How authentic are the Kardashians?

In September 2015, the Kardashian/ Jenner sisters launched personalized mobile phone applications and websites. This essay will analyse the authenticity of the Kardashian/ Jenner sister’s intentions, strategy and beliefs behind their apps and websites, but also the genuineness of their fame and fans. Furthermore, reference will be made to Gilmore and Pine’s summations of ‘authenticity’.

The Kardashian family have never been far from the spotlight, but mainstream media attention “first graced a Kardashian in 1994, when family patriarch Robert Kardashian served as part of O. J. Simpson’s defense team” (Pfefferman, 2013, p. 83). Now considered ‘the most famous sister’, Kim herself “entered the public eye in 2007, gaining notoriety with a home-made sex tape” (Sastre, 2014, p. 123), this exposure helped the family gain a deal with E! for a reality show called Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

Keeping Up With The Kardashians was a huge success, currently on season 11 it is still attracting millions of viewers. They “don’t try to represent themselves as academic scholars, political activists, or decathlon athletes” (Pfefferman, 2013, p. 88) and this could be why people love them. Thomas suggests that people like watching them as “They’re a family with foul language, an obsession with genitals and they’re terribly self-absorbed” but they also “show extraordinary loyalty, a lot of love, an acceptance of diversity” (Thomas, 2015). Soon, the Kardashian sisters (with the help of their ‘Momager’, Kris) “came to exemplify quintessentially the post-millennium phenomenon of ‘being famous for being famous’.” (Pfefferman, 2013, p. 84).

Now, many believe that “The Kardashians comprise a strong, independent matriarchy” (McClain, 2013, p. 19), however, “hating the Kardashians has become a popular pastime” (Thomas, 2015) creating “ostensible media backlash and paradoxical popularity” (McClain, 2013, p. 12). Despite the ongoing criticism, Kim “seems to have been able to turn her reality stardom into an A-list affair” (McKay, 2010) and has dragged her family along with her. This is partly due to her marriage to Kanye West, but also, her association with high end brands, like Vogue, W Magazine, Balmain and so on. Kemshal-Bell notes that “it is hard to ignore the merging, or perhaps the disbanding, of the hi-lo cultures” (2015) because of the many collaborations that are taking place. This perhaps shows us the family’s “unscrupulous resourcefulness” (Pfefferman, 2013, p. 88) and focused business mindset.

Kim, Khloe, Kendall and Kylie have seemingly “mastered the art of virtual self-promotion” with some of their “selfies get millions of likes on Instagram” (Macsai et al., 2015, p. 52) and being in the top 10 most followed people on the site. Due to their popularity on social media, each sister has launched a personalized website and mobile app, with subscription only content. These offer fans an even deeper glimpse into their lives. To subscribe costs $3/ £1.99 per month; this will allow you to view behind-the-scenes videos, tutorials, blog entries and more. The apps “shot to the top of Apple’s App Store charts, led by Kylie’s, the most downloaded free app in the U.S. for two straight days” (Jarvey, 2015, p. 20). Each sister was involved in the creation of their personalized app, helping design the theme, appearance and subject. Pfefferman argues that “when they capitalize on their fame […] it’s organic to who they are. It is, in fact, authentic” (2013, p. 88). This perfectly illustrates how in the 21st century “a kernel of fame can be developed into a far-reaching branding empire” (McClain, 2013, p. 12).

The apps and website’s creation came about from their fans’ desire to see more of the sisters personal life. However, it is debatable whether what they post on their apps and websites is their authentic life, it could just be a front for the fans. Showing them what they want to see, as “you don’t have to say your offerings are inauthentic, if you render them authentic” (Gilmore & Pine, 2007, p. 90). The same is thought for the family’s reality show and social media sites.

Kylie Jenner even admitted in an interview “people want to see my cars and my purses … but that’s so not me” (K. Jenner, personal communication, December 1, 2015). This suggests that she manufactures herself to “increase the enjoyment” (Gilmore & Pine, 2007, p. 82) of her fans. Kylie knows what her fans would prefer to see and plays up to that. In the same way some people “prefer the obviously fake Venetian to the seemingly real Venice” (Gilmore & Pine, 2007, p. 84), some people favor the enhanced Kylie they see on her app and social media.

The sisters post endless selfies to their websites and apps along with Khloe’s focus on fitness and workouts, promotion of waist-trainers and Kourtney’s organic diet. This makes onlookers believe that their aspirational bodies are achievable. Although, as Gilmore and Pine propose “This professed desire for only the real, natural, the authentic is particularly ironic” (2007, p. 82) because most of the things that we see are manufactured, even the things we think are real (like the Kardashians’ bodies).

In contrast, the focal point of Kourtney’s app will be her children. This could be seen as morally wrong as “If you sell something that is deemed to be a labor of love, then you are regrettably ‘selling out’” (Gilmore & Pine, 2007, p. 89) and some might believe that your children are your leading labour of love. Yet, many would say that this family commercialise every aspect of their lives. According to Gilmore and Pine this would make them completely inauthentic, as they define authenticity as “that which is not Monetary” and “commercializing any activity yields the inauthentic” (2007, p. 88). Nevertheless, they do admit that there is “always some manmade element involved, some enterprise out to make a buck” (2007, p. 82).

This definition would also make the apps and websites inauthentic as they require pay per month subscriptions. Although, a fan’s perchase of this subscription does enable them “to dwell authentically in the moment of his choice” and “further to commemoratively retain the past (via purchases)” (Gilmore & Pine, 2007, p. 92).

In spite of this, some people would discuss that being opportunistic and trying to capitalize on almost everything is authentic to the Kardashians. Even Gilmore and Pine insist that “Any champions of authenticity should embrace the spirit and practice of capitalism” (2007, p. 92) as we live in a fundamentally capitalistic society.

Some would argue that the family consists of powerful, independent business women who have simply taken advantage of their situation. And many deem authenticity as “being true to oneself” (Gilmore & Pine, 2007, p. 90).

Despite the fact that the sisters wear a lot of makeup, especially Kim and Kylie, they post makeup tutorials to their apps and websites. In these tutorials we see their ‘authentic’ bare faces at the beginning. So the public knows that they do not really look the ways that they appear in photo shoots.

Kim Kardashian has also confessed that she posts too many selfies meaning she probably knows she is self-centred. This, in some ways, could make her authentic as authenticity is hard to define and “we find ourselves confronted with innumerable shades of grey” (Gilmore & Pine, 2007, p. 92).

Kylie admitting her appearance on social media isn’t real life, in turn, could mean she is authentic because “It’s easier to be authentic, if you don’t say you’re authentic” (Gilmore & Pine, 2007, p. 90).

In conclusion, there are many reasons to believe that the Kardashian/ Jenner sisters’ apps and websites and their content are authentic because “one doesn’t necessarily need to be viewed positively to be perceived as authentic” (Pfefferman, 2013, p. 93). Yet, it is widely believed that everything the Kardashian’s do is inauthentic. Gilmore and Pine’s broad definitions of authenticity, including the 3M Model of Inauthenticity, would also have us believe this. However, Gilmore and Pine’s more specific definition of authenticity could allow the Kardashian family to be classified as authentic. Gilmore and Pine also acknowledge that “our experiences with offerings happen inside of us” and we decide “what is authentic for us” (2007, p. 92).

 

Bibliography

  • Gilmore, J. H., & Pine, B. J. (2007). Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business School.
  • Jarvey, N. (2015). Kardashian Apps Lure a Million Subs in a Week. Hollywood Reporter, 421(33), 20.
  • Kemshal-Bell, J. (2015, June 9). This is the New Authentic. i-D. Retrieved from https://i-d.vice.com/en_au/article/this-is-the-new-authentic
  • Macsai, D., Sweetland Edwards, H., Oaklander, M., Begley, S., D’addario, D., Feeney, N., … Waxman, O. B. (2015). The Most Influential People on the Internet. Time, 185(9), 52-55.
  • McClain, A. S. (2013). The Kardashian Phenomenon: News Interpretation. Media Report To Women, 41(2), 12-23.
  • McKay, H. (2010, September 1). Kardashian Craze: Why Is the World Obsessed With a Family Famous For No Reason? FoxNews. Retrieved from http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2010/09/01/kardashian-kraze-world-obsessed-family-famous-reason/
  • Pfefferman, R. (2013). Strategic Reinvention in Popular Culture: The Encore Impluse. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Sastre, A. (2014). Hottentot in the age of reality TV: sexuality, race, and Kim Kardashian’s visible body. Celebrity Studies, 5(1/2), p. 123-137.
  • Thomas, N. (2015, October 29). Kardashian: Why we don’t like women who come out on top. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/comment/kardashian-women-vilified-men-get-accolades-for-cashing-in-on-bodies-20151028-gkkf7y.html

 

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