The Titillating Trysts of the Trendsetting Troubador Tells of Trouble over Time.
Author’s Note: This post had some input from Deti and Jack.
Length: 3,000 words
Reading Time: 10 minutes
In a previous post, The Future of Intersexual Relationships is Transactional (2021 March 12), we discussed how the longitudinal effects of swipe/online dating, hookup culture, and amateur prostitution are currently transforming the SMP.
Women will have no safety or security. They will have to provide for it themselves, with their own money, or else finagle it from men. They will shout louder and complain more about men’s boorish, hamfisted conduct. They can demand more police and white knight protection, and will get it. But it will not really compare with having one man she trusts implicity to give her that safety and security.
All this will have the effect of preventing all but the most valuable women from being able to keep any man at all. And this drives women’s status down. The only “status” women will have is material acquisition and monetary wealth. They’ll be acting like men – working to acquire money and status, for “independence”.
Because of the obvious weaknesses of the Transactional Model, a few other life scripts are being aggressively pushed. One of these scripts which addresses the lag in “status” is the “Kardashian Fantasy” model.
Wait, wait … The Kardashians? Really, Now?
I am not a television watcher, pretty much at all. I have never seen the Kardashian TV program “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” (which apparently is ending a 14-year run this year) — known in the industry as “KUWTK”. I became familiar with the Kardashians because posts about them persistently made their way into the news feed on my phone, regardless of adjusting the settings to avoid that. After a while, I became curious and looked into what they were about, and what I saw was quite astounding in many ways.
But, before we get to that, some background. I suspect that many of the readers, perhaps most of you, were as clueless as I was about this massive cultural phenomenon other than a vague awareness on the periphery of our consciousness. That’s understandable, and it’s how I was about them before I started investigating them at some stage last year.
The Kardashians are a Los Angeles based family of five sisters, one brother and their mother. The mother, Kris Jenner (born Houghton), age 65, is known as the “momager” (i.e., mom/manager) of the group. The older three daughters (Kourtney (42), Kim (40) and Khloe (36) are the daughters of Robert Kardashian, who was a lawyer and businessman in Los Angeles, while the younger two (Kendall (25) and Kylie (23)) are the daughters of Bruce, now “Caitlyn”, Jenner. Kris Jenner and Robert Kardashian also had a son, Rob (34). Kris Jenner had a modest background and worked as a flight attendant in the 1970s, when she was in her 20s, before marrying Kardashian. Kardashian was in no way anything approaching as wealthy as the clan became after bigtime fame came along, but was very financially well off (in a more normal, non-stratospheric sense) and extremely well-connected in Hollywood, in part due to his friendship with O. J. Simpson from his college days at USC. The Kardashians grew up in West Los Angeles, and attended wealthy private high schools and prep schools.
Due to their connections on the fringes of Hollywood celebrity culture, the Kardashians were a known entity in that culture for some time going back to the days of the O. J. Simpson trial in the late 1990s, when Robert Kardashian made an appearance as a member of the legal defense team of his personal friend, Simpson. The older daughters were exposed through schooling and socializing to major celebrities growing up, and this formed their social group even though they, themselves, were not yet celebrities in a significant way. Kim Kardashian was known as a stylist of Paris Hilton, who was a very well known celebrity herself, and had made cameo appearances in a few of Hilton’s television shows, but Kim was not yet a very famous name of her own.
That changed in March 2007, with the release of an explicit 2002 sex tape of Kim with her then-boyfriend Ray J, entitled “Kim Kardashian, Superstar“. Kim and the other Kardashians have denied that the release of the tape was intentional or consensual, and there was some litigation around it that resulted in a cash settlement for Kim. But the main impact of the tape was that it skyrocketed Kim Kardashian to instant fame. And this fame rocket was launched at the same time as the iPhone — the most impactful culture-spreading device ever invented — was released.
Shortly thereafter KUWTK began, which was itself the result of a pitch made by Kris Jenner to Ryan Seacrest around the time that Kim was going viral. As of now, KUWTK is not nearly as popular as it was when it was newer and averaging 3 million or so viewers, and so it has finally been canceled. But its protagonists have long since moved their main publicity vehicle to social media, where their follower numbers are simply extraordinary. Kylie Jenner leads them with 234 million Instagram followers, and Kim (223m), Kendall (165m), Khloe (147m), and Kourtney (122m) are not very far behind. For purposes of comparison, according to Statista, Kylie and Kim are respectively the 4th and 6th most followed individuals on the entire platform. And as for that level of followers, it seems worth noting that there are only 4 countries on Earth that have a higher population than the number of Kylie Jenner’s Instagram followers. The reach is simply staggering, by any measure, and when taken together as a group, their collective cultural reach through social media is unique and utterly incomparable.
