January 24, 2016. E! Channel. Season 11, episode 10, Keeping Up with the Kardashian's, America's Thunderdome for tinted moisturizers, scenes of mild domestic peril, and the maniacal pursuit of salad and delicate lighting.
Kris and Kim are standing near a doorway having a conversation about some Italian marble that has gone missing. Kris is dressed sort of like Charlie Chaplin. Kim is wearing a shiny gold choker that looks like it is made of fish bones. She is very pregnant. Her hair is perfect.
Kim: Can I tell you what's so annoying?
Kim: You took my ten marble slabs. So I have to either buy seven slabs of marble or I have to change two of my bathrooms. I can't have my whole house be one marble, and then two rooms another marble.
Kris says she will replace it. Kim tells her that she won't be able to because the marble is not available in America. Kim offers her one million dollars if she can. "It's not Calacatta, it's Calacatta Gold; it's only from Italy." They stare at each other. There is lots of dismayed head shaking. Kim licks her lips so hard that she literally dies, like, for real. They leave the room.
I have seen every episode of this television show, most of them multiple times. I have seen its spin-offs, its double-episode wedding extravaganzas. Hours and hours of people in the back seat of a Rolls Royce, staring at their phones, contemplating Jean Royére armchairs or apologizing to someone. People having pretend-arguments about being disrespected, sipping iced coffees. People who pronounce consonant sounds with the deliberate care of someone filling in ScanTron bubbles. People who are possibly delusional and unreasonably particular about landscaping. People who have never done a good deed or known of a noble cause that they wouldn't first synchronize with the release of a fragrance.
Here are some Wikipedia episode descriptions for the first two seasons: "Kourtney deals with relationship drama"; "Bruce experiences a midlife crisis"; "Kourtney, Kim, and Khloé go to Mexico"; "Kim shoots a sexy calendar"; "Kim battles against Kourtney and Khloé after she purchases a Bentley." Replace the names of the boyfriends and this is still the thematic basis of the show, nine seasons later. It is television as fake home-movie. It is the fevered angst of the banal. Not your banal, sure, but the rhythms are the same. It is life as a reenactment of being alive. Your WiFi stops working. Tyga crashes their trip to St. Barths. What's the difference, when you think about it?
The family is inescapable. Sometimes it feels like their lives are on a loop, for all eternity, in supermarkets, at the Super Bowl. This bothers lots of people. It probably bothers your dad. They're pregnant again. They're married again. There are Kourtney's denials about Bieber, shiny-faced post-club entering-all-black-SUV-with-camo-jacketed-Bieber about Bieber, coy half-smile just-friends about Bieber. Kylie scribbles "KYLIE WAS HERE" on Kanye's album announcement. Khloé marries a basketball player. She dates a different one. The first one almost dies. They try to work it out. Kim makes the selfie famous. Kim's NFL running back ex-boyfriend starts dating a Kim doppelganger. Hillary Clinton and the spool of polyester she's wearing pose for a picture with Kim and Kris. Kendall is 19 feet tall. Caitlyn Jenner hijacked your newsfeed.
They're preposterous. But they are driving preposterous into the fucking red.
And yet, I want more. I want it all. In the realm of humans who exist as big, powerful, collagen-filled targets of your scorn, your famous-for-being-famous hot takes, they are without peer. They are invincible. They are hate-proof. They cannot be stopped. I love them, unabashedly, sincerely.
Are we tempted to ascribe weighty philosophical meanings to the most plastic shit in our time? Do we want to validate the days we've spent with pop culture ephemera? Yeah, OK, I think a little. They're preposterous. But they are driving preposterous into the fucking red. They are pulled over on the shoulder with smoke billowing out from under preposterous's hood. If you commit to something that shamelessly, if you slow-roll your Maybach through a mob of paparazzi and wrinkly white people and Facebook statuses who think you're What's Wrong with America and come out undented, I'll ride shotgun.
