"Kim, there's people that are dying." - Kourtney Kardashian, KUWTK
A couple of days ago Kim Kardashian posted to her 188 million followers on instagram…”To our amazing fans - It is with heavy hearts that we’ve made the difficult decision as a family to say goodbye to Keeping Up with the Kardashians.” If you’ve never watched an episode or feel allergic to keeping up with it, it's impossible to deny the impact that the show - centering the most dramatic family in Hollywood - has had on popular culture over the last decade. As one of the biggest reality TV shows of all time, it’s inspired the genre to become what it is today.
This 52INSIGHTS marks the end of the KUWTK era - looking at what it's done for popular culture and youth culture - the good, the bad and the ugly - over 14 years (and 20 seasons).
THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY OF KUWTK
“It straddled with lightness the raw and everyday of domestic life – grief, relationships, body image, puberty, motherhood, sisterhood – and the absurd travails of the rich...The Kardashians were aspirational precisely because they were open, self-effacing, authentic, and had no filter. Ironic, then, that the influencer culture they would eventually create relied so much on distortion, artifice, fillers and, well, filters.” inews
Keeping it Real
Many critics slam the Kardashians for being fake, but those who watch can see they show true family dynamics and real life drama - which is recognisable and relatable. They fight, they gang up on each other, they are mean - the kind of mean you can only be with family. The most recent season saw Kourtney and Kim physically fight. They share it all - not just the good stuff. When partners and friends betray them, when they find out they’re pregnant, when they are struggling with health issues. We were even in the delivery room with Kourtney when she gave birth.
Activism & Advocacy
- For the LGBTI+ community, Caitlyn Jenner - who began on the show as Bruce Jenner - opened up the conversation for trans people globally on a scale like never before.
- In terms of mental health, most recently Kim responded to Kanye's mental health challenges publically - this seemed to open up the conversation around stigmas and misconceptions. As a result it could potentially have a very positive impact on people who are dealing with their own mental health or people who are supporting close friends or family.
- The Kardashians have also done significant work to raise awareness of the Armenian Genocide, from visiting Armenia, writing letters, and lobbying US congress to take action. They have been advocating for it to be acknowledged and recognized for many years. In 2019 Congress passed a bipartisan bill formally recognizing the Armenian genocide, thanks in no small part to Kim Kardashian and the family.
- Kim Kardashian’s current focus is on prison reform and working closely with the #Cut50 organisation. She has used her significant clout to leverage a meeting with the American President to discuss cases with him - one huge success was the release of Alice Marie Johnson, a grandmother who was released from a life sentence following Kim’s lobbying around her case. Kim’s work in this area continues and is changing the lives of black Americans in prison.
The Kardashians are savvy business women. Before the show they all had their own businesses - and they cleverly used their platform to their advantage to do more. Some of it worked and some didn’t but their hustle is admirable. From their range of clothing shops DASH - that even inspired a spin off show, Dash Dolls, to Kim’s entree into the video game world. Beauty and Fashion is where their business talents have settled and the family have spawned several successful labels from Good American to Talentless to Skims.
The Kylie Effect has also inspired (and paved the way for) young entrepreneurs to go down a purely ecommerce route. Her namesake makeup and skincare brand showed how it’s entirely possible for a brand to purely exist on the internet and grow massively.
Brand Powerhousing (+ Modern Feminism?)
They are all about the brand. They understand the importance and power of branding. Kris started it by giving all her children names beginning with K - keeping it konsistent! Famously Kris then went on to trademark the moniker of ‘momager’. She also discussed changing her name back to Kardashian because Jenner was confusing people...
Kris, Kim and Kylie especially have elevated the concept of strong female leadership and ‘boss bitches.’ The show started because Kim and Kris took Kim’s sex tape scandal and turned it into a show. They take bad press and lean into it. Arguably this can be seen as quite a feminist approach to profiting from a patriarchal society. This goes back to the Kardashian’s branding expertise - they know how to sell themselves so well. They made their faces so recognisable that they could sell any product. (Kylie once mentioned Irish tan brand Cocoa Brown and it sold out).
Masters of Reinvention
From wardrobe organiser/stylist, to Paris Hilton's friend, to sex tape scandal, to cringe reality star, to global super star, to advocate, entreprenuer and campaigner and now trainee lawyer. Kim Kardashian has evolved from someone who was regularly mocked and overlooked as a trashy reality star to someone who engages with Presidents and makes change happen - from her involvement in the criminal justice system in America to her work to get the Armenian genocide recognised.
Kim’s crying face is one of the world’s most iconic memeable pieces of content. One of the greatest laments fans have over the show ending is that they will not be gifted with more moments like this.
They changed the face of...well, FACES (and beauty)
Did we even contour before the Kardashsians? They have led and inspired global beauty trends from contouring to the matt lip. This evolved into two giant beauty businesses for Kim and Kylie - who have both been bought by beauty giant COTY. Beyond the face, the Kardashians took over from JLO as people that would change the ideal body shape for women, known for their curves and other ASSets.
More Aesthetic Trends
The Kardashian Curves are arguably single handedly responsible for re-launching a new idea of what a modern ‘hot bod’ is. Big bum (bums that break the internet!); tiny waist. They are open talking about waist training and special underwear, but those familiar with the Kardashian journey are quick to point out the drastic ‘glow up’ the sisters have gone through over the years. All this has led to skewed perceptions of modern beauty and how people should look. Their aesthetic has inspired a boom in plastic surgery - lip fillers and butt implants.
Another point on aesthetics is that the Kardashians have been accused of cultural appropriation in the way they dress, do their hair (braids) and accentuate certain aspects of their physicality (making them appear black). On a positive note, some may say it's good in that they have highlighted alternative forms of beauty and brought them to the mainstream, and their various scandals in this arena have deepened the popular culture sensitivity to cultural appropriation.
One night in Paris
More recently the Kardashians have become well known for hosting excessive parties - especially for kids’ birthday parties. The Kardashians' penchant for displaying all the trappings of their wealth came in 2016 when Kim was alone in a Paris hotel and robbed at gunpoint - her engagement ring was one of the items taken. Following the terrifying ordeal the Kardashians became less ostentatious when displaying their wealth.
“I STAN Kim. People might mock the Kardashians as trashy reality TV stars, but what I see is an inspirational family of strong women. Kim is a mum of four, with several successful businesses, training to be a lawyer, doing significant work for charity, while her other half is suffering publicly with mental health issues. They are rich and they have been lucky – which of course makes their lives easier, but they have really made a lot of their own success, shared the ‘peaks and pits’ for all to see and taken a lot of scrutiny and criticism with grace. I will still be keeping up with the Kardashians. Bible.” Donna, PR & Advocacy team, Thinkhouse
It’s incredible to reflect on the changes that have happened over the last 14 years - in technology and popular culture through the KUWTK lens. Will there ever be another family that influences popular culture as significantly as The Kardashian’s? Maybe not. As we wrote in our recent piece on TikTok, the new reality TV is the social media realm. KUWTK is ending because they don’t need the traditional TV channel anymore to influence the way they do.
Ultimately the Kardashian’s became famous for being who they are - yes, dramatic versions of themselves - but through revealing themselves openly to the masses. This interest and curiosity into human lives and human nature is something that is never going away.