No Longer Keeping Up
S1: This is the waves. This is the way, this
S2: is the way.
S1: This is the way. This is the way. This is the waves.
S2: Welcome to The Waves, Slate’s podcast about gender feminism. And this week, five glamorous sisters, all of whose names start with a K every episode you get a new pair of women to talk about the thing we can’t get off our minds. And today you’ve got me, Alegra Frank, senior editor for Slate,
S1: and me, Robin Boylan, professor at the University of Alabama, crunk feminist and occasional Slate contributor.
S2: Thanks for joining me, Robin. I’m excited to talk about how we have finally reached the end of an era because after 14 years, 20 seasons and almost two hundred seventy five episodes, we are no longer going to keep up with the Kardashians. Well, not on TV anyway, because although it’s E network reality TV show is coming to an end, the family that’s famous for being famous has plenty of other ventures for us to pay close attention to. But Keeping Up with the Kardashians brought a sea change not just to reality TV, which we’ll get into, but to celebrity culture as well, from how the sisters define what it means to be an influencer to the embodiment of the hashtag girl boss to their pretty constant controversies. Keeping up was the locus for it all. So I’ve been really interested in the Kardashians and sort of their their celebrity mystique for a long time now, just because I’ve also been obsessed with celebrities for a long time and it’s always been kind of hard for me to explain why. Because, you know, there’s something superficial about celebrity that isn’t something I generally like to be too emotionally invested in. And yet there’s this strange compulsion that I have to the lifestyles of the rich and famous and the Kardashians, even though I never actually really religiously follow the show, you know, I would just watch it like at the gym or something. When it was on, I always still managed to join millions of other Americans and keeping up with everything they were doing and all of their various business ventures and going on and dramas because of how they seem to really encompass and embody all of the good and all of the bad about celebrity. So, Robin, why did you want to talk about this, the Kardashians and how they are finally closing the book on their show?
S1: So like you, I was I’ve never been an avid or faithful watcher of the Kardashians, but I am very much a reality TV junkie. So I’m interested in this topic because I’m a cultural consumer who has witnessed firsthand the rise and redundancy of reality television. Right now, Keeping Up with the Kardashians was at the forefront of that phenomenon, buoyed by a leaked sex tape and proximity to one of the most infamous and rice centric trials of the 20th century. So because I’m both a fan and a critic of reality television, I’m drawn to the ways that race is both co-opted and embraced in the series. Like most people, you know, I can’t really escape knowing what’s happening with the Kardashians, whether I want to or not, because you’re kind of inundated with their with their lives, whether you watch the show or you’re just scrolling through a social media feed.
S2: Yeah, it’s like how even though their TV show is sort of how they got famous and that’s it’s really like the nexus for everything else in the Kardashian universe. There is this huge Kardashian universe to the point where the TV shows just one kind of minor element to it. Right. But the TV platform is still where we met the Kardashians. And what is so impactful about them really all started with their TV show. So coming up, we are going to talk about how the Kardashians use that TV platform to dominate, well, every other platform out there. But first, a break. When the Kardashians first appeared on TV, social media was still in its relative infancy, which is really weird to say, considering we’re all constantly on Twitter and Instagram and tick tock and Facebook and yadda, yadda, yadda, but it was once not the all consuming thing that it is now. And it’s totally fair to say that the family’s ascension into the celebrity stratosphere happened kind of in tandem and even because of social media’s own massive rise. So, Robin, do you think you can talk a little bit about just how the Kardashians and social media have intertwined over the past 14 years?
S1: So I think it’s fair to say that the rise of social media and the rise of the Kardashians or subsequent social media moved us toward unfettered access to celebrities. But it also made celebrity itself more accessible for anyone. And what is social media, if not a venue for being famous, for being famous, right. Or becoming famous for being visible or viral or beautiful. So I think for all of their wealth and opulence, the Kardashian sisters are aspirational for many of their followers and fans. Now, they also use remarkable amounts of spon con helping to define what that looks like. And so spon can’t think white lost Ts and even their own brands like Skins. Their posts are always highly posed and edited, which has become a defining aspect of influencer photo culture. And we can see that represented in an up and coming influencers and social media personalities.
