It’s the end of an era. One lost diamond earring, three weddings, ten kids, three divorces, a million pairs of Good American jeans and one infamous sex tape later; from 2021, we will no longer be keeping up with the Kardashians.
It may seem a trite announcement in the midst of a global pandemic, political unrest and an economic recession, but the cultural impact of this one family cannot be understated. Beyond the control pants, the perfumes and the lip kits. They are the family that introduced the idea of exposure as an enterprise. A concept that has taken us from leaked sex tapes to reality TV to the dawning of the Instagram influencer.
Famous for being famous? The Kardashians invented it, sweetie.
The fact is, with great fame, comes great responsibility. Combined, the Kardashian sisters have an instagram reach of 744million. That is a pretty sizeable chunk of the internet. What they do and say has a ripple effect. Their reach and impact has been unmatched. So, as the show finally comes to an end; what has this impact been?
It’s easy to immediately discount them as vapid reality stars, but the Kardashians have frequently used their platform for good. Kim in particular has come to this rather belated understanding and has thrown herself headfirst into criminal justice reform. Alongside KKW Beauty and Skims, she has enrolled in law school, and is genuinely using her reach to raise awareness.
The show itself has taken to tackling larger issues than butt lifts and lipsticks over the years. They have highlighted poverty and homelessness and worked with many charities on the air, opened up about mental health and addiction – often through Scott Disick and Kanye West – and platformed Caitlyn Jenner’s transition, making many underrepresented issues mainstream.
Yet herein lies the bind of the Kardashians. In keeping up with them, we have not only been shown the ups and downs of a family, the raw and the wonderful and the causes that matter, we have been influenced in ways that are far less positive.
Scandal has tailed the family from the beginning – and we don’t just mean the OJ Simpson trial or Kim’s sex tape.
There is the fact that the sisters have been frequently dogged by accusations of blackfishing and cultural appropriation. There were the blackface claims against a shoot of Kylie Jenner’s and again for many shoots for Kim’s KKW range of foundations. Skims was originally called Kimono – before Japan literally intervened to point out the inappropriateness of this moniker. The sisters have been accused of moulding their looks and even body shapes on black women, in ways that highlight painfully how such body shapes have become acceptable in the mainstream through them- white women – but not so on black bodies.
The legacy of their appearance is perhaps the most damaging of all. From lip filler to butt lifts, the Kardashians have become the harbingers of surgical doom whose faces and figures have been edited in both real life and online, leading to a call to make full disclosure of editing apps a requirement on instagram. Most of these surgical enhancements have been scrupulously denied, whilst plastic surgeons claim that Kim Kardashian is dubbed ‘patient zero’- and women across the world attempt to emulate her face.
There are of course the more damaging side effects of this, with teens suffering from botched lip fillers and more. Then there is the fact that appetite suppressant lollipops and flat-tummy teas have been promoted by the sisters. All of this combines to create a powerful force of influence that is misguided- creating unattainable beauty standards and promoting unhealthy products- all the while refusing to disclose the editing that happens behind the scenes, or the staggering wealth that really goes into those bodies.
This lack of disclosure sits oddly alongside the family’s MO. After all, they are a reality show, a family famous for letting us in behind the scenes. For this reason, what they choose to be silent about, speaks volumes.
Yet, despite all the controversies that abound, so many of us have still watched, clicked, scrolled and followed. There has been something compulsive about them, creating as much intrigue for their misgivings as their good work.
And some of this has, let’s face it, been good. They have done their most sustained and valuable work when they have discussed the raw emotional realities of life that remain true regardless of privilege and fame; Khloe’s traumatic struggles with Lamar and Tristan, Kendall’s anxieties, the often destructive and painful tensions that arise in families and the choices women make. In the sisters’ most recent and prolonged dispute- Kim and Khloe argue with Kourtney, who discloses an unpopular but quietly feminist view that she would rather be a mum than have a career. Standing by the validity of her choice was a subtly powerful moment in the series’ fourteen year span.
Conversations like these rarely get such prime airtime and for this reason, the family’s painful transparency has been brilliantly utilised. Here they have shown the value of exposure to do good and have shown – through their missteps too – that when all eyes are on you, you have a powerful opportunity to direct them the right way.
Because for all the undue influence they have and the mistakes they have made, something tells me that – even off the air – we will still be Keeping up with the Kardashians.