The Kardashian family has been in the public spotlight, influencing culture, fashion, and beauty, for long over a decade at this point, but to this day, many still question their legitimacy. And though they live in their beautiful California mansions, flying around in their private jets, and gaining access to all the events, fashion archives, and business partnerships they could ever desire, Kris Jenner still seems pretty peeved over one comment in particular: the idea that the Kardashians are merely “famous for being famous.”
In the most recent episode of The Kardashians, we see the eldest three sisters and Jenner engaging in the photoshoot and interview for their Variety cover story, which was published earlier this year. On the show, journalist Elizabeth Wagmeister brings up the comment that has followed the famous family around for fifteen years. “I think that has changed a lot over the last few years, that perception” Jenner responded, for a moment seemingly like she was no longer bothered by the characterization. In her confessional, however, she spoke more about it.
“I don’t know why this question got started about how much talent we have,” she said. “Would they ask Jeff Bezos that? Can you dance? Can you sing? Well, we have some amazing businesses that became super successful, and we enjoy being together as a family and working on those companies. And that’s our super power. Not too shabby.”
Of course, Jenner is conflating two different things here—the idea that the Kardashians are famous for being famous and the question of whether or not they have talent.
So, are they famous for being famous? Well, yes. The very idea isn’t even that new. For decades now, socialites and the idle wealthy have done little more than hit the town and get their photos in the newspaper. The Kardashians reshaped that concept for the modern era and expanded it into an empire. Countless social media influencers who make bank by virtue of simply having an audience have the Kardashians, in part, to thank. Yes, these days the Kardashians are, absolutely businesswomen (among other things) and they are very successful at that, but in the beginning of their reign, when they used to slap their name on any Sears product that came across their desk, it wasn’t their business savvy that got people interested.
As for talent? Well, they can’t dance or sing or any of the normal skills one associates with entertainment, a fact they seem to be proud of, according to their statements in the episode (“Lucky us, we don’t have to sing, dance...we get to just live our lives and hey we made it,” Kim said). But I would say they do have talent, just not the conventional type that, for years, was equated with fame. They have the talent of turning wealth, a notorious lawyer father, and various tabloid controversies into extreme influence. They have the talent of keeping us interested for fifteen years of reality television, of turning all the hate they receive into cold hard cash, of not disappearing into the annals of history like so many socialites before them.
In her statement, Jenner tried to equate her and her daughters to Jeff Bezos and, in some respects, the comparison is apt. Like Bezos, two of the Kardashian/Jenners are estimated to be billionaires thanks to their successful enterprises, but Bezos built up a small online bookstore into a world-altering, multinational tech company that, for better or worse, seems to reach into every corner of our lives. Kylie and Kim sell makeup and trash cans. So in that regard, no, they aren’t quite the same. And while Bezos does get photographed in an occasionally questionable outfit with his current girlfriend as they jet set around the world, he’s not allowing cameras to watch a version of his life an on-going docu-soap. The world may perceive these two groups of people differently because of how they interact with their fame. If Bezos was attending as many events and red carpets as the Kardashians (that’s not to say he doesn’t, he had some fun dressing up for the recent, The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power promo cycle), maybe people would question his fame more as well.
In the end, though, it’s hard to not think this is an issue of gender. Successful businessmen have been “famous” since the days of the Vanderbilts, and even before that. But when a woman comes along and does something similar, there is the question of, “Well, why are you famous?” And, apparently, running an extremely successful business isn’t an acceptable answer.
The truth is, it isn’t so black and white. Are the Kardashians famous for being famous? Yes. Is there anything wrong with that? No. Were they able to take that almost randomly placed fame and create an extremely successful empire, something that few, if any, others have been able to achieve? Absolutely, and it’s hard to argue with that. Possibly, if the family just showed more awareness of their beginnings, while still acknowledging that they were smart in their maneuvering to reach their current standing, people would be more comfortable giving them their due. It’s when Kim pretends like all she did was “work her ass off” to get to this place, that people seem to have a problem. Yes, Kim worked hard, but she also started on third base, when most others are lucky if they can start on first. When Kim made her statement during the Variety issue, and told women to “get your fucking ass up and work,” it was that lack of awareness that upset people (along with claims that the family has failed to pay employees in the past). But has Kim ever acknowledged how a bit of cosmic luck and privilege played a part in her rise? Seemingly not, and until she does that, she and the rest of her family will likely be forced to continue fighting to gain legitimacy.