S2: Right. It’s definitely like Kim and Khloe and Kourtney and how they constantly were posing for photos, both on magazines, but also even just in the show. Everything was so postered. It really precedes how we see younger people and all kinds of influencers use their social media, even just aesthetically speaking.
S1: Right. And even thinking about the younger two sisters. Right. Kylie and Kendall Jenner, who were also watching their sisters and becoming their own version of that. And we see them sometimes on the show and sometimes just in social media itself, thanking their sisters or crediting them for the ways in which they learned to maneuver and manipulate social media for their own ends.
S2: It’s definitely super crucial that, you know, there was the contrast of the older women on the show and then the Jenner sisters who were of the next generation.
S1: It also speaks to that relevance, right? Like the the younger sisters connected them into generationally to a younger audience.
S2: It keeps them it keeps some kind of current in that sense.
S1: And then we see their children potentially crafting another generational fault. Right. All of them are being in every way imaginable, positioned to take on this threshold, whether it be on the television show or or thereafter. But I think the choice to include the children on the show is a reiteration of the ways the younger the younger sisters on the show made them relevant now and their children will keep them relevant in the years to come.
S2: Right. And I like what you said about how they and much of social media provide sort of unfettered access to their lives, because I think that’s something that’s really key about the Kardashians relevance, fame, import. I mean, even the basis of the show. Right, is about providing access into their lives. It’s about going beyond the tabloids or the interviews and the staged photo shoots and actually seeing how these people live day to day. Of course, it is very scripted. It’s highly edited. But they did offer this like seemingly unrestricted access to their personal, intimate lives, which promotes this para social relationship with the viewer and the power of social relationship element. The idea that even though we are not actually directly engaging with the figure that we are following and commenting on, we start to feel like we have a personal investment in them and we know them and we care about them. That’s something that’s so crucial with social media figures, right?
S1: Absolutely. It offers a faux intimacy. And I think that that’s part of part of the draw is because people want to be connected to these figures that they are so enamored with and they want to feel like they can be that to. Right. And I think that’s one of the reasons they have been so successful in other realms. Right. If you do this, you can be like me, wear this makeup like me, use this way since you’re like me and, you know, like because we’re best friends and I think kind of collapsing the distance between them and their fans and followers by crafting and creating this fake connection that makes them more likely, not just a two. Tune into the show because they’re not really making their money off the show, right, but to purchase the things they’re endorsing to be invested, they have hundreds of millions of followers. That’s a lot of, quote unquote, influence. I feel like like you were alluding to Alegra, that the show in many ways for the last several years is just kind of been a backdrop to everything else. The social media has been their life. And the show, by the time the show comes on, a lot of times we already know whatever the show was going to show us. Right. Whatever is already happening, you know, like Kim and Kanye divorce. And it was just recently shown on the show. But it’s like we’ve known about that in the public. So it’s like it gives you a retro, retro, active or retrospective lens into what was going on, which in some ways makes you more interested.
S2: Yeah, it’s actually there’s a clip that’s going viral right now on Twitter and tech talk of Kim talking about her impending divorce from Kanye. So let’s take a listen to that real quick.
S3: I honestly to serve someone that can go support for me and follow him all over the place and move to Wyoming. I can’t do that. I feel like a failure that it’s like a third party. I feel like a loser, but I can’t even think about that, like I want to be happy.
S2: There are so many other shows that would use something like the Kim and Kanye divorce as a promotional tactic, which sounds gross and a little bit even sociopathic because this is their real lives. But, you know, they would like try and control the media cycle so that this is a way to bring attention to the show. Like, oh, you’re going to find out some huge breaking news about Kim this week. But instead. Right, it’s like we know from social media and from the news that really that’s also keeping up with them outside of the show. What’s happening in Kim’s life or when Lamar Odom was found, you know, he had a drug overdose in a brothel, right? Yeah, that’s like a huge news story. So instead of the show being the platform to alert us to these specific things in their lives, it’s almost as if the show offers just some additional color commentary in a retrospective way, as you said.
