(Photo via Hayu.com)
Everyone seems to have an opinion on the Kardashians. They can be very polarizing, which is why they present a perfect opportunity to explore the origins of one’s opinions.
Per my last post, I’m following Ijeoma Oluo’s writing exercise and launching into my investigative process on how I came to hold my opinion of the Kardashians.
As Oluo writes:
“I’m assuming no actual Kardashians are reading this, but if any of you are – hi! Can I please have some of your money?”
Same, girl, same.
So, what is my opinion on the Kardashians?
The Kardashians are a wealthy, revenue-generating family that has hired some of the best PR in the biz to sculpt, manage, and perpetuate a specific reputation or brand. On top of being a family, they are also a business – a business worth many billions of US dollars.
The Kardashians changed the game when it comes to marketing products to consumers. Arguably, they became the original social media influencers, and one of the most successful (read: highest-earning) ones around.
They leverage their platform to drive up revenue by connecting to an audience intimately, and they set up the foundation for the present-day influencer economy. I find it scary, amazing, and undeniably genius.
Let’s get into it.
My Kardashian Awareness Journey
I cannot recall when I first became aware of the Kardashians. If I were to guess, I’d say it was in the early 2010s, but only to the extent that, say, I knew Coldplay existed. They didn’t move into the sphere of my consciousness until later that decade in the mid-to-late 2010s, specifically after Kim married Kanye.
I was watching a pop culture Youtube video that looked back on how the Kardashians first made it onto the scene, and it was reported that it all started with Kim. She had once been spotted with Jessica Simpson’s ex-husband, and ever since, the media wanted to know who she was and what she was all about. (I cannot confirm the source of this information. Please refer to real gossip columns and E! News-related sources.)
My very first impression of the Kardashians is that I couldn’t tell why people became obsessed with them. I know they had a reality TV show titled Keeping Up With The Kardashians, and I couldn’t wrap my head around what the fuss was all about.
In fact, I became rather annoyed and irritated whenever I saw their name pop up in a headline on the entertainment section of the news. At least celebrities like actors and singers gave us movies and music, but I saw no value-add provided by the Kardashians.
To be fair, I never watched an entire episode of their reality TV show. I had seen bits and pieces showing two of the women – perhaps Kylie and Kendall – going on a shopping spree, riding in the backseat of a big black SUV, wearing oversized sunglasses and tight jeans. I believe the big conflict of the episode was whether they would be able to go to the mall and who all would be joining them.
I remember bits of dramatic side-eye, quick zooms into Kim and Khloe’s faces, and GIF-able moments of their faces.
I’m sure there was an audience for it – I just wasn’t one of them. Why would I want to watch a bunch of airheads on TV talking about how hard it was to be a millionaire? I didn’t see how anything they did or said contributed anything to anybody.
Harsh, I know.
My awareness of the Kardashians became more prominent when Kim married rapper and musician, Kanye West. Not like I was ever a huge Kanye fan, but I did bop to some of his music, and her decision to marry him made her more interesting to me. It made me realize that there was more to her than a big booty and a pretty face.
More than meets the eye.
I thought, “As erratic as Kanye is, he also seems very calculated and deliberate. Surely, Kim must appreciate that, so she must be savvy too.”
Another major turning point came after the Paris robbery. She was robbed at gunpoint in a hotel room through an elaborately planned heist by people who had expertly followed her whereabouts for years.
I watched some of Kim’s interviews on talk shows like The View, The Real, and on Ellen recounting her experience and how much it changed her perspective and outlook on life.
She sounded articulate and thoughtful, and if I’m honest, it felt like a re-introduction to a new and improved Kim Kardashian West.
I appreciated her reflection on such a frightening and traumatic experience. She gained my respect.
Having been exposed to her considerate answers and humility, I saw her more as a fellow human being rather than just another (ultra)rich celebrity.
I also listened to her speak about prison reform. Seeing her in a photo with D*nald Tr*mp in the oval office struck me and conjured conflicting feelings.
On the one hand, she agreed to associate herself with a terrible president, and on the other, she went to the highest office in the land to create the change she wanted to see.
Side note: it’s also a highly disconcerting image that makes you want to squirm and look away. An unusual duo, one you would not expect in the same photo. Him sitting down, cheesing like a loser, and her, darkly dressed, serious, and unsmiling. It provokes cognitive dissonance of sorts.
In addition, her decision to become a lawyer made me realize that anyone can have a change of heart in terms of what kind of impact they want to make in the world.
A Shift in Opinion
At first, I saw Kim Kardashian as a shallow, self-interested, thoughtless, and annoying money-making airhead who sought attention and relevance to financially benefit her.
Today, I see her as a thoughtful and empathetic money-making machine powered by a massive, highly organized, and strategic team who craft and shape a compelling narrative to uphold her brand and billion-dollar bank account.
The latter became no more obvious than when I decided to watch her sister, Kendall Jenner’s interview with Vogue’s 73 Questions. The interview asks, “What’s something about you that you wished more people focused on?” And she responds, “My ass.”
Nothing is more on-brand for the Kardashian-Jenner family. At first, naïve little me found it incredulous that anyone would say that – it made me angry. Then, I woke up and realized, “Of course they would say that. It’s stupid AND genius.”
(I stopped watching the video then and there.)
It makes sense how my opinions have formed over time. Life happened and Kim changed. At least the story being told of who Kim has become certainly did. From a party-going socialite to a mother, advocate, and discerning businesswoman.
Also, as I grew up and learned about reputation-building, marketing, public perception, and the media industry, I became more aware of what I was witnessing while also gaining more exposure to Kim Kardashian and her work.
I became more sympathetic to her as a person who is on an ever-changing journey like the rest of us. Her transformation brings into question all the hate she received throughout the course of her career.
To be clear, Kim Kardashian has made many mistakes and is far from perfect, not even with that waist-to-hip ratio.
I almost forgot to mention the tape that propelled her into name recognition when I was too young to internalize any of it at the time.
And then, she had a more recent cultural appropriation incident in which she named her line of shape-fitting underwear after a traditional Japanese dress, the Kimono, as a play on words on her name. Japanese women had to call her out on Twitter for her to reconsider.
It’s terrifying to think that the Kardashian-Jenner empire was passively fed into my psyche through no proactive measures of my own – no digging, no research, no nothing.
Places like Youtube and Instagram fed me information and content that they thought I would want, so like a sea sponge filter-feeding on the plankton in the water, I simply absorbed their influence.
For example, I cannot say how and when I learned about the Jenners like Kylie, Kendall, and Caitlyn, born as Bruce who later transitioned, which brought the family even more attention and awareness.
All this goes to show how our opinions and perspectives are literally fed to us through this crazy, terrifying algorithmic machine when we’re not careful about investigating why we think the way we do.
The algorithm is doing all the heavy lifting on marketing, promotion, and awareness-building for the Kardashian family and their brands and partnerships, so in a way, it’s a genius business model for them.
The rich are getting richer and the chasm is getting steeper.
This was a fun exercise! Oh, and Kim is dating Pete Davidson now, which… wha? Who would have thought?
Have a great weekend and see you back here on Monday!
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