‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians’ is turning into ‘Hate Island’

Reality TV: It’s the 15th season of the fame-hungry family’s show, and Kim seems to be letting her cruel streak and crass capitalist side run free. This could get ugly

Keeping Up with the Kardashians: Feels more like hard work than escapist fun

Keeping Up with the Kardashians: Feels more like hard work than escapist fun

 

Keeping Up with the Kardashians has always been a show about the creation and the sustainment of fame against all odds. From Kim’s sex-tape to her becoming a Forbes cover girl, the show follows the trajectory of shameless self-promotion that they have turned into an artform and a billion-dollar business, showing how their unique cult of celebrity and indefinable brand ended up legitimised over a decade.

Things changed for the driving force of this Warholian American dream when Kim was robbed and terrorised at gunpoint in Paris almost two years ago. Her willingness to give up every detail of her life for mass consumption stalled slightly. In the seasons following the robbery, body-conscious Kim hid her curves in oversized clothes, masking her face behind her Yoko-length hair and frequently broke down in tears clutching onto her children; she was overcome with PTSD. Security was beefed up, the family’s social media engagement lessened and, overall, the show began to feel like a cautionary tale about the corrosive effects of fame on the psyche.

Last season it felt as though Kim was ready to wrap up the whole E! enterprise after 10 years of Kardashians – or perhaps hand over the reins to her younger siblings – but now, with this, their 15th season, there has been a curious shift in behaviour, with Kim appearing more invested in the show than ever. She opens the series with a solo intro discussing clips of the more dramatic elements of the season with barely contained glee and the charm of a snake-oil salesman.

Kim has now emerged from her momentary fame exile and has reappeared as an ur-Kardashian, becoming the monster that people expect her to be. In this premiere episode she leans into her worst traits, her vanity and pettiness, as if she’s turned in on herself and has become even more self-involved. Icy blonde and whippet thin, she sits in judgement of her sisters. Having been crowned a true pop culture icon, spending her time mixing with creatives from the art, fashion and music world, she looks upon the empire she created, gazing at her siblings as if they were living, breathing piles of money.

Flinty-eyed capitalist

It’s bizarre that after their unlimited success and wealth that now is the time that Kim’s flinty-eyed capitalist desire has increased. She has always had an admirable work ethic, but it’s tipped into the unnecessary – there is no need for this new level of greed. She is aggressively shifting useless product like she’s just left Love Island. Whether it’s the appetite-suppressant lollipops or creating social media drama with her sisters to essentially promote the series, she is pushing buttons to cause tension for no valid reason. There is a brash, unhinged vulgarity to this behaviour that has become harder to defend.

To Kim, the importance of being a Kardashian seems to take precedence over living as an actual part of the family

She could always be brittle – in previous seasons this has seen her unleash a laundry list of Khloe’s physical “flaws” and keep up a relentless bullying of her placating mother – but there was a childish, comic flair to it. This has been replaced with a cold sharpness that’s like splintered glass. This over-the-top dramatic creation is at odds with the empathetic woman who met with Trump to talk about prison reform, or the enquiring soul trying to educate herself (and her fans) about planned parenthood. This splitting of her character comes at a time when her husband, Kanye West, is at his most fragmented mentally. Kim remains stoic about Kanye and their relationship, but the anger and bile she unleashes in this episode feels like pent-up fury. It’s ironic that, while she was accusing sister Kourtney of having “underlying issues” and chiding her older sister for using “therapy-speak”, Kanye was filling up his Twitter timeline with inane psycho-babble. Closing themselves off to reality, getting lost in trivialities, Kanye and Kim have become the Heidi and Spencer of the stylish set.

Pointless Christmas card

The now-infamous showdown with Kourtney stems from Kim’s insistence that the entire family unite to shoot their pointless Christmas card, something she insists is giving her children the gift of “memories”. Although what memories they’ll be left with is another matter as ultimately it is the illusion of family that is more important to Kim than the reality. She reduces her sister to tears after calling her “the least exciting of the family to look at”, urging her to forgo appearing on the card because Kourtney wants to rearrange the timing of the shoot to get home to have dinner with her three children. The fact that Kourtney wants to spend time with her children away from the cameras and Kim wants to put them on display as human baubles for the day shows the difference between the dominating forces in their lives. To Kim, the importance of being a Kardashian seems to take precedence over living as an actual part of the family.

The Christmas card shoot is achingly depressing, with the family awkwardly lying around in that familiar festive combo of denim and white vests. It feeds into the myth that the family is harmonious as ever, it’s business as usual, when nothing could be further from the truth. The older siblings aren’t speaking to each other, Kanye is miserable, Kylie (in the early stages of pregnancy and refusing to be seen in public), Rob and Caitlyn have been excommunicated and Kendall (running late from a fashion shoot) ends up posing for the card alone to be photoshopped in later, which could be a metaphor for the entire family at this stage. The love can be digitally added afterwards – it’s just the performance of solidarity that counts. It’s an acutely meta move as the camera crew film the family feuding whilst the Kardashians themselves act out a faux display of Christmas cheer.

There is a weird, all-pervasive ugliness that has infected the show. It no longer feels like escapist fun, it feels like hard work. It’s always been an enjoyable pursuit to keep up with the Kardashians, but if anything, this season’s premiere shows that it’s beginning to become a chore for everyone involved. 

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