Kim Kardashian has no apparent talent. It is likely she sings off key, dances like Elaine Benes, and paints on par with a fifth grader. Her body is wonderfully curvy, her makeup has taken some getting used to, and her psoriasis will continue to haunt her in humid environments. The rest of her family, including sisters Kourtney and Khloe, are just as talent-less, albeit tossing out some epic one-liners here and there. True you can call the entire Kardashian clan business savvy, especially mother hen Kris Jenner who has, along with the help of Ryan Seacrest, turned their Calabasas-based family into reality show royals. But the Kardashians are doing it like no one else, that it to say, by being just like me and you and everyone we know. Minus all the cash, of course. And as for Kim, the brightest supernova, every step she takes is photographed, recorded and archived, making her one of the most Googled and talked about celebrities of our time. And all she has to do is exist.
I. A Brief History of Relevant Reality
It would be difficult to speak to the rise of Kim and the Kardashians without looking back at the history of such televised programming. The genre of reality began arguably in New York City with the premier of The Real World in 1992, a whopping 21 years ago. This show spawned an entire generation of spinoffs, the most relevant coming in 2001 with MTV’s The Osbournes, chronicling the everyday domestic lives of Ozzy Osbourne and his kooky family. The show took off. This clan was quirky, funny, and already had the star power. Much to the chagrin of Black Sabbath fans, Ozzy was shown to the world as a “normal” person, a father, a History Channel lover. America fell for the Osbournes and recognized qualities in their own neighbors, their own families and themselves. Oh, the editing process! After 52 episodes, the show called it quits. The jokes got stale, Ozzy’s slurring became too much, and to be honest, no one on the show was that easy on the eyes.
Pioneers in the genre, MTV, recognized this and with the huge success of The O.C., decided to create Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County, a loosely-scripted reality show documenting the melodramatic lives of high school teens living the lux and breezy seaside life. Another big score for the network. From there, it was all semi-golden: The Hills, The City, Lauren Conrad, Heidi Montag, Kristin Cavallari. All beautiful and relatively un-famous people just going about their lives either in Los Angeles or New York.
Enter Kim and the Kardashians.
II. From Riches to Riches
When the show began in 2007, I think it’s safe to say we were all like “Who? O.J.’s lawyer’s family? I don’t get it.” I caught a few episodes but still could not wrap my head around why they were making a television show about such a family of nobodies. Laguna Beach had an angle; it was attempting to show the world what life was like in the “real” Orange County, without Mischa Barton. And then it clicked: a sex tape. Unless you lived in L.A. (which most of the world doesn’t), you wouldn’t know the Kardashians were already a bit of deal, especially Kim who was a celebrity stylist to Brandy. In walks Brandy’s brother Ray-J who catches Kim’s eye, and yadda yadda yadda, a home video is leaked to the internet and watched by every male between the ages of 15 and 115. Filling the void left by Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie’s The Simple Life, Keeping Up with the Kardashians was born, thanks to Hollywood powerhouse Ryan Seacrest. The shtick was in place: daughter of influential Hollywood family made sex tape then went home to that family and they still loved her and all their names begin with K and they are Armenian and hella rich and tell jokes. What a formula! The family continued on to “take” Miami, New York and Lamar Odom. I wouldn’t even consider these shows spin-offs as they were extensions of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. America could not get enough of one central show, they needed more time with the klan (the only time I will do that). It wasn’t enough to see what they were doing on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday; we yearned for Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, as well.
III. The Hollywood Walk of Shame
These past weeks have really been something for Kim. She celebrated her 33rd birthday, she got engaged to Kanye West (in San Francisco!), and she is about to have her baby a second time on television this upcoming Sunday. But nothing has been quite as controversial as her denial of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. According to spokeswoman Ana Martinez, Kim simply does not qualify for a star. In order to even be considered, you must fall into one of five performance categories, reality television nowhere to be found. “We’re happy to consider reality stars once they get nominated for, or win, an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar,” Martinez tells omg Yahoo. “We’ll consider them when they’re legitimate actors or singers.” Because there are no politics involved in that selection process.
There have been cases, though, when the rules have been bent a bit. Vanna White, for example, might have said less on camera in her entire career than Kim has on one episode of her show. And now that things are all digitalized, Vanna doesn’t even have to strain her wrist to turn letters any more, she just needs to tap them like an iPad, and then clap, smile and wave. An American game show icon of course, but a $30,000 star on Hollywood and Vine is highly debatable. And then there’s Muhammad Ali. Although an obvious legend in sports, he was awarded a star because boxing is considered “live performance.” It is difficult to compare Kim Kardashian to Muhammad Ali purely for the sake of accomplishment. But when it comes to Tinseltown and what it stands for, I’m not sure anyone is more Hollywood than Kim.
IV. In Defense of Kim Kardashian
While it might not seem like it when you’re sitting on your couch eating that second bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, you are just like Kim Kardashian. Because she lacks the enormous talent that catapults everyday people to stardom and because she lacks the Kate Moss waistline, she in turn represents both what could be and what is. In an interview with W, Kim reveals: “I’m way more boring than they think. I’m not a drinker, and when I’m up on the table dancing, it’s for the picture. Then I sit back down. I play into the perception of me, but it’s not really me. And the show reveals that.” And what is that perception of Kim Kardashian? Her name has become synonymous with—in my circles, at least—sounds and sighs of annoyance or comments on the stupidity of American celebrities and television.
In 1993, when Nirvana released Nevermind, it was an album that our country was waiting for without even realizing it. It was the natural progression of culture. Grunge surfaced as a response to that particularly sensitive time of pure social alienation. Kim Kardashian was put on television in response to our post-millennial, celebrity-obsessed, wired selves. And from the looks of it, she’s here to stay. So let thee, who hath never taken a selfie, cast the first stone.