Famous for being famous

How the Kardashian-Jenners have upended society and pop culture norms in the new age of oversharing.
by Isaac Javier

Have you ever imagined a world without the Jenners and the Kardashians – the celebrities who are famous for being famous. Whether we like it or not, they are undoubtedly the backbone of contemporary pop culture. And they’re not likely to go anywhere anytime soon.

It would be important to note that if Instagram users were to be classed as a country, it would have a population of 300 million, the fourth largest in the world. And with Instagram’s ten most poular accounts, four of them belongs to the Kardashian-Jenner cartel. With a combined Instagram follower count of 272 million, which nearly matches the population of the United States, the family undoubtedly rules social media. From Kim’s selfies to Kendall’s Calvin Klein promos, to Kourtney and Khloe’s workout pictures, we always know what they’re up to and for some unclear and unwavering reason, we can’t get enough of them. In retrospect, it’s next to impossible to pin-point why the social media darlings of the 21st century are achieving this level of ubiquity.

Kim Kardashian, the face of pop culture right now, has raised her status to Marilyn Monroe-esque levels. But what distinguishes the two is that Monroe had established a respectable acting career which helped elevate her to sex-symbol status, providing the standard of beauty and sexuality in women of popular culture in the process. Meanwhile, Kim Kardashian attained the platform that she has today through a sex tape as the foundation of her fame. Inevitably, some critics cynically see this in a negative light, and a baggage that she will always carry throughout her career. To the rest of the people who see the glass as half full, it’s one of the greatest redemption stories of our time.

From the unfavourable notoriety that came with the Ray J sex tape (any press is good press,as they say), she’s now a mother of two, a declared feminist, sitting on a spot in the Forbes 100, further reaffirming her hold on the tech world with Kim Kardashian: Hollywood and shutting down the App Store with Kimoji in the process. She would also claim success in print, with her infamous Paper Magazine editorial, one of the most controversial ‘zine spreads in a long time, a photo book with acclaimed photographer Juergen Teller, as well as publishing Selfish, a 300 page hardback comprising of her selfies, which gained actual endearment from the art world (famous art critic Jerry Saltz likened the self-indulgent oeuvre to the best-selling modern literature series My Struggles by Karl Ove Knausgård – a six volume long series which documents, in the most honest and unpretentious manner, the daily struggles of the author, a literary equivalent of Keeping up with the Kardashians).

From My Struggles, and Selfish, and our Instagrams and Facebooks and Twitters, so much of current culture is centred around our daily lives, as it has always been. But now it has reached a platonic level. Keeping up with the Kardashians, the Kadashian-Jenner’s flagship product depicts the Kardashians, well, doing their thing. Literally, doing their thing. Watching the show, it would seem that all they do on it is run errands and deal with unbelievably normal situations. But somehow, someway, even with eleven seasons worth of bickering and showcasing their frivolous lifestyle, it’s still ovezealously addictive to watch. Their lifestyle, how they got there, and just the status of being “famous for being famous” instantly attracts and turns the head of essentially anyone in modern society. And all this says a lot about how we live our lives now. Either blatantly or concealed deep down, everyone wants to be them, chill with them, sleep with them, or else ridicule or slander them.

The family somehow finds themselves reaching every form of popular entertainment. From television, amateur pornography, owning city fashion weeks on catwalks and front rows, breathtaking magazine and tabloid covers which just seems to scream “Look at me!”, video games like Hollywood, on motorcycles in provocative music videos  like Bound 2, featuring in picture books and fashion campaigns, they have become a realisation of our deepest fantasies – limitless notoriety for living an impractically privileged and frivolous lifestyle.

The likes of the Kardashians, Kylie and Kendall Jenners, Lucky Blue Smith, Paris Hilton, the Osbournes, the Heidi Montag’s and Spencer Pratt’s seemed to come out of nowhere to define, or rather re-define, what is cool. And what is cool is pop culture – they are pop culture. Definitely, these said people, and other “famous for being famous” entities, are at the spotlight because of us. We have been more interested on the lives of these famous people rather than how or why they have become famous. It’s no longer a convention to have to do anything discernible, or have any considerable talent to be famous.

“Famous for being famous” was initially coined by Malcolm Muggeridge, an author, journalist, and a World War II spy. He defined it in the introduction of a book he wrote in 1967 that, “In the past, if someone was famous for being notorious, it was for something –  as a writer or an actor or a criminal; for some talent or distinction or abomination. Today one is famous for being famous. People who come up to one in the street or public places to claim recognition nearly always say:’I’ve seen you on the telly!'”. Muggeridge basically foretold pop culture in 2016. A lot has changed since then, but it has never been so evident as nearly half of the truly “famous for being famous” has featured in their own TV reality programmes. There’s always social media, where if you’re lucky (or good looking, or lavish, or just weird) enough, you might just get adopted to the pop culture realm. But programmes like Big Brother (which we’ve always secretly wanted to enter) makes it easier than ever for regular people to have their own 15 minutes of fame. Some made the impact of their’s last a lifetime.

A darker, more upsetting illustration of being “famous for being famous” is Donald Trump and his golden fake-hair, with reality TV programme The Apprentice elevating him into pop culture as a satirical caricature of himself that, worryingly, ingrained itself into the American subconscious. He might be the biggest joke in mainstream news and media right now, but we might be looking at the next elected president of the United States, and he could very well be campaigning versus Kanye West in 2020 to win his second term.

The Kardashian-Jenner clan, and all the other famous for being famous personalities instills a newfound significance of realism in today’s art world as well as pop culture. Regardless of how they achieved the platform they have, they formulate and continue to innovate what fame is and how it’s performed to us. And the manic, uncomprehensively inventive, and theatric manner they perform their lives, which seems bizarre and revolutionary, makes every simple thing they do seem unusually different from us commoners. They’d perform fame to us in a way that has never been done before – open and accessible for the whole world to see and resonate with, the perfect pop culture icons in the age of oversharing.


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