The Kardashian Kulture. When Will It End?

Have you heard of the Kardashians? No? Well, let me give you a brief history of how this clan of famous-because-they’re-famous people became a symbol of everything that is both right and wrong with our celebrity-obsessed culture. (Or is that kulture?)

We can blame the Kardashians on Paris Hilton. Remember her? At one time, she was the most famous-because-she’s-famous person around and Kim Kardashian was her best friend. After Kim Kardashian briefly dated Nick Lachey (a boy band singer who became more well known for marrying Jessica Simpson), people started focusing more on Kim than Paris whenever the two besties were together.

And it’s not like Kim K didn’t actually work for a living before she became a personality. She ran a children’s clothing store that she owned with her sisters and her mother (the ubiquitous Kris Jenner), and she also had her own business organizing closets. But – fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective – one of Kris Jenner’s best friends was Kathie Lee Gifford (another person whose fame was largely launched because of who she married).  KLG convinced the family that their life was so much fun and so crazy that it needed to be on television. Fast forward to today, when there have been 7 seasons of their first show Keeping Up With The Kardashians that has spun off 3 separate shows, all of which pay most of the bills at the E! Network and which have made all of their names ever present in our celebrity-obsessed media.

In a recent analysis of the celebrity culture (and the seemingly endless retail products it spawns), Jake Halpern (author of a book on celebrity fame) opines that we as a society have become less interested in what some people do and more interested in the celebrity nature of how they do it. He likens it to performance art and gives Kim Kardashian a lot of credit about living her life as a performer and, according to him, being quite good at it.

So now that we know that the Kardashians and their assorted half-siblings, spouses, friends and hangers-on are here for at least the foreseeable future, it’s hard to imagine why they would not take advantage of every marketing and retail opportunity they have, even if they have no discernible skills that match any of the products and services they’ve launched.

For example, the 3 sisters (Kim, Khloe and Kourtney) are launching a self-tanning line called Kardashians Sun Kissed because, according to Kim, tanning has been a way of life for all of them. And the world needs more self-tanning products so this is good, right? They’ve also discovered, invented, conjured up or were the spokespersons for products ranging from laser hair removal systems to Sketchers Shape-Up sneakers (which allegedly caused twisted ankles and foot fractures in some users) to clothing lines (both at Sears and at QVC.com) to a weight loss supplement that allegedly works by including large doses of caffeine to stimulate your weight loss (while increasing your blood pressure and pulse rate at the same time).

And lest you think we’ve forgotten the lesser-known members of the family, Rob Kardashian has his own sock line, Kris Jenner designs clothes as well for QVC, and the 2 youngest kids (Kylie and Kendall Jenner, who are all of 15 and 17 years old) are now getting their own line of clothing at PacSun, which describes them as having a finely-tuned sense of style. I’m not sure how many teenagers have finely-tuned senses of style but I suspect that being a half-sister to a Kardashian might have something to do with them being recruited by this retailer.

Is there any end in sight to this saga? I suppose there could be. I mean, we grow tired of all celebrities sooner or later, don’t we? We tire of what they’re trying to sell us. After all, when was the last time you saw anyone wearing MC Hammer pants? But the thing is that in the 7+ years we’ve been experiencing the Kardashian kulture, the public’s enthusiasm hasn’t seemed to wane at all. Would life be less interesting if we didn’t have to read about the Kardashian exploits or be bombarded with ads for their clothes or perfume or branded debit card? Maybe so. I’m willing to give it a try.