The Oprah Winfrey Network recently unveiled part one of a two-part sit-down/tell-all/what-now? with America's most over-exposed family, The Kardashians. The gang was all there: Kim, Khloe, Kris, Kourtney, Kylie and Kendall. The pet kougars Kooper, Kadillac, and Kwinton. The krokodiles Kooper and Kody. The kool kats Konstantine and Kruger. Everyone! And oh, what a merry and joyous occasion it was, too. They even let the non-K kritters like Scott Disick, Lamar Odom, and Bruce Jenner (though they're saving all of the non-Kardashians for part two. Relegated to the end of the ranks. The back of the squadron) out of their pens to play for a bit. All in the name of Oprah's Next Chapter, a.k.a Oprah's attempt to bring better ratings to her struggling network. (I know, I don't like to speak about anything Oprah does as not being instantly insanely successful, either.)
It was a family affair to talk about: their family and their rise to seeming superstardom; the kind of superstardom that comes from being famous for... what, exactly? That was the burning question of the evening. So much so, our dear Queen Oprah had to ask it three separate times: once to Rob, Kourtney, Khloe, and Kim ("because we're on a TV show"), once to mom Kris ("the TV show"), and then once to Kim in their one-on-one gabfest (you guessed it: "because of the TV show"). Have you heard of this show? It's called Keeping Up With The Kardashians.
Though, let's be real: we all know that is not why this family is famous. It's because of Kim that this family became famous in the first place. Yes, sure, under a certain light they are fascinating people (but under a certain light isn't everyone?), but they did not score a TV show until after Kim's sex tape was out; until they were worth gawking at... or something. So really, they should probably thank Ray J for having some sort of celebrity under his belt when he slept with their sister, because that is why they're famous. They may have kept their fame because people find their family dynamic interesting, horrifying, endearing, or perhaps some combination of the three — but it is not why they have it. They put on a good hustle with their little empire; that much is undeniable, and we will let them have that.
Kim seems to be reluctantly aware of the fact, too. During her one-on-one, Oprah made sure to ask the question everyone was sidestepping: Do you think you're famous because of the sex tape? Kim chose her words very carefully, saying, "You know, I think that's how I was definitely [introduced to] the world, I am... not naive to that fact," but that "it was a negative way [to be discovered], so I feel like I had to work 10 times harder for people to see the real me." She goes on to explain her regrets about the tape, explaining, "I felt humiliated," and that she would "have to live with it for the rest of my life and explain it to my children one day. Can you imagine that conversation?" ('Um, nope; definitely not.) So, yeah, that is certainly not an ideal position to be in, and in that context, you do feel bad for Kim a bit. She went on to say, "If I had the information and knew better, I would've done better. But I didn't." The dipping of toes into the celebrity tide pool does not come with an instruction manual. That much is certain.
The good news is that for the most part they all seem to have some semblance of self-awareness of how they've kept their social status. At one point when discussing their fame, Khloe was very frank: She admitted that the family's collective attractiveness "didn't hurt" their getting a TV show, as well as their antics.
But Oprah pushed further, saying later to Kim that the show "feels self-centered and selfish; do you get that that's what's being presented?" Kim managed to avoid the question and say nothing in such a political way that maybe she should run for mayor of Glendale: "As time goes on, people will definitely see different sides of all of us. The show does do a good job; [the fans] really get our personalities." At another point, Kourtney says the show is "honest" because they don't know how to act any other way. So, do they understand that the show comes across as self-centered and that they all come across, at times, as very selfish people (at least to Oprah and a few other people)? I guess the world may never know (or we'll all have to tune in next week to find out! Cliffhangers)!
To ruminate on this idea for a minute, it seems that people who are adored for simply existing (or being apart of the "trainwreck TV" subset of reality programming) — especially in the digital age — only ever see themselves as being "honest." And maybe they are, in a way. To an extent. But it's a very edited version of honest — filtered through so many lenses that it's oftentimes hard to find the honesty in a series of marketable sound bytes polished up all shiny to look like "real life." Life cannot be boiled down to a 22-minute version of reality and still be considered real because ultimately, it leaves out so much. An entertaining take on situations and events? Maybe, sure, we can call it that. But honest doesn't really seem fair. Because the cutting room floor exists. Because their situation exists. Because their fame exists. Because there are still 1,418 other minutes in a day. It makes everything just a little bit more complicated than simply running around your parents' very nice house and calling it "honest."
If you are seven seasons into your career as a cultural juggernaut, don't you know the game by now? It might feel normal at this stage, but it just doesn't seem possible that a group of people who are so well-groomed and have been well-trained by the reality machine (and their network and their momager) aren't affected or at least sub-consciously trained to know what and how good TV is created when an interesting situation presents itself. Because these people have to do publicity to promote their shows, and their products — and if you're doing publicity, you have to know what you're doing and what to say to keep people both interested and not offended so as to continue to buy your things and watch your shows.
When it's taken off the line, though, that knowledge doesn't disappear, because now you've learned it — you've seen in action how it all works. This is not Season 1 or 2, it's Season 7. So ultimately there is the slight puffing of the chest; the knowledge in the back of your head that people will give you attention if you say something stupid, outlandish, offensive, different. People will laugh and maybe even buy your product MORE if you do these things. By now, if they're aware of everything else, they are aware of how they are typecast within their own reality. And to get the most screen time, the bigger laughs, the better ratings, you have to keep doing that, and doing it bigger, better, or funnier. Otherwise it gets boring and shows get canceled. So, they may not recognize how this has affected them, but there is no way that it couldn't have, really.
Which is fine, because who wouldn't be affected by it all? We're all just a sack of water held together with sinew and bone and muscle and skin. Human, they call it. Synapses that shoot off in varying directions make us all different, but also the same at the core: this would affect you. You are a human. The Kardashian-level of fame is unparalleled in this country and there is nothing about it that is normal. It is a job just like any other, but a bit more multi-tentacled and weird. You can't only tread the water and expect to be promoted.
The show also included a segment with matriarch/manager Kris Jenner that was generally so-so, but did have a few interesting takeaways. She believes that the root of the family's success lies in her children's ability to share their feelings: "The kids love and fight really hard," going on to call it "a perfect storm." She later admitted that the show was originally a way to drive traffic to their chain of Dash Boutiques, and modeled after The Osbournes. There was also discussion of O.J. Simpson and his infamous trial (Kris' ex-husband Rob Kardashian Sr. was apart of the legal team), mentioning that everyone in the family (the Simpsons and the Kardashians were at a time quite close) had their doubts about O.J.'s innocence. Which isn't groundbreaking considering probably 75 percent of the country also has their, um, "doubts" about the situation. (The man wrote a book about what would've happened if he hypothetically did kill his wife, so "doubts" is probably putting it lightly.)
The interview also included talk of the so-not-talked-about-enough 72-day marriage of Kim to basket-baller Kris Humphries, and how she still hopes to have her fairytale life of cupcakes, babies, and happily ever afters. There was some discussion about personal growth, maturity, and learning from life experiences. There were no details beyond, "It was small things or little things" — Kim wasn't so keen when Oprah said, "People don't just leave for little things though, Kim!" Touchy, touchy!
Sidenote: Do you guys think if Kim and Kanye West get married, he'll just change his last name to Kardashian so he doesn't get relegated to the kritter pen like Scott and Lamar? He might want to konsider it.
Part two of Oprah's interview airs Sunday June 25th at 8PM on OWN.
[Photo Credit: E!]
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