I love that they have stolen "vanity" and "arrogant" back from the type of people who like to wield those words to make covertly racist judgments about black quarterbacks, and have reformed them into something empowering. These are girls who are not only eager to be sexy for millions of people, but who are willing to be ugly in front of them too. Watch 15 minutes of their show; let the ruthlessly vivid high-def cross-examine their every imperfection.
We have seen them sick, pregnant, blotchy, with unevenly applied bronzer, with hangovers, pimples festering under their cheeks, lumpy pink mosquito bites on their shins. Kris talking about getting the varicose veins on her kneecap lazered. We've seen them in grim tabloid photos, who wore it better memes, plastic surgery debates, dissecting before-and-afters, do these lips look bigger than those lips, are her tits real could her ass be real. We've seen Kim terrified, pensive, nervous, begging for Ray J's cum, begging for Ray J to make her come, big pores, her swollen feet when she's pregnant.
Just because we get old doesn't mean we have to stop trying to fuck. Be hot forever. Make another million.
Kris lists off her plastic surgeries like someone flipping through stamped passport pages. Kylie is 18 and admitted to having artificial lip fillers. In Kim's book of selfies, Selfish, the middle 39 pages are all nudes. As a caption beneath one, she writes, "I wasn't intending to put these in the book but saw them online during the iCloud hack. I'm not mad at them. lol". There is no scandal when there's nothing to hide, nothing to hack when you've made your entire life accessible since before we even knew you existed.
For all its pregnancies, KUWTK never really tries to sell you on the idea of Motherhood: The Splendor of Human Life. It's in this business for loud, ridiculous aftermaths. "How I Got My Body Back's", weight-loss updates, #squadgoals, #revengebod, "New Year New You." If we are not transforming, we're stagnating, they're telling us. Just because we get old doesn't mean we have to stop trying to fuck. Be hot forever. Make another million. Earlier this season, when Kourtney told Kim and Khloe that she hadn't been focusing on the development of her mobile app because she was busy with her kids, Kim said, "So what. Everyone in life has a baby and they work like ten jobs."
To paraphrase Alex Pappademas, this is either a terrible show and wonderful piece of art, or the reverse. I'm never quite sure.
Kim is a woman who rarely gives interviews, whose responses seem hardwired to either sell a product or a mood, who disseminates information only through pained looks on Sunday nights and renegade glances over the shoulder at her titanic ass. But, in a way, by acknowledging that she is beholden to society , their interpretation of her, likes as currency, followers as currency, she is being more honest than anyone else in the public sphere. To make a 448-page meditation on eyebrows, a show about closets and ignoring people, an Instagram populated with pictures of people taking a picture of you taking a picture of yourself, is to admit that you are fragile, desperate, real, ready to be consumed this way. Beloved and shredded in equal measure. A selfie is like playing a game of truth or dare and picking both. It is a confession and a provocation. An acknowledgement of both our frailty and our own colossal beauty. A sale and a retraction at once. Our need to be immense, flawless, important
Does this make them frauds? Fools? Conmen? I don't think so. Isn't that all of our lives? Gorgeous forever on the internet, exhausted and pale at the gas station. The diets we broadcast to the world, the miles we ran, our ambitions, trying to look heroic, rebellious, our petty grievances with society. What are any of us doing in front of mirrors? We are all telling these same lies, some of us just get to do it on television
I don't think it is the Kardashians' burning imperative to inspire. I don't think they have even the slightest desire to cohabit with terrestrial life forms, actually. But by accident they made it all right to feel like getting dressed could be a Rocky montage. They took "feeling yourself" from a shameful impulse rotting in the MySpace caverns and dignified it. If watching a Kylie Jenner lip liner tutorial makes some lonely and damaged person feel when she enters a room like she is Helen of Troy on molly, I hope Kylie runs for president. I hope Kylie names a selfie she took in a hotel bathroom as her running mate, and a screenshot of a 3 AM hey-you-up text from the dude who left her in high school as her chief of staff.
What is modesty, really, but society telling you to sit in time-out for feeling awesome?
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