The Kardashian Phenomenon
Much like Kylie Jenner says she “cannot remember a time when she wasn’t famous”, most of us cannot remember a time when we didn’t constantly see the Kardashian/Jenner family in news headlines, social media posts, billboards, TV, and pretty much anywhere one can go. When a reality show about the Kardashian sisters of Calabasas, California, debuted in 2007, no one knew much about the family, and what was known was by no means positive. No one could have predicted the immense success the show would bring the family, and even 15 years later, many still criticise and are bewildered by the root of the family’s popularity.
The United States, and the world, were introduced to the Kardashian name at first with the late Robert Kardashian’s involvement in the O.J. Simpson trial of 1994 - which you can read more about in another article of mine ;). However, stardom only really began for the family with the unfortunate, or some might say fortunate, leaking of second oldest daughter Kim’s sex tape with R&B singer Ray J in 2007. The family’s life was turned upside down when the graphic sex tape featuring Kim got in the hands of a porn distributor. However, the reason I say it may be considered fortunate, is because of how the attention from this “scandal” encouraged the landing of a reality TV show for the family that has now finished up its 20th season: Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Other than Kim, Robert Kardashian and Kris Jenner had three other children together: Kourtney (43), Khloe (37) and Robert (35). After the passing of her husband, Robert Kardashian, Kris married track star Bruce Jenner (now Caitlyn Jenner) and had two more girls: Kendall (26) and Kylie (24). As you can tell, the letter K is very dear to their hearts.
Think about all the things people tend to hate about L.A.: the shallowness, the tackiness, the fakeness and phoniness. Now, think of all the stuff people love about L.A.: the beauty, the aesthetic, the glamour, the money, the more money. Mix that all together and add a bit of shameless exhibitionism and what do you get? A Kardashian. But, of course, the Kardashians are so much more than just a symbol of the stereotypical Los Angeles lifestyle. The reality show, chronicling the Kardashian/Jenner household dramas, is one of the most successful and durable reality tv series in cable television history. During its prime, it drew in 10 million viewers an episode, and even now, it still grabs close to a million viewers. Equally as impressive, is the fact that it has been the foundation for a continuously expanding lifestyle empire of branded beauty products, jewellery, shapewear, video games, apps, and social-media sponsorships worth much more than many people make in a year, that have all made the Kardashian klan krazy rich.
The girls have achieved insurmountable success in their lives; it’s no wonder why every individual who has a cellphone has heard their name before. During many years of fame, we have watched as the family took on multiple scandals, became memes, launched new brands/collections, and greatest of all, created a name for themselves. While a lot of their money and fame come from their role in KUWTK, each of the sisters is more widely known for their individual careers and lives apart from the reality show where everything began. Kylie, the youngest of the bunch, received the title of youngest self-made female billionaire by Forbes in 2019 at only 22 years old. While she did receive a lot of help from her family members, she didn’t inherit her billion-dollar cosmetics business, Kylie Cosmetics, she built it. Kendall, the second youngest, was named the world’s highest-paid supermodel, having raked in $22.5 million in 2018. Kim also manages multiple fashion and retail businesses, along with founding the clothing brand Skims and beauty company KKW Beauty. Kourtney, the oldest, has launched a lifestyle brand named Poosh. Finally, Khloe, the middle child, founded a denim fashion company called Good American and executive-produced a true-crime series called ‘Twisted Sisters’. It’s safe to say they have accomplished a lot throughout the years.
Curiously enough, the Kardashian/Jenner family’s popularity and status came about despite the fact that they don’t have most of the talents normally possessed by the majority of celebrities. They don’t sing, dance, or act, yet still, some believe that is precisely the reason for all the fame. There is something quite aspirational about a person who became a celebrity (and I don’t mean this offensively) without doing anything really celebrity-worthy. Their “lack of talent”, so to speak, is thought of as something pretty interesting, considering the position they are in now. To the young women, of whom make up most of the Kardashian’s audience, it creates a sense of attainability and obtainability. They think, “that’s something I might be able to do.” That’s not to say they lack skill or hard work since, despite everything, the sisters and their mother worked very hard and faced many obstacles to get to where they are now and achieve the aforementioned success they currently have. However, their transition into the spotlight was very abrupt and something that even the own members of the family have expressed that they cannot quite comprehend.
But then, where can we say all the success of the TV show came from? Why, out of all the reality shows that came and went over the last few decades, did one about a family of celebrity-adjacent social climbers make it to the top? Keeping Up With The Kardashians is a series that not only broke the rules but shredded them entirely in a blender with some bananas and strawberries and made them into one of Khloe’s famous smoothies. Its knockout success defies nearly all the laws of show-biz. The characters are flimsy, the dialogue is deadpan and vacant, and the plotlines could be written by Kris Jenner’s pet chimpanzee (see season 3, episode 9). But that's not to say it’s not well-crafted and smart.
One of the many theories behind the success of the show is the “Fight, fight, fight. Love, love, love” dynamic that it encapsulates. The show is a classic family drama hidden inside a modern American household. The key ingredient: conflict. There’s a lot of yelling, and a lot of screaming, but in the end, everyone hugs each other and tells one another how much they love them. We can’t deny the natural comedic structure of the show. We have a mom who is very much involved (sometimes to an extreme extent) in her children’s lives, sisters with clashing personalities, the brother, Rob, trying to find his place in a female house, and then, of course, Bruce Jenner, the conservative father, who was never sure what to do with his daughters and wife. In my opinion, that’s very watchable tv. The show catapulted each of the young girls’ careers and opened doors to many opportunities.
I know I don’t speak for only myself when I say that following the Kardashian’s lives has become something customary. Everywhere we look, we see the family, be it in a magazine, an advertisement, or even a TikTok video. The endless amount of laughs, experiences and drama the family have shown us over the years will never not be entertaining and surely won’t be forgotten. It’s their world, and we’re just living in it.