Rachel, I’ll cut to the chase. There are rumors circulating that you’ve been overheard defending the Kardashians, even going so far as to say you “enjoy watching their show,” Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Can you speak to this?
Yes, most certainly. I’ll openly admit that I watch the Kardashians, I’m fascinated by them as people, and I would say that I admire them in many respects. No shame.
I’m shocked. When did this guilty pleasure start for you?
Oh it’s not a guilty pleasure. It’s just a pleasure. No guilt here. I’ll admit, I used to be a Kardashian hater myself. I thought they were shallow and fake and bad feminists. But after I actually watched a few episodes of their show, my mind was completely changed.
They’re actually very different than the idea of them I had in my head. For one, I always thought of them as bad role models, for whatever reason. But they embody a lot of characteristics I really admire…they’re super close as a family, for one. Sure, they bicker constantly, but at the end of the day, they actually want to spend time together. Now that I think of it, the No. 1 reason they fight is because they get sad that another member of their family is being too distant. They put family first, and are fiercely loyal to and protective of each other. As someone with three siblings, who I’m very close to, I can relate to this intimacy.
Okay, that’s all well and good, but what are they actually famous for? They don’t have any talents.
This is classic shade that I see get thrown at the Kardashians a lot. Long before Kim’s infamous sex tape, the Kardashian name was introduced to the world during the OJ Simpson trial, when her father Robert Kardashian was part of OJ’s defense team. Neither a sex tape nor a notorious father are good reasons to be famous, but Kim and her sisters can’t exactly help this. They were little girls during the OJ trial, and could hardly control who their dad was or who his friends were. And Kim’s sex tape being released should be seen as the crime and violation of privacy that it is, rather than as a fame-hungry grasp at celebrity.
Can we really blame the the Kardashians for capitalizing on the fame that was thrust upon them? They’re not exactly using it for nefarious reasons — a reality show about their glam family life, makeup and clothing lines, and various social media apps are among their endeavors. No, they’re not saving lives, but few famous people are. I say they’re savvy businesswomen who know who their audience is, what their limits are, and how to monetize that.
Okay, I hear you on that, but then why the intense hatred for them?
Well, despite the fact that the Kardashian/Jenner clan are now ubiquitous, with thousands if not millions of wannabes following and mimicking their every move, the Kardashians actually kind of defy a lot of cliches; they aren’t just one thing, and I think that has opened them up to a lot of criticism. They’ve been criticized as “bad feminists”, and poor examples of female empowerment — they spend an exorbitant amount on time on hair, clothes, and makeup, they’re overly sexualized and in fact often seem to promote their own sexual objectification, and they typically stay away from commenting on or getting involved in any overly politicized discussions, particularly those that might be controversial. In short, they seem to live in a glam bubble, void of social conscience.
But the right criticizes them just as much, ironically for some of the same reasons—that they sell sex, frequently dress and pose immodestly, and are bad examples for adolescent and teen girls—not so much bad feminist role models but bad moral role models. And it seems like the Kardashians are the go-to reference anytime we want to comment on how our society is shallow/has poor taste/is too caught up in the wrong things/ignores real world problems, etc.
All of this seems like somewhat fair criticism. What’s your rebuttal?
OK, well, for one, I hate the automatic categorization that all endeavors having to do with appearance are shallow. To me, that’s textbook sexism. What are some stereotypical masculine interests … Sports? Cars? Electronic equipment? Are any of these interests inherently any more “noble” than skincare, haircare, fitness, or fashion? If you think it’s silly to spend vast amounts of time and money on lip kits and moisturizers, fine, but then it’s equally silly to spend vast amounts of time and money on jerseys and cable bundles for ESPN5 or what have you.
To that point, I think it’s also sad and incredibly unfair that society has built up unrealistic and largely unobtainable beauty standards for women, but then immediately criticizes them when they try to achieve them. Essentially, the message has been, “You’re only relevant if you are fit and beautiful, but you’re shallow if you actively do anything to become fit and beautiful.” If that’s not setting women up to fail, I don’t know what is. Obviously, this isn’t how everyone feels, but it does seem to be a pervasive attitude.
You make some fair points, but I’m still not convinced that there’s any reason to admire them. Why do you?
I admire them because they actually defy a lot of stereotypes. Kourtney and Kim are both wives and mothers (they each have three children), in addition to being businesswomen and public figures. Kylie just had her first child, and Khloe has her first on the way. It’s like it never occurred to them that having children might be an obstacle; when it comes to motherhood and ambition, they’ve refused to accept the either/or narrative, and have instead demanded both/and. I also love how their family unit is basically run as a matriarchal society. Kris, Kourtney, Kim, Khloe, Kendall, and Kylie are the ones who call the shots, and they look almost solely to each other for support and advice. They all have or have had men in their lives, but the men seem very secondary in importance. On the one hand, they’re very traditional in their family values and gender roles, but on the other hand, they are fully in charge of their own brand, period.
They’re also trendsetters, plain and simple. For better or for worse, if you walk into a room of teenage girls, it’s going to be filled with baby imitations of Kardashians and Jenners. I recently saw a picture of Kim out on the town wearing velvet Adidas basketball shorts, a white men’s undershirt, and strappy stilettos. It takes confidence to dress like you just went from organizing your garage to a bachelorette party, and of course, she killed it. They also collectively sport a roving arsenal of colored wigs, fake piercings, glam athleisure, and ridiculous footwear; in short, they’re a lot more edgy sartorially than we give them credit for.
I can see how some of that would be inspiring, but at the end of the day they’re just not relatable. How is watching KUWTK anything more than just escapism?
Watching KUWTK IS escapism, I’ll be the first to admit it. Of course it’s entertaining to watch them jet set from Palm Springs to Dubai to New York like it’s nothing, and in private planes no less. Or listen to them argue about imported marble countertops or who’s stealing whose look for whatever upcoming appearance or premier.
But they’ve also dealt with a lot of potentially tough issues that no amount of fame or money can entirely protect them from. First, the divorce of Kris and Robert when the children were still relatively young. Then, their mom’s remarriage to Bruce (now Caitlyn Jenner) shortly after, which resulted in the addition of both half and step siblings. Then Robert’s death in 2003. And in the years following, they’ve had to cope with the severe substance abuse of their partners, mental health issues from their brother Rob, multiple miscarriages, and perhaps most famously, the very public transition of their father Bruce to Caitlyn. And their high profile relationships with people of color (Kim and Kanye, Rob and Black Chyna, Khloe and Lamar Odom/Tristan Thompson, Kylie and Tyga/Travis Scott, and Kris and Corey Gamble) means that they’ve frequently been a part of discussions regarding race and privilege. Without a doubt, their lifestyles are wildly different than the average person’s, but they sure as heck have had a lot of very human experiences.
I can see you’re pretty firm in your convictions. In closing, what’s one of your favorite moments from Keeping Up With the Kardashians?
I could no sooner choose a favorite star in the heavens. But if I had to think of something on the spot, I’d say a) all the moments when the sisters gang up on (Kourtney’s ex) Scott Disick and make him squirm for whatever awful thing he’s done most recently, or b) when Kim admitted that her niece Dream peed all over her, and she didn’t wash it off, because she didn’t want to ruin her spray tan. Damn, Gina!
By Rachel Woldum