As one would expect, this kind of cultural reach has resulted in the accumulation of substantial financial riches. The Kardashians all have side hustles, if you want to call them that, ranging from separate beauty businesses started by Kim and, later, Kylie, to the most recent one, being a branded Tequila grift being peddled by Kendall. And even in her main gig, Kendall Jenner is reportedly the highest-paid model in the world currently. All told, the familial “winnings” are estimated by Forbes to be in the $2 billion range, give or take a few hundred million here and there.
By any measure, the Kardashians are a massive cultural phenomenon. As I note above, it is very easy to overlook this if you are not “plugged in” to the contemporary culture. I am generally not plugged in like that, and so I, too, missed this impact. But once I started to investigate this in the course of the past year, it became clear fairly quickly that this was not an ordinary cultural fad, but rather something that has been long-running and has had an impact, culturally, that is both broad and deep, and, in many ways, has been enhanced precisely because there are so many people like me (and probably you readers) who have been aloof to it and are therefore unaware of the impact it has been having, and continues to have, in the culture around us.
The Kardashians: Both Real and Directed
The more I looked at the Kardashian phenomenon, the clearer I began to see a certain pattern, a certain set of common aspects that ran through the life histories of all of them, as these have been so publicly lived-out on television and in social media. I will point out what these are next, but at the outset it’s critical to keep in mind that the Kardashian image is both real and invented at the same time.
That is, it is a “molded/scripted real life”. It isn’t a real life that would have naturally unfolded had there not been this level of fame and fortune and publicity, and had the life not been lived, for the most part, on television and in social media in front of hundreds of millions of people. Because of those elements, it is a scripted/molded/directed life, but at the same time it isn’t a film or a fiction novel. It is real — it is how they actually live.
Yet it is also a molded/scripted/directed real life, and therein lies the key to understanding the real influence of the Kardashian phenomenon: It is real, which provides the grist for fantasy/aspiration/life-goals, while at the same time it is directed/molded, scripted, which means that the direction(s) that these real lives have taken are not random or necessarily even personal, but have been designed both to reflect, amplify and deepen existing social trends, and drive both social discourse and accepted and desired behaviors in very specific, intentional directions. The Kardashians story line, as parleyed through television and, with much broader reach, social media, is one which follows a very intentional set of directions, both reflecting existing trends and emphasizing/deepening certain other ones, in a way designed to influence the attitudes, expectations and behaviors of the viewers and followers, in various, intended, directions.
These directions form a recognizable set of characteristics, which together form a pattern of life, once one examines the specific lives and then steps back and examines the composite. They are roughly the following:
- Convergence — Changes within the same family over time: In other words, things getting more radicalized, more outre, and more conformed to each other’s behavior in a convergence over time and cascading between the generations of the sisters.
- Baby daddies are the norm: Again remarkable is how ubiquitous this is in the sisters, and how different it is from how Kris started out … and how everything changed during that period from 1975 to now, both for her (see convergence above) and for her daughters.
- Not one lasting marriage: All marriages end in divorce. (Kris doubly divorced, Kim and Khloe are both divorced, Kourtney never bothered to get married but has 3 kids with bad boy baby daddy Scott Disick, Kylie and Kendall haven’t married yet, but Kylie has a baby daddy as well.)
- Financial independence, based on beauty/hotness/sexual power, is the norm and is accessible to all women in the family regardless of their naturally-born “assets”.
- Plastic surgery and enhancements of all kinds are the norm, serving to level the playing field, in terms of natural assets, between the sisters. (There have been dramatic changes in appearance for almost all of them over the years.)
- Gynocentric — Men are bit players, for entertainment/status/sex/attention, but on the periphery of their lives. The women are the center of their own lives and are the power players in every situation (other than “Kimye”, but that was a circus and Kim was always in her own control).
- Poor Masculinity — Men who make appearances are either divorced, baby daddies, sad sacks like brother Rob, or transitioned to women themselves(!).
- Some claim to be religious. (Kim actually had her kids baptized, Armenian-style. Khloe says she prays and goes to church, etc.)
- Interracial — Almost all relationships are with black men.
- Woke — Even the LGBT cultural trend found its way into the Kardashian storyline by means of Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner, and, of course, this was yet another marginalization of a masculine figure in favor of the feminine, quite literally.
Taken together these directions encompass and reinforce the following:
- Normalizing single motherhood.
- Glamorizing female singleness and single motherhood.
- Economic independence.
- Social independence from men, such that marriage is exceptional and odd.
- Divorce, singleness and unpartnered relationships are the norm, as are baby daddies.
- Glamorizing the appearance-centric, attention-centric, surgery and cosmetics-centric glam life for women of all ages (they range through the 20s, 30s, 40s and 60s).