S1: And that’ll be the thing that we’re missing right from the show. Not so much that the show was offering something you don’t already have access to, but those confessionals, that’s what will be missing when the show ends, not our access to them. And I think they’re moving some kind of show to a different platform, Hulu,
S2: Hulu and Hulu. Yeah.
S1: Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter where the show is at this point. And maybe they’ve tapped out at the network and they’ll go do a different thing on Hulu. But I can’t imagine that it’s going to be, you know, like a completely different spin or take on things.
S2: Right. What exactly is going to be different about the next Kardashian show when that’s not really what we need from them anymore? So I actually think another point that we haven’t gotten to yet that I know you’ve written a lot about is how cultural appropriation actually plays a big part in their creation of their image. And I’m talking really specifically here about how the Kardashians have been seen as appropriating or using blackness to their own benefit. So I’d like to talk more about this in our next segment where we really get into the good and the bad of the post Kardashians social media culture. So that’s going to come up right after this. All right, we are back, so something that we were alluding to a bit before the break was how the Kardashians shaped celebrity and influence or culture in many ways. But a large part of that stems from how they have pivoted off of other existing cultural forms and trends to make them their own. So, Robin, you wrote a really great piece on this for Slate about watching the Kardashians as a black woman and sort of reckoning with how they use blackness to their advantage. Could you say more on how the Kardashians have sort of developed a taste for cultural appropriation?
S1: Yes. So I think it’s important to note that the target demographic for the Kardashian brand has always been white women. Right. So they often benefit on the backs of black people without ever really having to engage with or be held accountable to the black community. And that’s very interesting to me as a black woman, because black women are so often ostracized and maligned for the surgically enhanced and borrow blackness the Kardashians have been made famous for. Right. When Kim Kardashian has a black ass, it is it is amazing. And everybody now wants one. Black women have black asses and they’ve been, you know, and they’ve been told they need to go on a diet or change to look more like standard whiteness. Right. And so they’ve kind of shifted the racial and racialized aesthetic of attraction and desirability. A lot of that has to do with the fact that they are traditionally beautiful. But a lot of that also has to do with the fact that black women are not are not considered standard traditional white based beauties. Right. It’s a really interesting and problematic conundrum. Right. And I think that justifiable critiques suggest that the popularity of the Kardashian style is simply a Columbus thing and rebranding of blackness that’s always existed. And while they’re not the first or last celebrities to be accused of cultural theft, the blatant erasure of black women and the failure to affirm them is troubling. And I think it’s also especially troubling because you have these are women who are in interracial relationships with black men. These are women who are now parenting biracial children. And so I think that they have to have a little bit more sensitivity and awareness as it relates to race than they’ve shown in the past.
S2: That was actually something I wanted to ask you about, because we have Kim, Khloe and Kylie, all now are the mothers of biracial children and their children are all half black. And so I wondered if you think that their relationship to race has at all materially or meaningfully changed since giving birth. Those children and especially daughters, actually, they all have daughters. So now that they do have young black daughters with kinky hair that are going to enter the world as people of color and Kim have sons, too. So that’s another complex, another complexity she’s going to have to deal with. Do you feel like they’ve done any work since having these children to atone even for their lapses in racial sensitivity?
