Like much of America, I’ve spent the last 10 years fascinated by the E! reality show, “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.” The show spawned many spin-offs and has created stars of the family members, who are now famous for being famous. As a teen, I was just thoroughly amused by the Kardashian-Jenner clan’s televised antics. These girls are funny. After a few years, I grew attached to the three oldest sisters — I was worried about Kourtney’s kids, I wanted Khloe to feel valued, and I wanted Kim to be taken more seriously. And for the one brother in the family, Rob, I hoped he would stop feeling so intimidated by his fabulous sisters.
There are a number of things about the show and about the family that are problematic, especially when it comes to the girls’ appropriations of other cultures (Kylie Jenner’s braids are certainly upsetting, to name one example). No one in the family is without fault, but there’s something so unabashedly human about them. They’re refreshingly real. Yes, they overexploit their own life struggles in order to advance their own fame but writers have been doing that for centuries. Joan Didion draws from her personal tragedies for her work; why shouldn’t Khloe chronicle her body issues and husband’s health problems on the show? The family exhibits a number of questionable behaviors, but I’m pretty sick of people criticizing their fame or questioning their significance.
People, especially boys, love to hate them. When I downloaded Kim’s app, “Kimoji,” over the holidays and sent one of her personalized emojis to my brother, he said to never do that again. “She’s so dumb and annoying.” I didn’t bother arguing with my brother at the time, so I guess consider this column my response.
My brother doesn’t have to like Kim Kardashian; he doesn’t need to like anyone. Kim and her sisters don’t need his validation, but when he called her dumb that wasn’t easy for me to swallow. A number of feminist think pieces have called attention to where Kim derived her fame, shortly after her ex-boyfriend posted a sex tape online without her permission. Her former boyfriend committed a deep betrayal, and if that situation happened to me, I would probably crawl into a cave, set up some nice Pottery Barn rugs and never leave.
Instead, Kim took this moment of exploitation and launched a reality show. She turned it into a lucrative career and became a stylist for dozens of celebrities, most notably Paris Hilton. She took advantage of our obsessive, media-driven, rising Internet culture and created an empire — and she took her (already privileged) family along with her. On the whole, they’ve shared with us private moments no one asked to see. Their frank self-awareness on issues such as body image, sex, pregnancy and beauty is astounding. These women are open about deeply personal, often taboo, subjects. And I think there’s something genius about their unabashed, unapologetic exhibition of their womanhood.
The entire Kardashian-Jenner clan is a difficult monolith to address. Kylie needs to stop acting like she’s 35 when she’s 18, and I’m pretty concerned about a number of insensitive comments made by Kris’ ex-spouse, Caitlyn Jenner. But I’m sending up a prayer for those two. They’re still growing — like all of us.
We live in a world that doesn’t like it when women are important. Women can’t talk too much, they can’t ask for too much attention. The Kardashians have certainly occupied a lot of space in our cultural landscape, and while I don’t think that they’re flawless human beings, I will never get over the time Kourtney tried to get Khloe to drink her breast milk, or Kim’s wedding and her many dresses. Her cheekbones perpetually amaze me. When Khloe changed Kylie’s birth control prescription, or when Kendall learned how to drive, we all experienced those personal milestones with them. This clan of sisters (and all their extended family) captivates me. Yes, they’re wealthy and ridiculous and silly. They’re also unafraid. They’re real.
They dare to stand on stage, under the spotlight, shamelessly themselves.
There’s a reason we’ve been keeping up with the Kardashians.
Adriana Miele is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column runs on Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .