Last year, Cosmopolitan magazine splashed the banner “America’s First Family” across its front cover — and the accompanying picture was not one of the Obamas. Instead, smiling up from newsstands were (most of) the women of the Kardashian-Jenner family, whose long-running reality series “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” (2007-present) wrapped up its 11th season on Feb. 21.
The show’s staples have remained firmly intact through season 11, as camera crews continue to document the delightfully ridiculous behavior of the Kardashian/Jenner women. In this season alone, Kim and Kris squabble over a luxurious variety of high-end marble, imported from Italy; Kourtney takes time out of the “family vacay” to do a little self-esteem boosting photoshoot; Kylie, teenage homeowner, gets upset when her sisters help her plan a housewarming party at her newly acquired abode. The absurdity of these incidents is lost on all involved. Yes, the Kardashian/Jenner clan is most assuredly living in a delusion, but, luckily for us, it is a highly entertaining delusion to watch.
Part of this multi-faceted delusion involves the women believing that they are highly overworked. The Kardashian/Jenner women spend an inordinate amount of time complaining about how little down time they have, how stressed they are and how draining their jobs have become. It is nearly impossible to believe these claims, however, when their lives seem to be filled with nothing even remotely approximating the hardships they have described. Rather, their days are comprised of photoshoots, club appearances and unhurried lunches at high-priced Los Angeles establishments — hardly anxiety-inducing activities. When it comes down to it, “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” is a fantasy, a nice little escapist spectacle best enjoyed during life’s more mundane moments, while folding laundry or cleaning up the kitchen.
Despite the trivial nonsense that makes up most of the show’s runtime, “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”also documents (seemingly) genuine emotions. Kourtney’s breakup with hard-partying Scott Disick, father of her three children, has made for some heart-wrenching television, and, though these scenes are likely producer manufactured, it is hard to escape the feeling that the emotional rollercoaster played out on screen is not too far from the one experienced off-camera. That is the thing about this show — the moments captured on film might not be entirely truthful, but we often get the sense that the emotions on display are far from dishonest. The family’s acceptance of Caitlyn Jenner’s transition, for example, has been surprisingly touching, as has their unreserved support of Lamar Odom during his recent medical struggles.
It is easy to vilify the Kardashians as greedy, talentless and dimwitted and as representing everything that is wrong with America. They live their opulent lives tucked away in massive California mansions, oblivious of everything from the latest international crises to the cost of a gallon of milk. But let us not pretend here — they are really no different from the rest of Hollywood. The Kardashians have just decided to capitalize on their fame, and, while perhaps opening their home to camera crews makes them equally open to public disdain, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that they are somehow worse than the rest of Tinseltown.
Nor should we pretend that they are the only people in this country to have achieved fame without displaying any sort of marketable skill — a criticism often launched at the family by their detractors. Maybe they can not sing like Beyonce nor do they possess Jennifer Lawrence’s acting chops, but they’ve managed to stay relevant and profitable for this long which is certainly proof that they are indeed shrewd businesswomen. What is most discomfiting about this disdain of the Kardashians, however, is that it is undoubtedly tinged with more than a hint of sexism. The disparagement launched at them often reveals our ugly tendency to pick apart female celebrities while leaving famous men alone even when the commit similar — or worse — infractions. However deplorable we might find their behavior, this kind of misogynistic commentary is even more unacceptable.
So before we next launch into an attack on the Kardashians, it is perhaps worth keeping all this in mind. We would also do well to not forget that we are living in a country where Donald J. Trump has a real shot at becoming president. Considering this alarming fact, the Kardashians’ antics, safely confined to the realm of reality television and tabloid covers, seem reassuringly tame by comparison.