S1: I think that there have been efforts from them as mothers that demonstrate a racial reckoning that that was not present in their earlier years, as it was one thing to date, black men, but it’s another thing to raise a black child. But even as we think about the racialized aesthetic and perception, I think it’s also important to bring in the idea of of colorism into the conversation. Right. Because you have the ways in which the skin complexion of these children will either make them more or less susceptible to discrimination. And so we’ve seen this most especially with Chloes daughter, Tru, who is the darkest skinned of the Cardassian children because of colorism, light skinned and racially ambiguous, black people have more access to beauty than darker skinned. And so I think that there are really interesting ways that we’ve seen people characterize these children and characterize true in particular because she was darker skinned, as if she was not as beautiful. And I think that that if they don’t nip that in the butt, that kind of requires them to kind of lean into these complexities of race. Because if they don’t even if they’re not treating these children differently, they have the eye of the world treating them differently, seeing them differently and treating them differently in the same way that with any other child of color. But I definitely have seen we see Kim Kardashian being more involved in the criminal justice system and seeking justice for people. And I think that’s important. And I think that is informed by her now being a mother, not just her commitment, her commitment to the black community being shifted by. Being a mother to black children, we’ve seen Kylies attempts at figuring out how to do her daughter’s hair right. And so I think that those are really good examples of a positive way that they’re able to now use the platform to create some type of consciousness that they now have as parents.
S2: I agree. I think the hair example is just really salient and speaks to me. That’s something that’s really personally resonant. And I agree. I mean, I’m glad that you sort of dovetailed into the idea that it’s not all negative. Obviously, the cultural appropriation, much of this is negative, much of the way that they have co-opted blackness for their own gain and not shown much consciousness in doing so in the past. We’ve been with them for so long
S1: now and they’ve grown up. You know, we have to give people grace to to mature. Absolutely. And to know better and do better. Right. So, you know, I definitely think some of my animus to them is located in specific incidences that may have been a long time ago, but they just feel so present because of social media, because you can still click on it and it brings it right back, you know, like some of the more egregious things that they’re just a click away. And so even though that might have been three years ago, because it’s still accessible and because they’re still so popular and because there are people who will still lean on that thing that they said and that the new thing that they’re saying is sometimes hard to unravel.
S2: And, of course, they are still making mistakes, like I think about the Skims incident a lot. Kim’s shapewear line and originally she called it kimono, as in the Japanese robe. There was a huge backlash that Kim reckoned with by changing the name but didn’t her apology didn’t seem to truly acknowledge understanding why Kimono was such a bad fit. Who would ever
S3: think that, hey, I want to do something that would be disrespectful.
S2: Tough world, even when you’re not trying to hurt anybody?
S3: Well, they’re saying that I’m cultural appropriating. Do you think it’s going to hurt your business? I just saw her the letter from the mayor of Kyoto. Yeah, I definitely want to take this really seriously. Reading that letter I felt and understanding how does everyone feel about skin skin? OK, raise your hand if you like scams.
S2: OK, but I do think it’s important, right, that now that we do have these very prominent white women taking care of black girls and boys, it is really powerful to see things like Kyly doing stormiest hair and Chloë having this beautiful, darker skinned daughter. True. And really supporting her and advocating for her, especially as a single mother to being that Treston is. Yeah, we could talk forever. Hotness. Yes. Yes. Oh, yes. Oh, yes, yes. For Chloe, in her love, life is just a hot mess all around. But there are some other good I would, I would say good, not necessarily uncomplicated good impacts. You mentioned Kim getting more involved with criminal justice. She is taking the LSAT. She specifically is interested in helping out people who are incarcerated. What’s your take on that, by the way? The whole Kim’s becoming a lawyer thing.
S1: You know, I there are some things that I am, you know, like there’s part of me that’s like, what now? What are you doing and how are you doing that? But then there’s another part of me that’s like, but if you can leverage your celebrity and your influence in a way that will create opportunities of justice, how can we not be for that? How could I why would I say anything against that so? Well, you know, while there is a part of me that’s like you just going to they just don’t let you in law school, you just buy your way. But, you know, but also if you can if you can change and save the lives, if you can have a positive impact on the criminal justice system that is causing black folk to languish, if you can help fix that, I’m all for that.
