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TV TATTLE

Keeping Up with the Kardashians ends 14 years and 20 seasons on a whimper

  • The E! series finale capping off 272 episodes was "your typical boring series finale fare," says Jordan Julian. "Not even fans of the Kardashians will find anything interesting or revelatory in this finale. The show is so tangential to their fame now, which exists largely on social media and in their entrepreneurial ventures, that it doesn’t have anything new to say. It hasn’t for years. Once, the Kardashians were unique in the way they shared every moment of their lives with viewers—just look at Kourtney, who gave birth to her son Mason with an entire camera crew in the delivery room. Now, the famous family can’t leave home without being papped, let alone keep news of divorces, relationships, and pregnancies under wraps. With hundreds of millions of Instagram followers, they clog social feeds with snapshots of their children and partners. This renders the show’s dramatic story arcs, like whether Kim and Kanye will split up (they will) and whether Kourtney and Scott will get back together (they won’t, because she’s dating Travis Barker and he’s dating a 19-year-old), irrelevant. It’s a natural end to a show they don’t need anymore. The most striking takeaway from the Keeping Up with the Kardashians series finale is just how effective the titular family’s rabid, wholly transparent pursuit of fame really was. A tired critique of the Kardashians, often leveled snobbishly by people who have never watched the show, is that they are famous for being famous. This is obviously no longer true and maybe it never was. They’re famous for helming million-dollar makeup empires, for coupling up with rappers and athletes, for sharing heavily filtered photos on Instagram, and, of course, for appearing on a hit television show for over a decade. If that means the Kardashians are famous simply for being famous, then the same can be said of countless other popular celebrities. To be honest, the Kardashians deserve much of the credit for originating the brand of social media celebrity that dominates pop culture today, for better or worse." Julian adds: "The Keeping Up with the Kardashians series finale most definitely does not mark the end of the Kardashians. Instead, Thursday night’s episode signifies the end of a 14-year televised experiment in manufacturing modern celebrity, one that—for better or for worse—has proven to be an undeniable success."

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    • Keeping Up with the Kardashians held an unflattering mirror to America: "Watching KUWTK has been like witnessing the story of America unfold — replete with its contradictions, vampiric relationship to Black people, obsession with remaking itself, capitalistic dysfunction and almost comical lack of self-awareness," says Lovia Gyarkye. "The early episodes, running about 30 minutes, were shorter, lower-quality productions that possessed a certain charm. The family was trying to “overcome” Kim’s sex-tape 'scandal,' an endeavor that eventually morphed into an effortful attempt to ascend the mountain of celebrity culture. Seeing the Kardashian-Jenners grasp for a world that did not necessarily want them made it easier to accept their often silly, histrionic behavior — and at times even feel sorry for them. Then, the tides changed. The family figured out the formula to fame, and applied it aggressively. Several of the Kardashian-Jenner women transformed right before our eyes: thickening their lips, hips and butts, rocking box braids, elongating their nails and publicly aligning themselves with influential Black men. They wantonly lifted their aesthetics from Black women, and became cool without acknowledging the source of their inspiration — as many white Americans inside pop culture and out have done, and continue to do. Naturally, they were rewarded: They graced magazine covers, launched business ventures and attended high-profile events like the Met Gala. They were no longer the punchline; they were the plot. After they changed their looks, they changed their stories — or perhaps the two happened in tandem; it’s hard to say. Kim’s sex-tape fiasco was read as feminist (despite her protestations)...The truth behind these narratives was slippery and decidedly not the point. The Kardashian-Jenners, after all, weren’t like other celebrities: They had made themselves, and those selves were aspirational."
    • KUWTK changed the nature of celebrity: "The entertainment landscape was shifting in the late aughts, as reality TV and social media cut into industry gatekeepers’ ability to, well, gate-keep," says  Alyssa Bereznak. "The blockbuster success of American Idol proved there were few things more compelling to an audience than a nobody who was on their way to becoming somebody. So when Keeping Up With the Kardashians debuted on E! that October (2007), it positioned itself as a zhuzhed-up, late-capitalism Brady Bunch: a blended family of well-off strivers who had an insatiable appetite for as much wealth and notoriety as they could muster. The premise immediately struck a chord with Americans, who had long equated fame with success, and—thanks to a hyperactive era of paparazzi and weekly gossip rags—were witnessing up close the breakdown of a hierarchy that once defined the entertainment world. Within a month of its debut, KUWTK became the most-watched show with women 18-34 in its Sunday-night time slot. Still, such botox-injected ambition felt gauche to mainstream critics. The New York Times worried the program was 'purely about some desperate women climbing to the margins of fame.' The show’s haters distilled that critique into a cutting taunt: that the Kardashian-Jenners were simply 'famous for being famous.' Nearly 293 episodes later, the family’s self-perpetuated fame is clearly a feature, not a bug. Far before TikTokers were live-streaming themselves sleeping, Kris and Ko. pulled back the curtain juuust enough so we could see the mechanisms of the celebrity industry."
    • Meet the crew behind KUWTK: "I got to go to so many cool places," says lighting supervisor Landon Hosto. "We went to Greece, Thailand, St. Barts, London, France. Being with them, we didn't stay at the Motel 8. Because production wanted to be close to them, they didn't want to lose any time getting the crew from the cheap hotels to the rich hotels, so you had to stay at the rich hotels." Audio supervisor Erin Paxton adds: "This show has allowed me to see the world: Japan, Cuba, Bora Bora, Costa Rica. I mean, some of the craziest places I never even dreamt of going to. And when we go on these trips, they're these crazy adventures together, and we're all a unit, and it's such a beautiful thing. I've never, ever worked on a show before or after that has been so filled with laughter and craziness."
    • KUWTK will be remembered for exploiting Black women's aesthetics: "The white mainstream popularization of Black style or features by way of Blackfishing, much of which has been perpetuated by the Kardashians and Jenners, presents a sobering paradox: while it shows that beauty and body standards are shifting as they’ve always done, this change comes by way of white women, ultimately to the detriment of Black women," says Cady Lang. "The shape a person is born with is nothing to judge, but Kim and other white women with curves like hers aren’t subjected to the centuries-long objectification, hypersexualization and disdain that Black women have faced for their bodies. In this, the Kardashian-Jenner sisters’ influence is tip-to-toe: while Black women like Florence 'Flo-Jo' Griffith-Joyner were subject to racist and classist stereotypes for sporting elaborate nail art and acrylics—long markers of Black women’s style and self-expression—Kylie was hailed for launching an innovative trend when she began showing off her nail art on social media."
    • E! is ready for its post-Kardashian era: “The Kardashians allowed us to take people inside celebrity the way that we want to, where we celebrate their fandom and not tear it down,” says Rod Aissa, NBCUniversal Television’s executive vice president of entertainment unscripted content. “We’re focused on what else we can do in pop fandom and how we can celebrate all things Hollywood, and we’re hyper-focused on reestablishing the brand and making very strategic moves because the whole landscape has changed. We want to look at our brand and say, ‘This is what we stand for,’ even outside of the Kardashians.”
    • Recalling KUWTK's 10 most memorable moments
    • Watch Jimmy Kimmel's "emotional goodbye" to KUWTK

    TOPICS: Keeping Up With the Kardashians, E!, Jimmy Kimmel, Kendall Jenner, Khloe Kardashian, Kim Kardashian, Kourtney Kardashian, Kris Jenner, Kylie Jenner, Rod Aissa, Reality TV, Series Finales




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