We need to stop lashing out at Kris Jenner and her fleet of photoshopped, botoxed (looking at you, Bruce), luscious-haired (again, Bruce) family like she’s the evil, soulless overlord of a Kardashian Kult that is plaguing our morally pristine society against our will.
The Kardashians didn’t create the conditions that allowed them to become as famous as they are. They didn’t orchestrate an environment that equates fame with power. They are not paying themselves millions of dollars for simply showing up. Because that’s what they do – they show up. They hang around their house and get filmed, they appear at clubs and events and stand there and get photographed – they show up. And we consume the hell out of it. We click and we tune in and the whole time, all we can talk about is how vapid, talentless, and undeserving they are, all while putting money in their pockets, bestowing upon them influence with our attention, and bellowing, “How is this haaaapppening?” into the dark, unforgiving night. Hush, baby, mama knows. It’s a little frightening that these painted, shellacked, she-beasts are so expansively influential. But if we want to be upset about that, we need to look well beyond the Kardashians themselves, and think about how it is that they were able to become what they are in the first place.
Let’s start with Kris Jenner the person: She’s a goddamn powerhouse. Clearly, there is likely a big gap between the dynamics, roles, and personalities of each member of the Kardashian/Jenner family as they’re presented to us via their characters and brand, and who they are in real life; they are very calculating with how they are portrayed, very much play a role, and so who knows if Kris is as all-powerful as her character appears. For the sake of argument, let’s assume she is. If that’s the case, she is fucking impressive. Let’s stop acting like she single-handedly created the social, cultural and media conditions that allow relatively talentless assholes to become superstars; She didn’t invent it – she was just smart enough to figure out how to use it to the benefit of her family better than anyone else. She didn’t create the bullshit celebrity game, but she is kind of winning it. You can’t not respect that.
When you’re a mother, you do whatever is in your power to create a comfortable, positive environment for your kids. You take advantage of every resource at your disposal to give your children the strongest advantage, the great possible opportunity at success, and the most solid foundation from which to go after what they want. This really is all Kris Jenner has done for her family. And how she has done it, and the immense thing she has built from seemingly insubstantial building blocks, is impressive as hell. If we aren’t bowing down to Kris Jenner, the only thing getting in the way is our own self-loathing about the Kardashians say about us.
Because the truth is, the Kardashians are not the problem. We are. We only hate on this shit because it’s a reflection of us. It’s like we’re getting called out for liking horrible things, and being drawn to morally bankrupt shit. And the fact that it thrives just proves that, despite wanting to be convinced of our own superiority, the success of people like the Kardashians is essentially verification that we suck ass.
Here’s how it works: The media is a responsive thing. They are not curators of interest; They are servants of public demand. Shallow celebrity culture continues to thrive because we continue to consume it. We are as much our own dealers as we are the junkies. Magazines wouldn’t put ridiculous, idiotic celebs on their covers if we didn’t buy the shit out it, yet we want to criticize the magazine and the idiotic celebrity and act victimized as we reach into our pockets to pay for that which we claim to hate? Fuck that. I mean, if you’re into watching the Kardashians or the Real Housewives, or reading every gossip blog, go for it – but own it. You are choosing it. Let’s stop vilifying people like Kris Jenner for doing nothing more but being resourceful enough to build on what small bit of fame her family started with, timely enough to push at just the right moment, and smart enough to assemble an inarguably brilliant team around her and her family, and ending up with everything she’s got. Let’s stop trashing people like the Kardashians for giving us exactly what we asked for. If we feel uncomfortable about how famous they are despite how ridiculous they are, it’s only because, in the end, we know their success is at our hands, and their fame demonstrates our implicit approval of their trivial priorities and ignorant disconnection from reality.
A common criticism of the Kardashians themselves is based on assumptions about who they are as people – vapid, superficial, immature, and tragically out of touch. Even if you accept the logic that if your personal life is your product, then your personal life is fair game to criticize (and I do accept that logic, completely), these criticisms are based on the idea that the Kardashians’ personas are representative of who they actually are – and there’s no way for us to know which parts of them are authentic and which parts are characters. Which is completely fine. They are entertainers. Their whole job is to exploit their personal lives for a living. That’s their job. I have to believe that for them to sustain it to the degree they have, for as long as they have, they must have some pretty solid boundaries between the “private” lives they sell via their shows and social media, and their actual private lives. Which again, is nothing but smart.