- Marginalizing men in general — either “desirable but disposable” or on a revolving door basis, otherwise often pathetic or even trans.
- The normalization of interracial relationships to the extent that non-interracial ones are exceptional and odd for an entire family of women.
Overall, it’s not a good message to broadcast to the entire culture, and yet, it is front and center.
The Kardashian Fantasy Life Script
This is obviously a fantasy life script that is impossible to attain for virtually any other women in the real world, for numerous reasons, most of them financial and connections-related. That’s clear, so it isn’t a life script that is practicable and actionable for most women.
But the key to understanding the impact is the popularity of the fantasy, and the way it has both been tailored to the existing fantasies of women and has played a significant role in molding and changing/directing women’s fantasy lives (which set goals, expectations and influence behaviors) in certain intended directions over time. And the fact that the Kardashians fame and influence have been as long-running as they have been (and increasingly so over time), and that the lifestyles have become more extreme in wealth, fame and behavior as time has gone along, both indicate another element: A cascading generational impact, and further de-norming, radicalizing, extremizing trends over the course of time, both as exemplified in their lives, and in terms of what is being proposed as aspirational, fantasy scripting for women.
The effect of this aspirational/fantasy scripting is to make the idea of not being married to the same man for very long, or not being married at all, into a desired “life script” (not just for ne’er do well women down the socio-economic ladder, but for glamorous, famous, fabulously wealthy, popular, white women), one that includes kids, broad influence/attention/popularity, glamour, fun, excitement, and so on. It normalizes, practically institutionalizes, the legitimacy of using sexual power, and using whatever means necessary to attain and retain it, as the core lynchpin of a woman’s life design, around which all other elements are arranged to suit. And it subtly encourages things like “LGBT Allyship”, male disposability and unimportance, and, in particular, the cultural marginalization of white men (as exemplified by the extremely odd “lock step” interracial romantic choices of almost all of the Kardashian women) in favor of a world that is female-centered.
In short, this is directed cultural programming of the most subversive type. It’s subversive because it flies under the radar screens of many people (like me for a long time), which acts to magnify its power by means of going un-noticed and therefore not being taken seriously. It’s subversive because it very intentionally blurs the directed and the real, and this approach is not confined to television but extends also to the social media imaging (which is far wider-reaching and more influential), which makes the aspirational/fantasy element more alluring and more effective than an obviously fictional presentation does. And it incorporates very specific elements which appear to be clearly intended to move women, culturally, in a specific set of life trajectories as outlined above.
By this I don’t mean that we will see millions of women becoming Kardashian look and life alikes. No. The Kardashian lifestyle, taken as a whole, is not attainable by almost any real life woman, especially given the wealth and fame levels involved which drive it in reality. But bits and pieces of it are, most definitely. And the spread of these bits and pieces, as adopted by women, because they comprise parts of an aspirational/fantasy script that they find appealing (even if only as a fantasy) is very impactful. Fantasies are powerful — they make for aspirations, on the margins, and influence life expectations and dreams over the course of time. And in the power of shared fantasy lies the key to understanding the kind of influence that the Kardashian phenomenon has had, and is continuing to have, on the culture, especially the culture of American women.
Conclusion: The Emergent Fantasy of the Designer Life
Where is this headed? It’s of course impossible to tell the future with any accuracy, but some general trends are an increased emphasis on the curated life, on arranging one’s life in a way determined by oneself, full stop, on transcending any and all rules and conventions and the like. The Kardashian phenomenon is perhaps the entree into this new, larger trend — the first step towards the popularization in the mass culture of an approach to life which is designed, curated, self-determined, and which ignores all boundaries beyond those erected by personal desire.
After all, if men can surgically alter themselves to become “transwomen” (as indeed “Caitlyn” Jenner did), why can’t Kylie Jenner or Kim Kardashian alter herself to become a different woman, physically, which then enables a different persona in other ways? What we are seeing is the emergence of the curated/designer human — to curate the physical person in ways that go well beyond sartorial presentation and cosmetics and transcend the physical plant itself by means of surgery to create what is in many ways a new and different human persona, of whatever gender and appearance we like. Kylie Jenner is effectively the human prototype of this, and perhaps this will be the most lasting legacy of the Kardashian phenomenon: the allure and the making real of the possibility for fantasy fulfillment for women in all ways — material, sexual, attentional, appearance, physical, power — all of it.
It’s one large ball of feminine fantasy wish fulfillment: all empowerment, glamour, surgically-sculpted faces and trainer-honed hard bodies, attractive/rich yet utterly disposable men, sisterhood and female-centered lives, endless amounts of safe, global attention, and money flowing like water from the everlasting fountain of created/curated/designed hotness.