People have always been interested in how the 1% lead their lives. Paintings, books, and films have always described and shown the lives of the wealthy, be it Citizen Kane, The Great Gatsby, or Delacroix’s the death of Sardanapalus. In recent years however, the intense focus on the incredibly wealthy has shifted from an outsider’s perspective, and into an almost virtual reality. In the past, the focus, and the lives, of the rich had constantly been as an unreachable goal, an invisible wall dividing them and us. The rich had always been rich because they had come from wealthy families (such as Citizen Kane and Sardanapalus). In the rare cases that the wealthy person wasn’t born that way, it was because of extreme hard work and perseverance (such as Jay Gatsby and Jean Valjean). That is not the case anymore! The Kardashians, Danielle Bregoli, and Amber Rose are just some of the examples of wealthy famous people, who gained their fame and money without being royalty, and without any “hard work”. They represent the new American dream: overnight fame and success.
The idea of fame has completely changed in the last 50 years. While in the past fame was reserved for actors, singers, painters and writers, fame nowadays, in the age of the internet, could happen overnight to virtually anyone, and talent or hard work don’t have much to do with it anymore. The clearest example of this is the Kardashians. The infamous name is today recognized worldwide, but if you asked someone about them little more than 10 years ago, the majority of people would’ve never heard of them. The way that they became famous, and how, in such a little amount of time, they have become one of the most powerful families not only in television, but also in the fashion and makeup industries, is a wonder to most people. Kim Kardashian (the Kardashian “leader”) became famous in one of the most controversial ways possible: having her sex tape with a celebrity leaked. Having become an overnight sensation with tabloids, she quickly realized the possibilities this new-found fame could mean, and started a daytime reality series about her life, Keeping up with the Kardashians. The show “blew up” with viewers, and just like that, thanks to a leaked sex tape, she and her family became debatably the most influential family in America.
A modern problem
This kind of fame and influence happening overnight was virtually unheard of before and has (for better or for worse) changed daytime television, and more importantly, the way in which people view fame forever. The Kardashians represent the new American dream. Teenagers around the world see these girls as idols, as something they would like to achieve. T-shirts saying things such as “when I grow up, I want to be a Kardashian” are a clear example of how the Kardashians are influencing this upcoming generation Z. In fact, some of the newest and most controversial child-celebrities, who grew up watching the Kardashians, also become overnight sensations, and are famous not for their talent but rather because of their own controversies. Examples of this are Danielle Bregoli, and Nicolette Gray, both of whom went viral because of their spoilt, rude, and overall terrible manners on the American TV show Doctor Phil. As more and more people become famous thanks to virtually nothing, and because of negative characteristics rather than positive and creative ones, we must ask ourselves what are the values that we are teaching the new generation, and are these really the role models that they need? Why are we putting people that are clearly not apt to be role models in such powerful and influential positions?
Their biggest fan
We interviewed a self- proclaimed fan of the Kardashians to find out what made their way of life so appealing to watch, and how (if at all) the Kardashians influenced their lives:
How often do you watch the Kardashians?
I watch a couple of episodes once in a while, and clips on YouTube. I don’t really watch it routinely though.
And why do you watch them?
I find it interesting to see their family drama, and it’s interesting to see their luxury lives with all the shopping and stuff.
Would you say that you’d want to “be a Kardashian”?
I mean on the one hand living in a mansion, having a huge closet full of nice clothes, going to fashion shows and stuff would be really cool, but like the whole point of the show is to show the drama in their family, and I wouldn’t want that. I love my family, and I think a good and healthy relationship with my family is more important than all the luxury stuff.
To what extent do you consider what is shown to represent the real world?
Not much, I find it important to remind myself that that’s not what real life is like, it’s easy to forget that those aren’t “normal people” and “normal lives” and that actually, a lot of it is scripted. Most people don’t live the way they do, and sometimes watching the show, it’s easy to immerse ourselves in it, and to forget how unrealistic and superficial their lives are.
Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada, etc.
Something parents of Kardashian fans, and typically people from older generations, don’t understand is what do these youths see in the Kardashian? What makes their lives so appealing to them? Saul Levine, a professor at the University of California at San Diego, says that the reason we watch Keeping up with the Kardashians is, at least on a psychological level, to escape the reality of our own lives. The Kardashians provide a way to immerse ourselves in the lives of the rich and beautiful, to escape to a fantasy of luxury and decadence. People have always been interested in seeing how the rich live their lives, and the Kardashians provides a glimpse into this unattainable lifestyle. In fact, the middle class is getting more and more obsessed with the 1%. Studies have shown that more and more luxury goods, from brands such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Prada, which are typically “reserved” for the richest people on the planet, are being bought by the middle class. In fact, according to a study by CNBC, up to one third of all luxury fashion goods are purchased by the middle class, often going into debt for a dress or a purse.
The Kardashians are a new kind of pastime, an escapism into a life of luxury and vast wealth, setting unrealistic goals of fame and money to a whole generation of TV viewers. More and more people are following, or trying to follow, in their footsteps, trying to be famous for the sake of it, rather than for an actual cause and reason. In conclusion, the Kardashians represent the new American Dream.
Vasco V. / S7ENB / EEB1 Uccle
Photos : sörn on flickr / Kim Heimbuch / Beverly and Pack / Eva Rinaldi on flickr