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Keeping Up with the Kardashians gave America its first real family

  • "The Kardashians are often used as a shorthand for all that’s wrong with modern celebrity culture, invariably by people who never watched the often funny, always surreal show," says Hadley Freeman. "They’ve been blamed for the rise of selfies, butt implants and Botox. (The family are coy about what changes they’ve made to their physical appearance, but it is shocking to compare photos of the parodically glamorous family now with ones of them pre-2007 in which they appear jarringly human.) In an era when the fashionable pose for female celebrities is to encourage 'body positivity,' the Kardashians promote appetite-suppressing lollipops and 'waist trainers,' and none of it dents their popularity. They are not woke, and arguments over whether they are self-empowered feminist icons or 'a bunch of talentless narcissistic brain-dead bimbos' entirely miss the point of them. They are capitalism in human form, utterly meaningless except for the meaning onlookers place on them. Never mind, for the moment, the Trumps: the Kardashians are America’s true 21st century family. No one else has come close to their omnipresence, their bizarre rise and their fascinating back story. Trump made his money by family inheritance, which feels positively European. The Kardashians, who admittedly were never paupers, made their billions by making themselves over entirely, and then selling themselves wholly, and there’s nothing more American than that. Many take a lofty pride in affecting not to know all the family’s K-prefixed names, and for the record, it’s Kris the mother, Kourtney, Kim and Khloe Kardashian, and then – from Kris’s second marriage to Bruce, now Caitlyn, Jenner – Kendall and Kylie. (There is also a little seen brother, Rob, but men rarely hang around for long in Kardashian world, whether they’re boyfriends or siblings.) Yet no matter how hard some might try, the Kardashian influence is unavoidable. Open the New Yorker and there is a profile of Kim’s makeup artist, Mario Dedivanovic; turn on the news and there’s Kim giving a press conference at the White House about her efforts to reform the criminal justice system."


    • Kardashian-Jenners could have trouble launching a reality show away from E!, which was reportedly caught off guard by KUWTK ending: "The move caught NBCU off guard as E! was having their own conversations about doing more with the Kardashians and Peacock had earmarked funds for yet another Kardashians spinoff that would be exclusive to the streamer," reports The Hollywood Reporter's Lesley Goldberg. "Speaking of the streamer, sources note that there were 'rumblings' that the Kardashians were unhappy about payments they received for the show's licensing deal to Peacock as those terms were outlined in their 'ancient' contract." Goldberg points out that E! loses money on KUWTK, which costs an estimated $1.5 million per episode for production and about $5 million per episode to be split up among the family members. Yet the show has kept E! as a Top 20 cable network, allowing it to charge premium ad rates. "And if the Kardashians decide at some point down the line that they'd like to return to TV, be it at E! or another outlet, that might prove tricky," says Goldberg. "E! owns the show, the trademark and the rights to the show and their pre-existing contract for the series would prevent them from creating a similar show, even with a different title, elsewhere. Any programming they did elsewhere would also have to be vastly different from the concept of Keeping Up, too. Unlike The Walking Dead, the Kardashians would still likely be bound to their original contract with E! for the show and have to negotiate to open up the terms of that initial deal."
    • Kim Kardashian and her family changed celebrity and TV, and then outgrew it: "No one encapsulates or is as responsible for the transformation in how we think about celebrities and fame today as Kardashian, who was birthed in the chaotic final days of the old-world celebrity order, but who, alongside her kin, brought us into the new one, like the first sea creatures to set foot on the shore and actually thrive there, as opposed to suffocating on the beach," says Willa Paskin. "(In this metaphor, Paris Hilton suffocated on the beach.) Keeping Up With the Kardashians, the show that made her and her family the most famous one in the world, may be ending, after 14 years and 20 seasons, but the world we live in is the one that they made—one in which to become, be, or stay famous, you just don’t need a platform like TV anymore."
    • The Kardashians revolutionized the idea of a reality star as an accepted member of the Hollywood A-list: "They say the devil works hard but Kris Jenner works harder," says Kevin Fallon. "There’s no denying the shrewdness of announcing the show’s end at this turning point in the genre. Is reality TV dead, or is it stronger than ever? It’s certainly different. Even as her show approaches irrelevance, Jenner is redirecting the conversation to why it matters. Her mind. The Kardashians revolutionized the idea of a reality star as an accepted member of the Hollywood A-list, spawning a harrowing army of copycats craven for even a modicum of that success and recognition. Does that launching pad exist anymore? It does in an earnest fashion, sprinkling 15 minutes each to the breakout athletes from Cheer, or the heartbroken Bachelorette of the moment. Notoriety will never go out of fashion, as Tiger King’s Carole Baskin is teaching us. But in the age of TikTok and influencer houses, can that impact and level of attention be attained through a Kardashians-like series anymore? You could say that the Kardashians both created and outgrew their own Hollywood path."
    • KUWTK inspired today's influencers and YouTubers: "The early seasons have a charming, clunky, low-budget feel that slowly disappeared as the show progressed, tracking neatly alongside the Kardashians’ rise to fame," says Megan Reynolds. "The show’s opening credits in the first season established the family as a bumbling clan of rich brunettes lacking any real self-awareness. As the seasons progressed, the opening credits evolved to match their shiny, sleek, and augmented personalities, but were still imbued with a sense of nostalgia for simpler times. The opening credits went back and forth between heavily filtered contemporary images and old family videos, creating a continuity between the two. That back and forth, forever summoning up the notion of family, no matter how famous they got, was always part of the Kardashian appeal. By the time Kanye West showed up in 2012 to purge Kim’s closet of its deep archive of Hervé Leger bandage dresses and teetering Louboutins, it was evident that the Kardashians’ fame would soon eclipse the vehicle that brought them to us in the first place. Each sister has used their position to create mini-empires larger than the show itself, selling everything from lipstick to jeans, waist trainers, children’s clothes, and even a lifestyle brand. KUWTK effectively created a new path towards fame and financial success for each family member, one that was never predicated on actual achievement, but on something more akin to personality. The blueprint provided by KUWTK is now a staple of reality TV, a simple formula that showcases regular people doing relatively regular things, hoping that their personalities will be enough to launch them towards some form of fame. Influencers and YouTubers have deployed the same strategies, using the Kardashian model as a way to rocket themselves to rather dubious fame, proving that with enough clever editing and quirky personality traits, anyone can be a star."
    • Kris Jenner says Khloé Kardashian has taken the news of KUWTK ending the hardest, and hasn't stopped crying

    TOPICS: Keeping Up With the Kardashians, E!, Kendall Jenner, Khloe Kardashian, Kim Kardashian, Kourtney Kardashian, Kris Jenner, Kylie Jenner, Reality TV