Keeping Up With the Kardashians
Since its debut in 2007, E! Entertainment's reality series Keeping Up With the Kardashians has become one of the most successful ongoing reality series, resulting in seven seasons and at least three successful spin-off series. As a result, it represents one of the most prominent representations of Armenians in America, and can offer some insight into the representation of Armenians in general. Examining the first episode of the entire series and evaluating the implications of the show on the representations of Armenians in Los Angeles can help reveal how the show interprets the interpersonal relationships of the family it covers, as well as the way in which the publicity and public relations related to the show can actually serve to liberate Armenians by celebrating their ethnic heritage while appreciating its place in the larger media and cultural landscape of America.
The first episode of the entire series is an excellent example of the show's overall dynamic because of the way it focuses on both the family's history and relationships as well as the career of the ostensible star, Kim Kardashian. The show opens with Kris Jenner, the matriarch of the family, making fun of the size of Kim's butt, saying that she has extra "junk in her trunk," while the rest of the family laughs. This first scene is immediately followed by an introductory montage where each of the central characters introduce themselves. Kim begins by telling the audience "welcome to my family." Next is Khloe Kardashian, who says "my sisters say I'm a bitch, but I always have their best interest at heart." Khloe is followed by Kourtney the oldest of the Kardashian sisters. She introduces herself by saying that she is "the oldest and the most mature." Kris Jenner then characterizes her role as "the mom and Kim's manager," before introducing her husband, Bruce Jenner.
After the brief introduction of Kris and Bruce's youngest children, Kim describes her family as "the modern day Brady Bunch with a kick," with "a lot of baggage that comes with [them] but its like Louis Vuitton baggage: you always want it." This is followed by the introductory sequence which is included in the rest of the episodes, which features the family having a glamorous photo shoot on a roof before the roof is revealed to be a backdrop in front of their home in Calabasas, a wealthy suburb of Los Angeles, which constitutes one of the two main settings for the show. Kim's mention of the Brady Bunch is not simply for show; it actually applies, because like the Brady Bunch, the Kardashian family includes children from two marriages: Kris' first marriage to Robert Kardashian, a lawyer most famous for defending OJ Simpson, and her current marriage to Bruce Jenner, the patriarch of the show. Kim, Kourtney, Khloe and Rob, their brother, are all from Kris' first marriage, while Kylie and Kendall are from the second marriage. However, while only the older sisters and Rob are actually named Kardashian, the title of the series generally refers to the whole family.
The show generally takes place in a variety of locations, but the two most central settings are the family's home in Calabasas and the clothing store D-A-S-H, which is co-owned by Kourtney, Khloe, and Kim. In addition to the family and the various love interests of the Kardashian children which pop up throughout the series, the show often features a number of supporting cast members, from friends to stylists to plastic surgeons. The pilot episode does not feature as many of these supporting cast members as the rest of the series, but Bruce's experience getting his hair cut and the frequent presence of Kim's best friend Brittny Gastineau is at least representative of the kind of interactions which occur between the family members and those in supporting roles, both in terms of their screen time in the series and the particular service they provide (Gastineau and her family were also featured in their own reality series, The Gastineau Girls, which aired for two season, from 2005 to 2006). The inclusion of these additional characters serves to simultaneously diversify the cast as well as demonstrate the nature of the family's sometimes ostentatious lifestyle, which is a central focus of the series. Furthermore, the family's friends are often celebrities in their own right, which offers a kind of cross-branding, especially in the case of those celebrities with their own reality shows or product lines, such as clothing or perfume.
The first episode, entitled "I'm Watching You," has three central plot lines, because like most "reality" shows, each episode is actually carefully edited to draw out and shape a few distinct story lines from the entirety of the subject's lives. The first plot follows the planning and execution of a party celebrating Kris and Bruce's sixteen year wedding anniversary, while the second central plot focuses on Kim Kardashian's upcoming appearance on The Tyra Banks Show, and in particular, the likelihood of Tyra Banks asking her about the leaked sex tape featuring her and her former boyfriend, R&B singer Ray J, which aside from being Paris Hilton's close friend, was one of the things which initially led to Kim's widespread fame. Kim is reluctant at first, but ultimately decides that the chance to "set the record straight" is worth the potential discomfort. The final plot line focuses on the relationship between Kourtney Kardashian and her boyfriend Scott, whom Kris disapproves of due a belief that Scott has cheated on Kourtney in the past. The episode weaves these three story lines into each other, with footage interspersed with commentary by the characters as they discuss their emotions and thoughts during the sequences immediately preceding.
The party goes off relatively smoothly, except for the fact that Kris and Kourtney accidentally get drunk beforehand while trying out a variety of wines and liquors to serve at the party. The party also features Kris' attempts to drive a wedge between Kourtney and Scott by highlighting the difference in their ages, claiming that they likely have different intentions regarding the future of their relationship. Scott rebuffs her attempts, but Kris ultimately attempts to suggest that Scott has cheated on Kourtney in a roundabout way, which creates a fairly awkward environment. Although not prominent enough to be considered a full fledged plot line, the party also features a recurring theme where Kendall and Kylie Jenner, the youngest members of the family, engage in various behaviors the parents deem unsuitable due to their age, such as dancing on the stripper pole Kim has bought Kris and Bruce for their anniversary, or serving cocktails to party guests. As the party winds down the show features a conversation between Kim and Khloe where it is revealed that Kim's appearance on Tyra will be her first television interview.
Following the conclusion of the party, the show wraps up its other two central plot lines by following Kim's preparations for the interview and including the initial discussion of Kim's sex tape, which appears to go relatively well. Kris' concerns about Scott are alleviated in a surprising twist, because when she finally talks about her belief that Scott has cheated on Kourtney, Kourtney reveals that she is already aware of what Kris is talking about, and that she and Scott had not actually been dating at the time. The episode concludes with Kim and Brittny going shopping, and the family discussing how the interview went, before ending in group hug between the sisters.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Keeping Up With the Kardashians is the degree to which the show focuses on the relatively close, healthy relationships between the three older sisters. While they all have wildly different personalities, they generally cooperate fairly well and demonstrate a warmth and generosity that sets the show apart from many other series which follow the exploits of a celebrity family, such as The Osbournes or Hogan Knows Best. Their close relationship undoubtedly stems from their business relationship, and this can be seen in the way that D-A-S-H functions as setting for the action of the show, because it offers a special location in which the relationships between the sisters are fleshed out.
Although some episodes focus more heavily on the store itself, such as when the sisters give a makeover to a homeless man living behind the shop, the first episode is a useful example of how the store functions more generally as a meeting space outside of their home. Even though the sisters are frequently with each other, the interactions differ slightly depending on whether they are at the home or in the store, because the two locations carry slightly different connotations. The house serves to highlight the family as a whole, and as such Kendall, Kylie, and Bruce appear much more frequently in these scenes (even if Bruce generally says very little compared to his wife and stepdaughters). The store, on the other hand, highlights the relationship between the sisters relatively independent of…