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.