It’s been 10 years since Keeping Up With The Kardashians first aired on TV. This week, we examine how the world's most famous family has entertained us, angered us, and made an indisputable impact on our culture.
My Kardashian fatigue began about a year-and-a-half ago. Before then, I was a day one viewer, the kind of avid fan who religiously watched every Sunday. The love affair began during my junior year of college, when I came home for winter break and my younger sister told me I had to see this show about a crazy family and something involving a stripper pole. After that, over the years whenever people would trash talk the Kardashian clan for being fake and annoying, or accuse me of wasting my brain cells watching their show, I'd defend them, feeling an odd loyalty to the family who had let me into their lives and kept me entertained for years.
But then January 2016 brought the beginnings of what would become the Rob and Chyna media circus — the constant public breakups-to-makeups that took place on Instagram and Snapchat. The sisters' cultural appropriation of Black women that had been apparent over the years became less blurry and more blatant when Black artists and designers straight called out Khloe Kardashian and Kendall and Kylie Jenner for ripping off their designs. And in August, Kim, who is married to Kanye West and has two bi-racial children, claimed naiveté when it came to defending makeup artist Jeffree Star's history of racist comments. It became harder and harder to stick up for the Kardashian brigade, especially as a Black woman. I could no longer just claim that I found their show entertaining when, in real life, they were causing all kinds of problems — and often not taking responsibility for it.
So when I watched a screener of the upcoming 10th anniversary special, set to air on E! Sunday at 9 p.m., I was surprised when I found myself getting a little emotional, tearing up often and experiencing swells of nostalgia (and even pride). Throughout the special, producer Ryan Seacrest interviews Kris Jenner and her daughters. (Rob was noticeably absent, though Kris made a point to say that he's doing great and working on a new clothing line.) Each of them reflects on their highs and lows over the past decade as clips roll. While re-watching Kourtney physically pull Mason out of her while giving birth, Kim sobbing over about the breakup of her marriage to Kris Humphries, and Khloe's struggles with Lamar Odom, I realized that in many ways, I've grown up along with this family. And it's in these moments that I relate to them most: When they're just a unit figuring it out as they go, fighting and making up each week, but also unapologetically ride or die for one another, just like my own family. I might not always like the real-life Kardashians (after all, how coincidental can it be that Kylie Jenner announced her pregnancy 72 hours before they air a commemorative episode?), but the anniversary special reminded me that I do have a soft spot for the edited-but-real, semi-fictional world of Keeping Up With The Kardashians.
I know, I know. It sounds complicated. How can I be annoyed by the Kardashians in real life and on social media and still watch the show? For me, KUWTK is just that: a show. And after watching for 10 years, I'm invested. Hooked. I need to know what's going to happen next. It's part family sitcom, part novela, part reality — or, as they announced on the special, the longest-running celebrity docuseries ever. During the special when Kim looked back on all of her business ventures, I couldn't help but feel happy for her after watching her bust her ass over 10 years of the show. When Khloe talked about how hard it's been to accept that she can't always be there for her family now that she lives part-time in Cleveland with her boyfriend, I was proud of her for finally taking time for herself. And when Kourtney and Scott were their same, messy selves (Scott admitted he's dating, which Kourtney clarified is more like "boning"), it was satisfying, in a way, to see that some things never change.
I admit that the show was much more enticing back in the earlier days because the cast wasn't additionally documenting every single moment on social media. (And that probably explains why viewership of the main show and its spinoffs has dropped significantly over time.) We've all experienced Kardashian overload because most of what happens on the show, we've already seen in the headlines months earlier, so for some, it's not even worth it to re-hash it every Sunday. After all, there was an entire Rob & Chyna spinoff, and I'm sure the upcoming season will address Kylie's pregnancy and Khloe-Designer-Gate. But in show form, somehow everything feels more real — the sisters seem both more likable and believable in those confessionals than they do in overly airbrushed photos and overwrought Snapchat reactions, and there's no hair vitamin or waist trainer peddling on-air.
Of course, there's not one without the other. There would be no endorsements or social media scandals without viewers like me consistently tuning into the show, giving them ratings boosts and making them more famous. And obviously each episode is edited to death to create a form of television that's not quite real. But in show form, the Kardashian sisters feel more like characters, protagonists I want to root for in the years-long soap opera I just can't quit. When they're packaged in a pretty, monochromatic bow as entertainment, I can just enjoy it. And that anniversary special reminded me that I'll feel unfulfilled if, after a decade, I don't see what big screaming fight Kim and Kris will have next on their black-tiled floor, what random phrases will follow "Bible" and "okurr," and whether Scott and Kourtney will ever freakin' get back together for good.
The reality is that, well, reality did indeed pop the Calabasas bubble that KUWTK created for me. I, too, now roll my eyes whenever Khloe denies she's had any work done, or Rob and Chyna get into yet another Snapchat fight, or Kim bats her eyelashes and plays dumb on major issues instead of using her platform to help or open up discussions. I can not defend or support the Kardashians when they appropriate someone's culture and don't apologize, or take advantage of their fans by manipulating them on social media.
But on Sunday nights with my pajamas and wine, I'll still guilty partake in the KUWTK world. Maybe that makes me a part of the problem, just one of millions of nuts and bolts that keep the Kardashian factory going. Sometimes, though, a girl just needs to tune out the reality and tune in to the "reality," an edited wonderland of family drama and gossip. And I can't even lie: I'll probably still be watching when the 20th anniversary special featuring Mason, Penelope, North, Saint, Reign, and the two upcoming new babies from Kim and Kylie comes around.
Here's hoping television still exists by then. But also hoping that maybe by then the rest of the krew will have given up Snapchat...
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