Real Reality TV

The Kardashians: a modern day Brady Bunch?

I understand the gross side of reality TV. I watched a lot of Jersey Shore when it came out, and I made everyone on my dorm floor watch it as well. I’ve also watched a hefty amount of Laguna Beach, and because I am loyal to its faux-real characters, I also watched its spinoff The Hills and its spinoff The City. I would largely categorize these shows as guilty pleasures. But I can’t say the same about Keeping Up With the Kardashians, because I don’t feel guilty about it. Not one little bit. The fact that Kim Kardashian is dating Kanye West—is, in fact, pregnant with their baby—only makes me more excited that some form of a Kardashian show is still airing, since Kanye West could firmly be classified as one of my musical non-guilty pleasures and since the two of them together thrills me to no end. (Though can we please call it the Kanyashian baby instead of the Kimye baby? It’s so much catchier and doesn’t sound like a Japanese superhero.)

There’s been a lot of talk about the culture of reality TV that has sprung up in America. We’re all voyeurs. We want to feel better by mocking those stupider or fatter or more gullible than us. We want to watch those prettier or richer or smarter than us falter under pressure. We want to memorialize everything and then feel nostalgic about it instantly, even other people’s weddings and other people’s proposals and other people’s dreams coming true. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t seem like the reality TV trend is going to fade any time soon. And although I mocked my college roommate for her Sunday night Kardashian-watching tradition, and though I joined in fully expecting to mock my way through the viewing, I actually whole-heartedly love the show. Yes, it’s ridiculous. Yes, the clothes and heels and make-up they wear cost more than I will ever make in my lifetime. But at the end of the day, the Kardashians represent, for me, a kind of ideal family.

That may seem strange to say since the current Kardashian clan is a so-called “blended family,” with half-siblings from both Bruce Jenner’s and Kris Kardashian Jenner’s previous marriage(s), but the family is so tight-knit and has so much outrageous fun together that the episodes can almost give off the vibe of the Brady Bunch (if the Bradys had had dark hair and a lot more Botox). And I know the situations on the episodes are probably constructed to seem spontaneous and carefree, but I don’t care. Television is about a suspension of disbelief—especially reality television, where we are supposed to believe the people and situations and dialogue are the realest of real—and I believe the Kardashians completely.

I am the middle of three sisters in my family and watching the three Kardashian sisters (Kourtney, Kim, and Khloe) makes me think of the kind of relationship I could have with my sisters—maybe if we were closer in age or all lived in the same place. Or maybe, you might say under your breath, if we had a TV show and a million-dollar contract to bring us together. Say what you will, but you can’t fake that kind of bond. And the show isn’t all glitter and roses. It does show the drama and screaming matches that go on behind closed doors. The relationship between exasperated Kris Jenner (formerly Kardashian, the mom) and haplessly goofy Bruce Jenner (the dad) is pure gold, and even though they still seem like an odd match, they also seem perfect for each other. Watching Kris get choked up when she talks about how important family is to her (which happens in close to every episode), you start to think maybe they really are just another neighbor on the block. They all seem, really, quite normal.

And maybe the fact that I envy their family dynamic just proves that it isn’t, in fact, reality. That I have been sucked into the world E! has created and by believing it’s reality I’m just another voyeur pawn in the system. And to that I say: ok.

I know I’m supposed to be writing about bad TV, but my apologies, reader, I just find the show heartwarming. Bizarre, absurd, curious, mesmerizing—yes. But funny, genuine, and just the kind of reality I’m looking for, too.

7 Comments

  • Laura Citino Laura C. says:

    I am the middle sister too! Have we not talked about this?

    “…I’m just another voyeur pawn in the system.”
    That’s exactly what is so fascinating about reality TV (and, really, entertainment since the dawn of time). Reality TV requires a latent understanding from its audience, this complicit agreement that we will call it reality TV, we will defend it as reality, but we also understand all the tricks and techniques and sidecuts that make it Media and Entertainment. Reality doesn’t have neat narratives and episodic adventures, but we can consume and understand those concepts even while thinking we’re watching some kind of hard reality.

    Chuck Klosterman has a really good (slightly outdated) essay about reality TV (specifically The Real World) in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs.

  • Laura says:

    Every time I hear the name Kardashian I think of aliens from Star Trek (the Cardassians).

  • leyna krow says:

    The Kardashians is my favorite reality tv show to explain to people who don’t ever watch reality tv because I get to say the phrase “and also former Olympian Bruce Jenner is involved.” This brings me great joy.

  • Cathie Smathie says:

    You navigated this topic wonderfully! Love so much — especially the second to last paragraph.
    And what’s funny is just the other day I found myself defending Honey Boo Boo (even though I’ve never watched it) but I never realized I had opinions about the show until I started talking haha.

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