And again, remember, we ask for it. Every time we click a headline or look at an Instagram or watch an episode, we are not only implying that we would like them to create more of the same, but we are raising their value so they can make even more money doing it.
Here are the three main things the KardashiJenner empire delivers that Americans eat the fuck up:
- Rich people buying fancy shit
- Dumb people doing dumb shit
- Pretty people looking pretty and having sex with other pretty people
Here’s why we love to watch these things:
- Most of us cannot afford a closet full of Birkins (literally, Kris Jenner has one of every color in her closet and her teenage daughter just went in and borrowed one like it was NBD, because to them, it isn’t a big deal. It’s a whole other reality where money is spent and thought about on an entire different scale than most of us use. We like watching people casually exist in a world of incredible wealth for the same reason we love thinking about outer space, or seeing pictures of the World’s Biggest or Smallest Anything – we are drawn to the contrast between our normal lives and anything on the extreme. And of course, there’s the part where most of us wish we had more money because it makes nearly every part of life easier, and very few of us feel like we have “enough”, no matter how much we have. We want access to what that would be like, and the Kardashians give us that in spades.
- There is a reason there aren’t reality shows about reasonable, intelligent, sane, average people: it’s boring. No one wants to see that because they’re living it. If they wanted to see a moderately okay-looking person go to a somewhat fulfilling job and then come hope and eat a mediocre dinner with their very basic but pretty cool family, they could just turn off the TV and live their own lives which totally defeats the purpose of TV. And it would never work to make reality shows about people who are exceptionally better than their viewership; it makes me feel insecure and reads as condescending (because stupid people always think that smart people’s intelligence or even basic rational behavior is an act of judgment against them because, well, they’re stupid.) Imagine: “We put 7 doctoral candidates together in one house and taped their lives. Here’s what happened: Uhh, they had interesting conversations, made meals together, perhaps formed a lasting friendship or two, consistently demonstrated respect for each other’s boundaries, maintained open minds and an air of acceptance that resulted in mutual growth via their differences, and more or less made all of our viewers feel really inferior.” Yeah.
- So stupid people get famous not because they “deserve it” but because that’s who we want to see. If celebrities are already richer and better looking than most of us, then they damn sure better not be smarter. Watching reality tv is supposed to be a balance between being voyeuristic into the lives of those who have more than us by superficial measurements but are less than us in terms of quality of character.
- When we consume entertainment media, we want to feel a sense of connection and identity with the events and issues therein, but we also want to see a shinier, softly focused, idealized version of that. This is so when we experience similar situations in our everyday lives, we have this glossy, Hollywood image of it in our heads to call back to, thus making even mundane activities feel a little more glamorous and romantic. When you see a beautiful person in a beautiful house doing laundry, it looks blissful. We hold onto those images and carry them with us as we set about doing the same kinds of tasks albeit in a far more inglorious way.
- Also, we like to see pretty people having sex. Or pretty people being in love and having pretty babies, because that at least implies that off-camera, they were having sex, and we love to think about that.
I do believe that the now years-long media domination by the Kardashians raises some interesting points of collective soul-searching that we’re overdue in addressing: What does our choice of entertainment say about us? Do we give a shit? Should we even begin going about the painfully real task of addressing the connection between an increasingly unstable economy and the correlating media deification of the super-rich? Are we going to talk about the fact that entertainment media has always been about both having our identities validated and escapism, and as our real live get harsher, we gravitate towards even more extremely fantastic narratives in TV, movies, and celebrity culture? And in doing so, are we inundating ourselves with media that glorifies stupid people and their superficial priorities so continuously that it’s changing who we are?
I think these are all questions we should be talked about, but I’m not even suggesting we do that right now. That really spins off into asking us to hold ourselves to a high enough level of comfort with our own reality, and enough confidence in ourselves to stop being wanting to escape into the sparkly, vacuous world of super rich pod people – and I don’t think we’re there yet, and honestly, I’m not sure if we ever will be. But if we want to change the things we’re seeing in the media, if we want people like the Kardashians to have less influence, then we have to change what we respond to. All the Kardashians are doing is delivering a product we demand enthusiastically.