Opinion: Why can’t we stop keeping up with the Kardashians?

Kim K
Katherine Chodaczek/The Occidental

While chatting idly with a friend, the topic inevitably turned to the Kardashians, America’s most durable distraction. The mighty family of media personalities has served as a postmodern fascination since their reality television show “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” premiered on E! in 2007. The show has essentially been revived on Hulu, concisely repackaged as “The Kardashians.” I likened my experience of watching the show to receiving a lobotomy. The platonic ideal of a lobotomy, that is: a languid release from all that pesky thinking.

Speaking of lobotomies, is it just me or do the Kardashians seem a little down these days? In recent episodes, matriarch momager Kris contends with the horror of aging, business mogul Kylie tackles postpartum depression and the perennially downtrodden Khloe pops beta-blockers like Tic Tacs. Kim (need I explain?), clad in head-to-toe Balenciaga and fresh from a class-related controversy, proclaims, “It’s all so exhausting.”

Isn’t it? Khloe and supermodel-turned-Tequila-hawker Kendall went so far as to get their brains scanned for trauma in the second episode of this season. More than the relentless, not-so-subliminal advertising of their varying brands — Khloe spent an entire episode advertising her jean company — this was the Kardashian-related venture that piqued my interest.

All this malaise does not penetrate the relentless girl-bossery that marks this era of the Kardashian dynasty. Where they once served as a sleazy offset of the Paris Hilton tribe, the contoured clan of glamazons now seem rooted in maintaining a veneer of commercial power. The effect is a textureless commitment to the benign.

Even still, an underlying message occasionally emerges, something to the effect of that old adage, “heavy is the head that wears the crown.” The disconnect is palpable — as viewers, we occasionally brush up against the profound, often surrounding the stifling effects of fame and overexposure, but just as quickly bounce back to a more digestible narrative of aspirational wealth aesthetics.

This most recent season was released before Kanye West’s antisemitic maelstrom, but even still, he seems mysteriously scrubbed from the narrative — only occasionally referenced in passing. The very public social media scuffle between West and Kim, his ex-wife, was a viral sensation last year. Those of us who were seeking some insider dirt will be greatly disappointed. The Kardashians serve as producers in this iteration of their reality project and it seems they have tailored the storylines to suit their interest. The truly unsavory has been swept under the four-figure rug.

Stare too deeply into the Kardashian abyss and you begin to understand the cyclic nature of the American celebrity. They descend from the world of OJ Simpson, a true crime spectacle tied up in fame and race relations (sound familiar?). Kris and her husband Robert were close friends with Simpson and his wife, Nicole. When Nicole was killed, Robert served as Simpson’s defense attorney in her murder trial.

This was the Kardashian’s first brush with fame and the family’s longevity seems to confirm the cultural significance of the OJ Story. As many have noted, the OJ trial was one of the first instances of reality television as we know it today, in its blend of tabloid tawdriness and seemingly banal celebrity documentation.

In the years since, the Kardashians have found creative ways to capitalize on fame from the sidelines, before becoming the main event in their own right. An association with a Hilton Heiress, a C-list sex tape scandal, a marriage to a former Olympian — it’s strange to think of a time when the Kardashians represented such a specific brand of fringe-fame randomness. This is perhaps the true testament to their entrepreneurial spirit; that they were able to collectively capitalize on their varying proximity to stardom and build an empire.

This empire is the main event of “The Kardashians.” Even as the crippling reality of life’s assorted ailments infringes upon their carefully constructed “reality,” there is never too much to think about. This is the spellbinding effect of Kardashimania: a comfortable numbness, willfully succumbing to the void.


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