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Pop Culture Rewind: Keeping up with the Kardashians


The Kardashians are a true force to be reckoned with. They’re one of the most famous families in the world, the original material girls, business moguls, and subjects of worldwide ire. Their show Keeping Up with the Kardashians rewrote the script for reality television. Eleanor Taylor explores the meme mine that is Keeping Up with the Kardashians, its past oeuvre and its reiteration on Hulu.

Premiering in October 2007, Keeping Up with the Kardashians was produced by Ryan Seacrest and Bunim/Murray Productions, and follows the antics of the Kardashian-Jenner (KarJenners for short) family. The show originally focused on the sisters Kim, Khloe, and Kourtney, but in the latter part of its 20-season run included younger sisters Kylie and Kendall. Viewers got to watch the two younger sisters mature from tweens to adults.

In 2007, the family were famous for Kim’s sex tape, her connection to Paris Hilton, her Olympic Athlete stepfather (then Bruce Jenner, now Caitlyn) and her deceased father Robert Kardashian (OJ Simpson’s lawyer). The show charts the family’s rise to fame, and how they went from ‘famous for being famous’ to icons of the 2010s.

Referred to as the "Hollywood version of The Brady Bunch" by the Los Angeles Times, Keeping Up with the Kardashians was critically panned throughout its run. Its longevity on television and in cultural memory was bolstered by its insanely high viewership. Audiences were entranced by the seemingly natural chaos of the Kardashian family. They watched the Kardashians navigate fame, sheer stupidity, and epic one liners like Khloe’s “The bigger the hoop, the bigger the hoe.”

Between running off to Mexico for a pornographic photoshoot without telling their father, Khloe’s failed marriages and DUI arrests, the sisters’ schedules are drama packed. And then there’s the sex tape.

I want to make a note on the sex tape because this discourse surrounding the Kardashians irks me. It is commonly stated that Kim Kardashian’s sex tape, which was filmed with ex Ray J, is the number one reason she’s famous. Whether or not leaking the tape was a deliberate move by Kris Jenner (Kardashian matriarch and “momager”) is unknown. However, Kim

herself has stated it was leaked without her consent.

It is bizarre to me that in this #MeToo age where believing women is emphasised, many believe Kim leaked this video.

Not only do they deny Kim’s claims, but many also consider this

violation of her autonomy to be the event that defined her career. The Kardashians have done so many other things to maintain their relevance. To focus only on the sex tape is a sexist exclusion of their other accomplishments. Love or hate them, it’s no accident their fame has lasted decades.

Despite the discord that seems to define Kardashian life, viewers also watch the show to see them work together. Mom Kris Jenner effectively ran the show and featured in every episode managing her daughters’ feuds and trying to boost their careers. She stated: “I’ve actually trademarked the term ‘Momager,’ which is what I am.” She's also iconic for attending Kim’s Playboy photoshoot and spawning the “Kim, you’re doing amazing sweetie” meme, which I still reference 15 years later.

Side characters such as Scott Disick become more and more important to the show due to their popularity with the audience. Scott — Kourtney’s boyfriend and baby daddy — was an instant hit and often viewed as the only sane person in the fame obsessed clan. His witty ‘truth telling’ moments made him a loveable stand in for the audience.

As the show progresses, we get to see the Kardashian sisters attempt to make something more out of their fame, with mixed results. The sisters started the clothing store D-A-S-H in 2007 which was ultimately a failure but foreshadowed their future success with brands like SKIMS and Kylie Cosmetics. Shoutout to Rob, the brother everyone forgets about who started a fun sock company which is still chugging to this day! It's clear from the start of the show that in between sexy photoshoots and failed relationships, there is a maintained interest in entrepreneurship.

We also witness years of growth and emotional development. Kim goes from doing nude photoshoots and not much else to getting married, becoming a mother and founding KKW Beauty and SKIMs, two highly successful brands. We also see more long-term family drama such as Khloe revealing that she's always treated as the ugly sister and Kim’s long running disputes with Kourtney over parenting.

The audience for Keeping Up with the Kardashians is a mixed bag. Most people I speak to say the Kardashians are thoughtless, useless, or just famous for a sex tape. Yet lots of these people are still guilty of watching their show. It creates a weird, ironic cycle wherein people watch the show, laugh at the Kardashian’s stupidity while asking how they became famous, but in doing so boost the show’s ratings. They’re the ones making the Kardashians more famous.

That the show has lasted this long shows that being ‘thoughtless’ has worked in the Kardashians’ favour. Other celebrities active in the same period tried and failed to break into

reality television. Paris Hilton who also had a sex tape leaked had four failed shows. Hilton only saw success with her show The Simple Life.

The success of Keeping Up with the Kardashians goes beyond sheer luck. In an interview Barbra Walters once said, “You are all often described as famous for being famous.” Khloe famously replied, “But we’re still entertaining people.” This gets to the core of the show: we watch it because it’s entertaining and feels organic. The Kardashian-Jenner family are naturally dramatic and comedy comes easily to them in their interviews and their interactions with each other.

Lauren Lazin, a veteran reality television producer, said about the show: “A lot of reality stars, they’re fantastic in their first season, then they get very self-conscious on their second season… It’s hard to maintain that kind of longevity, and not come across as phony or calculating or not interesting anymore. We didn’t understand at that time that was a talent.”1 Lazin also attributes the KarJenners’ success to understanding how to interact with social media and dominate new platforms.

In April, a reiteration of the original show called The Kardashians will premiere on Hulu. It was announced just after Keeping Up with the Kardashians finally ended last year. The show is expected to follow an older, wiser, and much richer family as they grapple with their businesses, family life, and drama. Despite how long they've been in the limelight, there is always more chaos around the corner for the Kardashian clan.

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