Goali Saedi Bocci Ph.D.

Millennial Media

Are the Kardashians Keeping Up Appearances?

The Kardashians become more relatable the more famous they become.

Posted Aug 14, 2011

I got caught in another Kardashians marathon yesterday. It's shameful, I know. My knowledge of Kardashian show trivia is unfortunately higher than it should be. Let's be honest, they didn't exactly get into the spotlight under the most favorable of conditions. The late Robert Kardashian was a lawyer involved in the O.J. Simpson trial. The part we conveniently forget is that he was a close friend of Simpson's, and allegedly seen carrying a garment bag from Simpson's home on the day of the murders.

Then there is Kim. Beautiful lustrous hair, and well, the list starts there. Yet not unlike Paris Hilton, she came onto the scene as a socialite and gained notoriety due to the accidental (or "accidental" ?) release of a sex tape. This combination certainly does not lay the foundation to the modern American family. And yet over several seasons, the Kardashians with what must be some of the best PR agents in the nation are becoming surprisingly more and more... relatable. With Kim's nearly 9 million followers on Twitter, people are definitely tuning in.

Let's briefly forget about when Khloe and Kourtney took Miami, or even when Kim and Kourtney headed to New York. While we're at it, let us also overlook Lamar and Khloe's adventures in marital bliss. These spin-offs are all over the top and about glitz and glamour. But focusing on "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" over the last few seasons, an interesting theme arises. Bruce gets a colonoscopy. Scott is an alcoholic. Khloe can't get pregnant. Kris suffers from light bladder leakage. Bruce's hearing may be impaired. Rob gets appendicitis. Kim gets psoriasis. Kendall is put on birth control due to dysmenorrhea.

Are the troops just dropping one by one? No, they are regular people just like you and me. Remember now, reality television is supposed to mimic reality. That is why long after a brief stint in helping Katrina victims, Bruce drags Kendall and Kylie to the local homeless shelter to see how others live. The youngest of the Jenner clan befriend a few of the girls there and exchange numbers (I'd like to see the follow-up episode on the friendships forged). Kris Jenner becomes an ordained minister, officiates a wedding and the words "tradition" and "values" roll off her tongue like never before. Even the family pastor makes an appearance.

Despite a plethora of profanity aimed at the each other and lots of pushing and shoving, the Kardashians (and let's not forget Jenners before Kris toys with the idea of changing her last again) are saying, "We are just like you." We fight, but we make up at the end of the day. We get embarrassing medical conditions too. We contribute to charitable causes and work very very hard. Our kids may get neglected in the process, but we are trying to reconnect with them. Kim's heart has been broken by boys and the unrelenting media. We know, we've seen her mope, as well as be upset every time she's seen scrolling through the tabloids on her computer or phone reading insults and lies directed at her (Kim, I already said you have pretty hair in this article, so hopefully we're good).

The Kardashians are also vulnerable. Remember when Khloe was horrified to pose naked for the PETA photoshoot? Or when they were concerned that Kourtney might have an eating disorder? The time when Kim's private calendar spread for her boyfriend of the time was "accidentally" published and distributed by her mom? And of course, there have been those glimpses of Scott and Kourtney's therapy sessions complete with real life therapist. Robert's dealt with grief over his father's passing, and Kourtney with her parent's divorce. We've seen them laugh, and certainly seen them cry and deal with some of the most common psychological concerns in a very public forum. In fact, I would not be surprised if the next major project or spin-off is an ad campaign for raising awareness on psychological well-being.

The literature on loss of face suggests that individuals from collectivistic backgrounds are more likely to engage in behaviors to maintain their status, dignity, and pride (Zane, 2000). In essence, it involves keeping up appearances for the sake of your family. Half of the Kardashians are Armenian, so maybe a little bit of residual face saving? At the very least, some interesting self-reflexivity. It is almost as though every criticism that could be made of the Kardashians (child out of wedlock, spoiled demeanor, etc.) is addressed in some sort of episode. Then there is a medical concern added to the recipe just in case we needed an additional reason to lay off them. Fair enough.

But if living life in the spotlight is so taxing and demands multiple justifications for the way your life is being lived and criticized, perhaps you can take the cameras out of your house. Between all the appearances, stores, merchandise and endorsement deals, I'm pretty sure the entire family can file for early retirement and Rob can continue living the life. Then again that wouldn't mirror reality, so perhaps never mind.

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