An Ode to the Kardashians, or Why Hatin' Them Is a Losing Game
If famous for nothing isn't the correct fame for you, prepare to pop your skull.
There’s literally no reason to write about the Kardashians. They do not need the press. They are truly ubiquitous and completely omnipresent, each of them rich beyond their wildest dreams. We are accustomed to their impossibly shiny locks and dewy skin staring out from zillions of magazine covers and click-bait posts (like this one?), and no shortage of opinions have been shared on the "meaning" of the Kardashian rise. But here’s the thing: The Kardashians are… kinda great.
Oh my God, calm down. Seriously, chill out. We’re talking about the least important subject right now, just for quick perspective. But I would love to take a second and explore the nature of Kardashian hate, the popularity of it, and the reason that, like Oprah did recently, I’d like to wag my finger at every one who decries this family as the dawn of the impending Hellpocalypse. While it’s easy enough to say they’re a family that’s “famous for nothing," I would argue that in 2015, our notion of what fame even is and who has “earned it” has vastly morphed from what it once was.
I spent my actual money (which I promise I don't have a lot of) to get tiny dogs, purses and hairstyles in Kim Kardashian’s app and, you know what? I had a goddamn blast.
This family of letter K-lovers slowly seeped into our collective consciousness, starting with Kim’s splashy, sex-vid debut and then the E! reality show. But unlike other reality TV families who came before them, i.e. the Osbournes, the Kardashians tapped into something beyond the typical, reality-show-of-the-moment buzz. The three Kardashian sisters smartly carved out their own respective spheres: Kim as the enviable bombshell, Kourtney as the ever-pregnant mom, and Khloe as the sassy, relatable one. Kris is the well-meaning momager, and Bruce the downtrodden husband, Rob the mostly absent, adrift brother and the (once) little Jenner sisters appearing as cute tagalongs.
Of course, much has changed in the 10 seasons the show has been on the air. Not only has Bruce introduced the world to Caitlin and Kim traded up big-time by swapping a dull NBA player for the one and only Yeezy, but the entire family has gone on to brand themselves on literally almost anything you can spend money on: Clothes, makeup, hair products, shoes, credit cards, apps, hair extensions, socks, and more.
They are everywhere and cashing in on their fame in the way that most celebrities delicately try to avoid being seen doing. Sure, Jennifer Aniston might shill for SmartWater, Emirates, and Aveeno, while Sofia Vergara hawks Pepsi, CoverGirl, Head & Shoulders, Comcast, State Farm Insurance, K Mart (where she has her own clothing line), Kay Jeweler, Rooms2Go, Ninja Coffee Bar, and the thyroid medicine Synthroid (!?!) but, you know, they’re actresses. So, it’s different? The fact that so many people feel that acting — a profession that literally children can excel at and win their field’s highest honor, an Oscar, for — somehow makes someone immune to the perception of being an empty sell-out is truly nonsense in 2015.
In fact, check out this quote from a recent interview where Vergara bluntly explained why she attaches her very famous face to brands: “I’m not ashamed to say I love making money. I love business, and the truth is I save way more than I spend. I invest. I plan for the future… I have a special eye for opportunities and work harder than anyone might expect.”
Echoing what the Kardashians have said many times in interviews, Vergara is pointing out that people often fail to see them as the shrewd businesswomen they see themselves as. That people would rather see them in a tidy box like "actress" or "model" or "athlete" rather than a multi-hyphenate able to succeed in multiple professional spheres.
And, just to be clear, of course I believe branding your name and face on every product you can dream up (including some that have gotten the Kardashian clan in trouble) is gross on so, so many levels. It's the definition of being a sell-out and wholly contributing to the fact that the youth of today now dream of establishing themselves as YouTube stars big enough to partner up with Taco Bell, become millionaires, and unbox packages in front of their laptops for the rest of their lives.
That doesn’t mean the Kardashians are all bad. They’re doing what many in positions of power are doing: Leveraging their influence. Personally, I’ve loved a lot about the Kardashians rise. I’ve loved seeing a matriarchal family on television every week. I’ve loved seeing non-white women with body types not typically shown on TV become the certifiable ideal. And I’ve loved the fact that their mostly middling reality show has veered from sitcom storylines to show moments typically considered “off-limits” in women’s TV lives, including difficult pregnancies, waxing, messy divorces, painful visits to fertility doctors, and more. Their willingness to overexpose is wonderfully crass, very willful and, much like the arrival of Caitlin, forcing conversations among its viewers that might otherwise not happen.
And, let’s be perfectly real, I’m big enough to admit that I downloaded Kim’s dumb app when it was released and gleefully played it for weeks along with a circle of female friends. We’d text each other screen grabs of our in-game avatars, wearing our Kim-approved outfits and partying at clubs in Paris. More than once, I had a few glasses of wine and pulled out my credit card to buy a pack of “K-stars,” which access more cute outfits, accessories and get you to new levels of the game. I spent my actual money (which I promise I don't have a lot of) to get tiny dogs, purses and hairstyles in Kim Kardashian’s app and, you know what? I had a goddamn blast.
Mostly, the Kardashians are too easy to hate, like Justin Bieber and shitty chain restaurants right off the highway. By trying to be for everyone, they end up bland and lacking nuance a lot of the time. They’re dedication to vocal fry and reality TV spin-offs of spin-offs is aggressive and seems to only grow in strength as the years pass. Like a tiny army, new recruits have appeared in the form of youngest sisters Kendall and Kylie, carving out their own individual empires and laying down track for future generations.
But for those of you who truly cannot bear them, I suggest you try to gently tune them out of your sphere without expending a great deal of Haterade. To completely deny their influence on pop culture, fashion, beauty, culture, television, and even music (thanks to Kanye’s near-constant declaration of love for his curvaceous wife) is to bury your head in the sand. You can turn off the Top 40 radio station in your car but refusing to acknowledge it exists means you're ignoring a pretty fascinating influence on our culture in this particular moment in time.
And, if you’re like me, keep on enjoying the Kardashians in well-spaced doses, appreciating them for the spectacle they’ve managed to create and sustain over the past eight years and buckling up for when North West and her kids dominate all forms media in 20 years.