“Without ‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians’, I wouldn’t be where I am today”
Kim, neither would we.
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Keeping Up With The Kardashians first aired on the E! network in 2007, launching alongside the first ever iPhone during a time when Kim Kardashian was known only as Paris Hilton’s former assistant-friend who had a sex tape with Ray J (who is now probably only known as Brandy’s problematic brother who had a sex tape with Kim Kardashian). Back then, Kendall, Kylie, Kourtney, and Khloe were simply supporting characters in Kim Kardashian’s fame-hungry antics, known – for the most part only amongst other wealthy Hollywood families – as daughters of Robert Kardashian, one of O.J Simpson’s lawyers during his infamous murder trial, or daughters of Bruce Jenner former, Olympic champion. Thirteen years later though and their entire family – in fact their entire social network – are prominent figures around the world, and six (including their Momager Kris) of the most influential women in popular culture today.
Thirteen years later, and Keeping Up With The Kardashians is taking its final breath (the last season will end next year); the world will be bidding farewell to the life-altering television series that not even the scholars could see coming. The show’s work here is done; thirteen years later and we finally get to say it: Good bye, Keeping Up, the evil you have done in this world is enough.
I kid. Keeping Up With The Kardashians hasn’t been the vessel of evil so many proclaim it to be. Whilst the show, and its stars of course, have changed the world in insurmountable ways, Keeping Up With The Kardashian was a symptom of, or at most a catalyst for, an already changing, increasingly digitising world. Still, from fashion, to consumerism, to culture, beauty standards, career trajectories, to TV and entertainment practices, the Kardashian/Jenner family have played an inextricable role in the defining of the social world order under which we all now live. Though people are lamenting the end of an era, it’s also imperative to consider, and even appreciate, the ways in which, through its legacy, KUWTK will have a lasting impact on the world, especially in our part of it – where the show’s reach is still tangible, even if it’s not immediately obvious.
Keeping Up With The Kardashians is, according to research conducted by The Washington Post, the oldest running family based TV show that exists today, making it the longest lasting as well. But it wasn’t the first. Not by a long shot. In American television history there was The Osborne‘s first, (produced by Ryan Seacrest who executive produces KUWTK), then Reverend Run’s House, Hogan Knows Best amongst others on the family reality shows front. The Hills, MTV Cribs, Punk’d, Pimp My Ride, Hugh Hefner’s Girls Next Door and so on were other reality TV shows that emerged after the raging success Survivor (2000) – the real pioneering show when it comes to reality TV. In fact, Keeping Up wasn’t even Kim’s first reality TV appearance, the, then, budding socialite cropping up on Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie’s The Simple Life from time to time. But in the infamous words of Aubrey Graham, “it ain’t about who did it first, it’s ’bout who did it right”. Keeping Up With The Kardashians is looking like “preach!”
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From competitive reality TV shows, to life improvement shows, such as cooking shows, one can make a compelling argument for the fact that reality shows exist, not only to line the pockets of the entertainment execs, but to promote the cast members of the show, to introduce them to the world and to keep them relevant – either as experts in their respective fields or on the world’s tongue. Agreeing that this is the case, no reality TV show succeeded more than Keeping Up With The Kardashians, and since this success we have seen many iterations of the Reality Star. From Love & Hip Hop‘s Cardi B (who leveraged her rising popularity into an illustrious rap career) to Nigeria’s own Bobrisky – who used Snapchat as her own personal TV network in order to build and promote her business – “famous for being famous” is no longer the slur it used to be, it’s the reality of many of our favourite celebrities, and (Keeping Up With) The Kardashians were the figureheads at the forefront of this cultural shift.
The Kardashian/Jenners are the ruling family of our post-digital world. Though, not the first to make a living off of being themselves on television, through the success of their show, this family helped forge a new normal around the world whereby stalking people on their day-to-day, being involved with what they do in their down time, is as easing as flicking your thumb upwards. From our friends, to the musicians that populate our YouTube searches, these days, we are so engrossed in what other people are doing, because what other people are doing is so readily accessible to us. Sure the Perez Hiltons and Linda Ikejis made a killing from reporting other people’s business, but as reality TV blossomed, and social media fell into our laps, emphasis on those we were looking at telling the story themselves became ever more important. Keeping Up With The Kardashian was a resounding hit doing just that; it is no coincidence that seven of Instagram’s top twenty most liked posts belong to Kylie Jenner. The family were primed to rule the social media platforms as they helped set that standard for all-access celebrity consumption, with their numerous reality TV shows.
