Thursday, April 21, 2011

Kashing in on the Kardashians

As you may or may not have noticed, most of my blog posts come from my own (often shameful) obsessions. Well, I must confess to yet another guilty pleasure: The Kardashian family. As much as it pains and embarrasses me to watch, I can’t help but become hypnotized when one of their many shows come on the E! channel. Cleary, I’m not the only one because the family made $65 million dollars last year (more than A-List actors Angelina Jolie, Sandra Bullock and Tom Cruise).

So how did this family of D-listers rise to the top despite having no discernable talents? I think there are several interacting factors that allowed the Kardashian family to build its empire.

First, there is the small amount of fame the family had to begin with and the combined power of each member’s fame continues to grow and diversify itself. Kris, the matriarch of the family (and the one who seems to be in charge of the Kardashian brand) was married to Robert Kardashian, lawyer and friend of O.J. Simpson during his trial in 1995. Kris and Robert divorced and he passed away in 1989. Kris had four children with Robert: Kourtney, Kim, Khloe and Rob. Kris later got married to Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner. Bruce’s son Brody Jenner is a socialite who propelled his way into fame by appearing as a love interest on MTV’s The Hills and is now dating singer Avril Lavigne. Kris and Bruce have two children, Kendyl and Kylie, who are perhaps the least interesting members of Kardashain clan, but with a momager like Kris I’m sure lukewarm careers in reality entertainment are their future.

Kim found her way into the limelight by appearing in sex tape that was leaked onto the Internet with her then boyfriend, Ray J, who happens to be singer Brandy’s younger brother. She worked this small bit of notoriety and her former friendship with Paris Hilton into a reality show about her family, Keeping up with the Kardashians. The unexpected hit prompted several spin-offs, Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami, Kourtney, Kim Take New York and Khloe and Lamar. Since appearing on the show, Khloe has increased the family’s cumulative fame by marrying Lamar Odom who plays for the Lakers.

A second crucial factor in their appeal is their ability to create controversy. I’ve already mentioned Kim’s sex tape. Kourtney, the tamest of the three, shocked viewers when she announced she and her boyfriend, Scott, were having a baby. Scott was always a questionable character, but his drunken debaucherous behavior once the baby was born added drama to their television series. Khloe got a DUI on camera and knows no boundaries when it comes to discussing her personal life and her outrageous statements often garner attention from tabloids.

Finally, despite their scandals and shameless self-promotion, I think it’s the way their family-based reality shows resemble a modern day sitcom is what ultimately led to their success. Every heavily staged episode of their reality show begins with some kind of inter-family conflict that is resolved with hugs, laughs and sappy music by the end. One has to admire how close-knit this family is given their fame and individual eccentricities. Despite their lavish lifestyle, the family focus of their brand is what makes them surprisingly relatable and entertaining at the same time. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

College Edition: Nike Running Shorts

I quickly realized upon my arrival at college almost four years ago that two-toned Nike shorts were an essential part of the typical co-ed’s uniform. These shorts are not only trendy at my school, but throughout campuses across the US. I have to admit, I am partial to the shorts myself and own several pairs, but it is baffling how many of these shorts—in their vast combination of colors—I see on a daily basis whether it’s at the gym, the grocery store or in class. I’ve also discovered that others are also amazed by the sheer number of women wearing these shorts and apparently this epidemic is even more severe at large state schools in the south.

So I’ve attempted to dissect exactly what made these shorts a ubiquitous trend among college girls:

1. They’re gym shorts. This is essential to their popularity. College girls like to look like they work out all the time, which is why gym clothing can be seen throughout campus. It is difficult to determine which came first, the fact that college girls work out a lot and therefore invest in fashionable gym wear, or whether the presumption that college women should be fit and active precipitated the desire to appear active and fit and thus wear gym clothing to any and every occasion.

2. They’re extremely comfortable. This is, of course, related to the fact that they’re shorts intended for exercise, but comfort is another key quality for any item desiring become a college favorite (i.e. Uggs, sweatpants, leggings etc.). College life demands comfortable yet stylish clothing for late nights in the library, hanging out in the dorm and for being able to walk out the door five minutes after alarm to make your 8:30 am class.

3. They are also sold customized for different universities. There’s nothing that excites me more than an attractive item of clothing that has my school’s name on it and I can only imagine other college females feel this way. It seemed that Nike also picked up on this as a way to further boost popularity of their shorts among collegiates.

 4. They come in a variety of color combinations and often involve bright colors. Neon is a huge trend among college students these days, whether it takes form in a frat tank, spandex from American Apparel or nail polish. Once Nike’s tempo shorts became popular among the college set, they began to expand the line and appropriately added bright green, pink, yellows and oranges in unexpected combinations to further appeal to this market. Nike also also puts out limited edition prints and has a Livestrong line of tempo shorts which have yellow piping on the side.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

American Fascination with British Royalty

Like many Americans, I can’t help but be a little obsessed with the upcoming nuptials of the UK’s Prince William and Kate Middleton. We’ve watched the Prince grow up, become a teenage heartthrob and grieve the loss of his mother and to see him finally marrying his college sweetheart and settling down—it just gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside. Clearly our love of love stories and high profile romances has something to with the American interest in the royal wedding, to be performed at Westminster Abbey on April 29th. But I think there’s something about the idea of royalty that intrigues Americans, especially British royalty, because we feel our nation is so similar to theirs. In the past few years, it seems American interest in British royalty has reached a new high since Princess Diana's death.
In 2005, a different royal union took place when Prince Charles married his longtime love, Camilla Bowles. Their marriage was controversial for several reasons. Charles and Camilla had an affair during his marriage to Diana and the late Princess famously said, “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” Marrying Camilla was also controversial because she was a divorcee, so the two married in a civil-ceremony.
Of course, most of the recent attention has been on William’s royal wedding since it was announced in November of last year. Older Americans remember Princess Diana’s marriage to Prince Charles, the scandals that followed after and her tragic death in 1997. They see Prince William’s engagement to Kate Middleton, who comes from a wealthy family, but is still a commoner, as an indication that times are changing and the royal family is becoming a bit more relaxed. But there are plenty of formalities and traditions of the British royal family left—like those ridiculous hats and stuffy suits women wear to formal occasions—to entertain American curiosity. Kate Middleton has managed to top many “Best Dressed” lists despite her adherence to this stifling dress code.

The curiosity we have with the inner workings of the British royal family was explored in the 2006 film, The Queen, which came out after Charles and Camilla were married. The film starred Helen Mirren, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II. The focus of the movie was on the Queen’s attempts to handle Princess Diana’s death and tension between her adherence to royal protocol and the intense public love for Diana, who was no longer a member of the royal family after her divorce from Prince Charles. 

More recently, The King's Speech, which came out in December of last year (a month after William and Kate became engaged), satiated Americans’ cravings for a peek into royal life and swept the Oscars, winning “Best Picture” and “Best Actor” for Colin Firth. The King's Speech is a historical drama about King George VI, who became king after his brother abdicated from the throne to marry for love, and his efforts to improve his speech impediment so that he could give radio speeches to his country during WWII. Like The Queen, The King's Speech revealed the pressure and formality of life as a royal and the struggle to serve their country during modern times and simultaneously maintain royal conventions. Americans’ seem to love the romantic and foreign concept of royalty and the controversial role of the British royal family in the UK.