S2: Absolutely. And I also want to just throw some kind of props real quick to Kris Jenner, the original K that we haven’t spoken about, the matriarch of this Kardashian Jenner clan who really has demonstrated a lot of business savvy, creating this all female dynasty of business women who are able to, in a sense, manipulate but also use their own image and brand and influence and visibility to sustain themselves. It’s really important, I think, to show that even though we all kind of make fun of the hashtag girl boss trope, these are women who are business savvy. They’re smart about what they’re monetizing. And obviously all of this is. Part of why they are kind of abandoning the regular TV show, because they also just have so many other business propositions, they don’t, as you said before, they’re not making a ton of money off the TV show. That’s kind of irrelevant. But they have been so smart about where they’re making their money and not exploiting themselves and doing so. Kim started with a sex tape, but now we would never see Kim in any kind of compromising situation. And I think that’s really an interesting sign of their evolution that we even can point to these more positive and truly impressive aspects to their cultural imprint.
S1: Yeah, well, I’m not a fan. I can definitely concede to everything, to the good things that you pointed out. And I think that those are true. And even though I have definitely been more in tune with the things that I find incredibly problematic about about them, because in them not exploiting themselves, but exploiting other people right. To get the wealth and the notoriety that they have, I do want to kind of allow for the fact that we’ve they’ve been in front of us for almost two decades. Right. Like we have literally watched them grow, grown with them, watch them make mistakes. And one of the things that I often say as we’re thinking about their rise alongside social media is one thing I’m often so relieved about is that there was no such thing as social media when I was growing up and making my bad decisions. And, you know, like it’s not recorded and, you know, available in perpetuity for everybody to see in the ways that they that there’s are. So I think that we are able to see an arc of their life trajectory, the ups and downs and the highs and the lows and in all the ways that matter, that that is the thing that makes them like us. We’re human.
S2: We’re human. Absolutely. Even if, you know, their bodies are sometimes inhumanly unattainably curvy, they are ultimately human and their wealth, their wealth is beyond me. But yes, they are there women just like you and me, they are people. I think that’s a great, powerful place to end. But before we head out, we just want to pivot to something fun and light. We obviously gave you some recommendations on reading material and that you should read Robin’s great piece from last year about watching the Kardashians as a black woman and maybe watching material if you are interested in Keeping Up with the Kardashians final season. But, Robin, what are you loving right now?
S1: So this is a shameless plug, but I am loving the remix by The Feminist Collective. We have relaunched our blog as a newsletter on the substate platform. And the conversations we’re having have just been Life-Giving. This week’s essay by Chanel Craft Hanaa about the limitations of feminism was everything. And we’ve been reflecting on what it means to live out feminism at this stage in our lives, tackling topics like health and wellness, healing from trauma and sexual assault, feminist parenting, overcoming grief and loss, learning self-love, just real life shit. So that’s what I’m loving right now.
S2: I love it. I love a shameless plug. There’s never any shame in a good plug. I’m really loving a new EP. It came out earlier in May actually, but it only just hit streaming services within the last week. It’s called Whole Damn Body by the band Luscombe, since they are a British band, a British sort of a post punk band, really witty, sardonic, pretty sad lyrics. And this is an EP cobbled together from some previously released tracks that were very hard to get access to. They were only released on vinyl, on seven inch singles for through a subscription service. So I those are all a bunch of words that are just usually big turnoffs to me. So this is the first time I’m hearing these songs. And they were released in honor of the 10th anniversary of one of the band’s best albums, which is called Hello Sadness. And all of these songs kind of play into that angle of maligning a breakup, feeling frustrated with a relationship, and they’re funny in doing so. There are, of course, you know, we feel the frustration of, oh, my dumb luck that this is happening to me again, or there’s a song called All Play Blues, like Let’s Go The Blues Sadness, but it’s never too downtrodden and every song is just upbeat and catchy. And I want to recommend my favorite song off the album, which is called She Krewe’s Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown No. Four, really. Obviously, very fun title and very, very fun song. It’s where the title of the of the EP comes from. So definitely check that album out. Absolutely. Oh. That’s our show this week, this episode was produced by Osia, Saluda, filling in for Jane Arraf. Susan Matthews is our editorial director with June Thomas providing oversight and moral support. And we have additional production help from Rosemary Bellson. If you like the show, be sure to subscribe rate and review wherever you get your podcasts. And please consider supporting the show by joining Slate. Plus membership benefits like zero ads on any Slate podcast and bonus content of shows like this one. It’s only one dollar for the first month. To learn more, go to Slater dot com, slash the waves.