Now, we don’t only watch them, we watch everybody. We’ve gone from Keeping Up With The Kardashians to keeping up with Bobrisky – the historical reality TV show paved the way for Nigeria’s most influential Snapchat queen and many other reality stars to be just what they are, prominent public figures simply for sharing their reality (no matter how dramatised it is for the cameras).
Bobrisky began her ‘social media famous’ campaign as a marketing ploy for her bleaching cream product, knowing that if she had the right #influence people would buy the product simply because it was hers. Just like KKW’s make up, or Kylie’s Kylie Skin. Keeping Up With The Kardashians was the jump off point, the centre of all the sisters’ exploits. From the show, they not only gained the popularity to become tastemakers and high-rewarding marketers, they also earned money (and lots of it too) to invest in their businesses, that would return even more money, fame and power. Flipping their popularity into product, Kylie and Kim, most successfully, showed the world just how lucrative social media-led entrepreneurship is, especially encouraging young girls to step into their own ventures (Mohini Beauty‘s founder dubbed herself the Nigerian Kylie Jenner as she launched her new make up line), whether it be in the form of influencing or beginning your own business.
Through meticulous cross-platform self-promotion, Kylie Jenner became the youngest self-made billionaire, whilst her big sister, Kim earned the CFDA’s inaugural Influencer Award, the same year she was honoured at the World Economic Forum. Once again, we won’t attempt to suggest that Kim and Kylie are the pioneers of entrepreneurship – in Nigeria, ‘businessman’ has been the most popular job description for decades – but as the world shifted towards non-traditional means of employment, the Kardashian/Jenner sisters were happy to endorse this digitised iteration of the businessperson, though not without scrutiny.
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All the way back in 2013, President Obama, pondering the world’s changing views of success, stated “I think, there also has been a shift in culture. We weren’t exposed to things we didn’t have in the same way kids these days are. There was not that window into the lifestyles of the rich and famous… Kids weren’t monitoring every day what Kim Kardashian was wearing, or where Kanye West was going on vacation, and thinking that somehow that was the mark of success.” Here, Obama points to the hyper-visibility of wealthy people and how this can affect the perceptions of the 99%, but why he uses Kim Kardashian West and her husband as an example is because, right from their show’s inception, Kim and her family have unashamedly flaunted their wealth as a sign of social status.
When @Jack visited Nigeria, a branch of Twitter took to criticising people who are flashy about their money, because the CEO himself dressed modestly. This isn’t a new ideology. The idea that the rich rich hide their wealth, while the wannabes or new-money families tackily brag about their financial status and enviable material goods, is one that has existed for a very long time. However, these days, that ideology is waining. Davido’s 30 Billion Gang are named for his booming bank account. When they adorn their necks in glistening chains, no one doubts the legitimacy of Davido’s financial status – in fact, most fans thoroughly enjoy seeing Davido splash his money, or Tiwa Savage don head to toe Gucci monogram print (a style which Kris Jenner copied in her birthday tribute to Burberry boss, Riccardo Tisci). Bragging about which designers are in your closet, or which expensive destinations you’ve checked off or how much property you own, is no longer seen as tacky or try-hard. It’s aspirational, it’s inspirational. If it weren’t for Keeping Up With The Kardashians, its excessive displays of wealth, and its casts’ dedication to conspicuous consumption, this writer isn’t so sure that ostentatiously carrying your riches in a transparent monogram Louis Vuitton duffel wouldn’t simply be laughed at. But these days, that’s the stuff of Pinterest boards.
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They might be the First Family of Calabasas, but the Kardashian clan have a global reach to rival the White House’s, and it all started with a matching leopard print photoshoot. Paving the way for reality stars like Bobrisky, inviting us into private jets as often as Davido’s 30BG do, setting a precedent of success for our favourite influencers-turned-brand-owners, like Ashley Okoli, the Kardashians have changed the world, and that includes our corner of it too. So, before you bid good riddance to all its toxic shortcomings, let’s appreciate the iconic TV show for the historical artefact and cultural cornerstone that it is.