break the circle by biting your tongue.
From reading online comments about the family’s main breadwinner, Kim, the main issue with her seems to be her capitulation to the patriarchy. That is to say that she has made her living through gaining the lustful affections of men and setting the Feminist Movement back decades with her conceding of the sexual objectification of women. Don’t get me wrong, I very much doubt that Kim Kardashian, or any of her sisters for that matter, would be half as rich or famous as they are now, if they didn’t trade, on some part, on their looks. But equally, I don’t think that they would have been as successful as they are without some canny calculation behind the beauty.
I think the Kardashian girls are pseudo feminists – yes, they have, in many ways, sacrificed themselves on the altar of the patriarchy and used their personal lives as monetary vehicles, but the patriarchy in which they operate, is ultimately one in which they exert dominative control. If everyone steps down from the moral high ground and emerges from the ivory tower, the majority of us would admit that if we could make $10,000 for sending a tweet, we’d do it. But Kim is ridiculed and abhorred internationally for doing so.
Some critics have even said that they are a twenty-first century role model of a stable family unit. I agree. The problem is that people fear that their children are looking up to this family and seeing the glitz and glamour of pampered celebrity and thinking that their kind of fame is accessible and more worryingly, aspirational. Make a sex tape, become involved in a sensational scandal and become famous right? If the Kardashians were nothing more than ‘media whores’, their time in the spotlight would have been incredibly shorter. Think of Paris Hilton, whose path to fame was identical to Kim Kardashian’s – but her 15 minutes have well and truly passed and the pampered heiress has virtually faded into oblivion. This is a family who has the business savvy to back up their seemingly ‘vacuous celebrity.’
Barabara Walters asked Kim, Kourtney and Khloe how they’ve come so far with no discernible talents to qualify their fame. But the reality is that these sisters are famous because they are celebrity entrepreneurs, they were in the fashion business long before their television show hit our screens. Keeping up with the Kardashians is an entertainment show, nothing more, nothing less. And the reality show is only the half of it. Their mother Kris Jenner has said that thanks to the show, these girls have been able to create an expansive and multi-million dollar fashion empire. Camilla Long, the Sunday Times columnist recently caused controversy when she said that Kim Kardashian was a better role model for young girls than Kate Middleton. She argued that Kim’s hard-working business etiquette was a better exemplar for young girls than Kate’s prim and proper educated background, saying,
“Sure’, the girls of St Mary’s, Calne, can be taught to impersonate the Duchess of Cambridge for fees of £30,000 a year, but is not hard-working Kim a better role model?”
And you know what? I’m not far behind Long’s appraisal. If these sisters were simply ‘famous for being famous’ or talentless bimbos, then any three sisters from Los Angeles could achieve what they have achieved, any celebrity who has made a sex tape could become the highest earning reality TV star of all time. But this has only happened to one family – The Kardashians. It has been stated that this family represent all that is wrong with Western society – from crass ostentation to loose morality. However, I see a family who are genius ambassadors for twenty-first century marketing. In all honesty, if I wanted a lesson in social media marketing, it’s to Kim Kardashian I would go to and not a Harvard business school. Anybody can have their 15 minutes, but few could sustain them in such a fashion as this family has.
Reality television in general is not something that I’m a huge fan of – Big Brother, while initially, was an interesting sociological experiment; has turned into a classless freak show for fame hungry wannabes. I’ve never watched Jersey Shore, but I think the old adage of not judging a book by its cover can be waivered in this case. The cover looks tatty and cheap. I’d be shocked if its contents were dissimilar. I can see why the Kardashians are ridiculed for being the agent provocateurs to the ‘dumbing down of civilisation’ and the dawning of a new type of worthless celebrity, but I think this is a misinformed judgement.
Unlike other reality TV shows, theirs is one in which lessons are taught and morals are preached. They may just be for the cameras, but at least the Kardashians osmotic influence is being put to good use and possibly being absorbed by impressionable youths. Make no bones about it, there are certainly more wholesome and suitable role models existing in popular culture today than the Kardashian brood, and say what you want about them, I for one think that they are an incredibly clever family, who despite what everyone believes, rely on brains as well as beauty. Kim, Kourtney and Khloe have an amassed Twitter following of over 30,000,000 users and they know exactly how to use them to further establish their brand. If they didn’t manipulate this fact, they’d be idiots. I would do the exact same thing! But I’m not trying to convince anyone to support the Kardashian brand or change their opinion of them – this family are doing fine as they are.
It boils down to this: if the Kardashians are not your kup of tea, then don’t switch on their kettle. They are a fascinating study in the sociology of fame and you can accuse them of mistaking their family for a brand, but I’d shake their hands for having the drive, determination and ruthlessness to dominate modern-day popular culture. Long live the Kardashians!