Text Azzie Mekhitarian | Photo Courtesy of E! Entertainment and Kardashian family archives
Whether you love them or hate them, when you hear the name Kardashian, chances are you have an opinion about them. The media has fallen under their enchantment, exasperatingly following every move they make. They are given more media coverage than any other celebrity, more magazine covers, more television shows and more interviews, all due to the tremendous response they garner every time they make an appearance. They have become a new type of American royalty. How did they become so successful? After all, they were not heiresses to an enormous fortune, nor do they have any particular talents. But they have managed to masterfully manipulate the all-important PR machine and thus have become ubiquitous in pop culture. Their colossal success says more about the current state of pop culture than about the Kardashian family. The bottom line is the Kardashian brand sells, and the public has been eating it up. But what exactly are they selling, who are these sultry girls, why is the public so interested in their lives and what does their popularity say about us? Well, who better to answer some of these questions than the outspoken sister of the pack – Khloe Kardashian.
The television landscape has changed over the past decade with scripted entertainment being dominated by reality shows. With this new paradigm shift, our understanding of entertainment has been distorted from watching someone’s creative vision come to life on television to watching someone’s private daily existence displayed for the world. We have become a culture of voyeurs, taking pleasure in watching the mundane exaggerated for the sake of ratings, with each show full of hyper-sexualized, overly-processed personalities that have been spun through the PR machine and spit out as instant celebrities. And although we are far past the point of no return when it comes to reality being twisted into knots and presented as some hybrid type of entertainment, we just can’t seem to get enough of the Kardashian girls. When Keeping Up with the Kardashians first premiered, it was assumed that it too would have its 15 minutes of fame, make some money and quietly disappear into the abyss of once popular reality shows. No one imagined that seven years later it would become the highest paid reality show with a monumental deal of $40 million, spawn several spin-offs like Khloe & Lamar and Kim & Kourtney Take New York, and become an empire with popular product lines spread across the world. The Kardashians seem to have mastered the art of keeping the public interested and the much coveted skill of keeping ratings high. They are famous just for being famous. They have truly been a firestorm of unprecedented success, and Khloe Kardashian is at the center of this storm and loving every minute of it. She is known as the say-it-as-you- see-it sister. Viewers seem to respond to her boisterous personality positively and more often than not fans will profess that Khloe is their favorite of the clan. As we chat about fame and the advantages and disadvantage of it, I begin to understand why fans often say they relate most to Khloe. As prepared and scripted as most celebrities are for interviews, Khloe Kardashian comes across as an authentically honest person. “When I first did the show I had no idea anyone was going to like me because I am very blunt and honest or because I have a very big personality. I don’t filter myself. I am who I am, and I don’t really make apologies for who that is,” she says. It appears that her personality comes across so well on television that viewers have begun to separate Khloe as distinct from the rest of the Kardashians, considering her a bit more real, a bit more like them.
Khloe has managed to navigate her fame in a way that makes sure that she appears glamorous yet down to earth and familiar to many of her fans. She does not fit into the stereotypical image of an unrealistically skinny model-type celebrity. On the contrary, she is considered, for the entertainment world, a big girl. But this big girl who is not shy about talking about her weight was just on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine. “I was floored when I was asked to do the cover of Cosmo. It really was an honor, especially because most people who are on the cover are a size zero or two. When they asked me I was a little surprised. I’m proud to show off my curves. I’m proud to be who I am and stay true to me. With the pressures of this industry it’s so easy to fall into that cycle of going on a crazy diet, lose weight really fast, get plastic surgery or basically eat air and drink water. I’m proud of myself for standing up for real women. ” She continues, “I have such a strong family base. Having a strong heritage, I am Armenian, my father always drove into us that family is first and family is everything. I think knowing that, I always knew no matter what, what size I am or how tall I am, I will always have that family unit that will love me.”
In fact, Khloe seems to be speaking to the realities of many young women, whether it is about weight and the pressures of fitting into Hollywood’s ideal of beauty or about the recently much-publicized issue of being bullied. The way she addresses these issues shows that she is edgy, sharp, provocative and speaks from the heart. “I was bullied my entire life,” she recalls, “I was always compared to my sisters. I was a very thin kid but during the O.J. trial years I got much chubbier, and I think that had to do with the stress in my family, being sent back and forth between parents. There was just so much going on, and I was an emotional eater. I was always teased and tormented and it kind of made me have a thick skin.” During the infamous O.J. Simpson trial Khloe was a child, but the lessons of that era have stayed with her into adulthood. Her father, Robert Kardashian, who passed away in 2003, was a close friend and attorney for O.J. Simpson. “When I look back now I would say the one thing I learned would be the foundation of loyalty and true friendship. My father and O.J. went to USC together and they were best friends; they were even roommates at one time. Learning those characteristics about my father that I might not have known because he passed away when I was so young, that’s kind of inspiring because that’s the kind of person I am. I am loyal until the end, and I really respect that about him,” Khloe says. The O.J. Simpson trial really put the Kardashian name onto the public radar. But it was Kim Kardashian’s widely viewed video of an intimate moment with her boyfriend that solidified the Kardashian clan as a novelty of posh west coast lifestyle, a novelty that should have passed into oblivion much like other socialites’ moments of fame.
But the Kardashian’s unique looks, not to mention the matriarch’s public relations savvy, kept the name in the public long enough for people to find some things to criticize, some things to hate and some things to like about the family. In short, Kris Jenner found a way to keep the public vested in the future of these unconventional beauties. She found a niche market for what they had to offer, the ultimate storyline for a culture of voyeurism – young, exotic, rich and playful women who offered the world a glimpse into the realities of their California lifestyle. The girls represented the epitome of contemporary culture as mixed kids born to an Armenian father and an American mother who grew up in a social circle that was full of very successful and famous people. Although it is clearly Kris Jenner’s business sense that has catapulted the Kardashians into reality world fame, Khloe states, “Our business sense started with our father. People definitely perceive us as bratty rich girls, but my dad, from the day that we turned 16, pushed us to get jobs and we had to work on the weekends. We always had curfews; we were never allowed to be out later than 10, maybe 11. If I wanted something and I was under 16, I had to wash the car. We’ve always had chores, we’ve always had responsibilities. Kim and I both worked for my dad’s company. I was a secretary and I slowly moved up to having other responsibilities and the same with Kim. We’ve always had jobs. We had a great work ethic, even in the summertime; we were never allowed to sleep in past ten o’clock even if we had nothing to do. Our mother, now that our father is gone, keeps that work ethic. My mom believes in us so much that it makes us believe in ourselves even more. Having your mother as your manager is kind of like a double-edged sword. Of course you fight or bicker more because it’s your mother, but definitely no one would believe in us more than our mom does.”
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