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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Owen

The Kardashian Brand

Much like Marmite, Primark and the notion of vaccine passports, the topic of the Kardashians has the power to split a room into two storgic camps, frothing at the mouth to tell you, before you’ve even asked, why they are for or against.

In one camp we have the Kardashian fans: the ones who could tell you the names – and more importantly, the survival times – of each of Kim’s husbands. The ones who could list every child, ranking them by how uniquely (read: obscurely) they are named – surely ‘Chicago West’ takes the crown…no child should have a name that could double up as a constituency.

And then you have the other camp: those who, with much self-congratulation, will proudly announce that they have never seen an episode of the Kardashians. That they would not waste a second of their lives rotting their brains with that drivel, because such low-brow trash is beneath them. To their reckoning, paying attention or developing an interest in the lives of the Kardashian clan is indicative of an unintelligent, limited mind that does not have the education, or perhaps ability, to consume the civilized material enjoyed by those with a more sophisticated palette.

If you belong to the latter camp, lower your Sunday Times, turn down Radio 4 and open your mind for just a second, because this air of superiority is misplaced.

To actively avoid educating yourself on the seismic cultural shift generated by brand Kardashian, is to purposefully deprive yourself of an understanding as to how Western culture took an almighty handbrake turn. Brand Kardashian has taken a sledgehammer to popular culture, transforming the notion of celebrity and irreversibly revolutionizing the marketing industry on a global scale, and yet there remain people who positively puff out their chests as they brag that they do not know who the Kardashians are. This pride in having a gap in one’s knowledge of Western culture is a pyrrhic victory for snobbishness. Congratulations, you are too intellectual to be consumed by such tripe. But the price you have paid is that you have chosen not to understand one of the most powerful influences on today’s cultural landscape.

The figurehead of brand Kardashian, Kim, has a story that defies the laws of modern-day patriarchy. Back when she was simply ‘Paris Hilton’s friend’, before the press deemed her worthy of her own name, she was the victim of a sex tape leak which would, still by today’s standards, normally close the book on a woman’s career. According to patriarchal structures within which we all operate, she should have been thrown onto the heap with the other silly, humiliated, foolish girls whose sexual currency was now worthless because she had exhausted her capacity for objectification. Her career should have been finished. Gone. Over. Fast forward to 2021, and Kim alone sits on a cool $1 billion in the bank, earned by monetizing a brand that has defined a generation.

If the brand’s economic power is not enough to convince you of brand Kardashian’s cultural significance, then consider the family’s unparalleled ability to shape, or even flip, a narrative. We normally attribute successful spin to strategists within the political arena, however the dexterity with which the Kardashians have managed public perception of their brand in the face of controversies would be enviable to most political campaigners. In fact, their grip on public perception is so firm, that they have become immune to the cancel culture which has unpicked the careers of many more revered figures.

The most obvious example of this spin is the way in which Kim is lionized as a female icon, despite her brand avariciously capitalizing on the insecurities of other women whilst simultaneously toying with cultural appropriation in the name of ‘fashion’. She even attempted to name her shapewear brand ‘Kimono’ and was asked by the mayor of Kyoto to retract the trademark application, on the grounds of respect for Japanese heritage. Was she cancelled? No. The re-branded shapewear line ‘Skims’ sold out within less than sixty seconds of its online launch.

Kylie had visibly obvious cosmetic work carried out on her face, the most significant alteration being the enlargement of her lips. She then tried to attribute her plumper pout to nothing more than a ‘lip kit’ – a set of glosses, lipsticks and liners – which, as luck would have it, she was now selling for a premium so that other girls could magically grow their lips ‘surgery-free’ like her. Was she cancelled for selling such an obvious lie to impressionable young women? No. She became the youngest ever ‘self-made’ billionaire.

Kendall became the face of an ad which saw her walk through a crowd of people of colour at a protest and quell the confrontation with the police by simply proffering a can of Pepsi. The ad was a literal depiction of white saviourism, at a time when racial tension in the USA remained on a knife edge. Was she cancelled? No. She became the highest-earning supermodel in the world.

Khloe went to jail for driving under the influence and then violating her probation. Did she get cancelled? You get the gist.

Their immunity to cancel culture is indicative of the monopolistic influence of their brand. Politicians have been booted from office, comedians have been stripped of career-defining jobs, actors with decades worth of credits have been kicked to the wasteland of disgraced unemployables at the hands of Generation Woke, yet the Kardashians cannot be cancelled. Why? Because they have not merely dominated Western culture – they have crowned themselves the monarchs of it.

You may not see yourself as a subject of the Kardashian dictatorship. Afterall, you’re not spending twenty minutes every morning wrestling your own torso into the Skims body-smoothing (read: circulation-stopping) body suit. Neither do you spend your downtime daydreaming of a world where Kourtney and Scott just stopped fannying around and worked it out once and for all. But, without a doubt, the influence of the brand has infiltrated your life, even if you are naysayer.

One of the most widespread cultural repercussions of Kardashian domination, and the one which is likely to have touched the lives of most people, has been the platform given to conversations surrounding the trans community. In 2015, Caitlyn Jenner sent out shockwaves amongst the world’s media, when announcing to the world that she is a trans woman. Caitlyn, step-father to the older Kardashians and father to the younger Jenner sisters, became the world’s most-recognisable trans woman. Her iconic portrait on the cover of Vanity Fair broke Newsstand records, thus propelling the subject of trans rights and acceptance into mainstream discourse.

I have to note here that prolific trans rights campaigners came before Caitlyn, many of whom have worked indefatigably to combat transphobia. The campaign to further trans rights did not start with Caitlyn, and in no way can one individual represent the views of a whole community. However, the sheer impact of Caitlyn’s announcement heightened awareness of trans people to such an extent, that mainstream media began to give the campaign the long-overdue platform it deserved. Ironically, the Kardashian sisters were not overtly supportive of Caitlyn’s announcement, however on this occasion the power of their platform excelled independently of its creators.

Unless you have been living in a cave for the past five years, you will have undoubtedly heard debate on the significance of pronouns. You’ve probably been asked to state your preferred pronouns in a meeting brief, or learned to use ‘they/them’ where appropriate. We would have reached this heightened awareness without Caitlyn’s announcement, however her platform undeniably made the campaign unavoidable to those who would have otherwise preferred to keep it in the fringes of societal debate.

You may consider yourself to be cultured because you can recite Macbeth’s ‘Tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow’ verbatim, or can list UK Prime Ministers chronologically from Disraeli to present day. But if the term ‘momager’ remains foreign to you, then a chasm in your knowledge remains. In one way or another, you are living on Planet Kardashian. You don’t have to like it, but there should be no pride taken in refusing to understand it.

Melanie Owen – Biography

Melanie is a presenter and columnist with a focus on current affairs and cultural commentary. She has featured on news discussion shows such as Channel 4 News and BBC’s The Hour. Melanie is currently a news columnist on magazine show Prynhawn Da and regularly reviews the Saturday morning papers for Radio Cymru.

Alongside her presenting and media work, Melanie is the founder and director of online blogging network House 21 and in 2020 was shortlisted by Great British Entrepreneurs for Young Entrepreneur of the Year. In 2017, Melanie graduated from Cardiff University with a degree in LLB Law & French.

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