S1: Plus, we’d also love to hear from you. Email us at the waves at Slate Dotcom. The waves will be back next week. Different hosts, different topic, same time and place.
S2: Welcome to our Slate plus segment where we pay thanks to the things that showed us how to be feminists. It’s called Gateway Feminism. And this week, I’ll start with my gateway. So I’m a big anime manga, video game, all things Japanese nerd. So I wanted to give a little shout out to a an enemy and manga that I really loved growing up. It’s called Card After Soccer. It’s about a 10 year old girl who discovers that she sort of has this magical book in her house. And when she opens it, it unleashes all of these very adorable monsters, more like magical creatures, I guess, into the world. And she is now the one tasked with getting them all back inside the book. So it’s sort of a it’s not quite a superhero story, but in a sense it is. She’s the one who is the only person able to save the world from these various creatures who are wreaking havoc throughout her city and elsewhere. So young 10 year old Saqqara and her best friend, who is very cute and also very talented young fashion designers, she designs all of soccers outfits. It’s very durable. They go around and they capture these monsters. It’s a little silly, but it’s also very romantic and sweet and about the power of friendship and also the power of feminine energy and being able to be a young woman and handling your issues on your own. It’s very pink and girly kind of series, which for something like this is often rare when you have these sort of action stories. It’s usually a guy in the lead role and he’s the one who has to save everyone and be the hero. But that’s not the case in soccer as she’s the one saving the boys from trouble, too. So that was definitely a big influence on me growing up. And now as I’m older, too, and embracing that, you can wear pink and cute clothes and love cute stuffed animals and still be a badass hero, that’s something that’s still really resonates with me. Brabin, what was what’s one of your gateways into feminism?
S1: I have so many, you know, that it’s kind of hard to pinpoint. But one that feels particularly resonant here lately is Toni Morrison’s novel, Sula. So the character that the novel is named after is an audacious, independent, fearless, unapologetically honest black woman who resists social and cultural expectations of womanhood. She resists those definitions as being strictly defined or strictly informed by being married or having children. Right. So she kind of resists marriage and motherhood as the pinnacle of womanhood. She was self entitled. And one of my favorite lines is when Soula responds to her, her grandmother, who’s telling her that she needs to settle down and get married and have children. And she says, I don’t want to make anybody else. I want to make myself. And in so many ways, that is like my motto. You know, that is the pinnacle of my feminism, is that I want to make myself I want to be my best self, but I also want to do so without any restrictions put on me because I am a woman without any expectations put on me because I’m a black woman. So for me, Soula is like a role model. She doesn’t necessarily I self identify as a feminist. She doesn’t use that language in the novel, but her her life and the ways in which she lives. It is for me a touchstone and a template for unapologetic. Independence and self love reading Soula was like reading my feminist self and rereading still at any point, which I’ve done so recently, is like a resurgence of that feminist self, like, yeah, I don’t have to do those things or fit those muscles. I just have to be me unapologetically.
S2: I love that I’m big. Toni Morrison, Van Beloveds, one of my favorite books of all time, but I haven’t read Sewel yet and that is an absolutely great sell.
S1: Yes, there’s yeah. I could give you lines and bars. It’s great. It’s great. I love
S2: that. Thank you so much. That was an awesome and awesome gateway. And thanks to all of our Slate plus listeners for subscribing to Sleep US.