When future historians study these troubled times, they will marvel at the relentless rise of sea levels, strongman politics and Kardashians. The fame-babies of a double murder (their father Robert Kardashian represented O. J. Simpson), the Kardashians and their extension pack, the Jenners, morphed from Los Angeles socialites into seemingly inevitable magnets of scandal, desire and money. Kim set the pace with a leaked sex tape in 2007, teaching the clan to cheerfully break the boundaries of good taste and common sense, to absorb the energy of the world’s criticism and translate it into cash. Keeping Up with the Kardashians, a reality show centred on the lives and careers of the family, first aired in late 2007 and is now in its sixteenth series. In 2014, Kim posed for Paper Magazine holding a champagne bottle, the foamy liquid squirting over her head and into the glass perched on her extended backside. Critics noted the channelling of the eighteenth-century Khoikhoi woman Sara “Saartjie” Baartman and debated whether Kim understood that she was the butt of an old racist joke. That year she made $28 million, overtaking Meryl Streep, Stephen King and J. K. Rowling on Forbes’s list of highest-paid celebrities. Her little sister, meanwhile, plumped her lips with filler, lied about it, and became the unwitting namesake of the “Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge”, in which masses of people pressed their lips into shot glasses, sucked as hard as possible, and then recoiled in horror at their own self-mutilation. Kylie responded by selling lipstick and, at twenty-one, quietly became the world’s youngest billionaire. No doubt the gang’s current racket hawking laxative teas, diet lollipops and candy-coloured vitamins will leap right over the naysayers and fuddy-duddys to reach the kids who can truly appreciate it. Like Antaeus drawing his fighting strength from the earth, the family is invigorated by Mother Notoriety, growing more powerful every time it seems to fall.
The Kardashian-Jenners have all the external trappings of charisma without its sacred core. This makes them useful for understanding the phenomenon of celebrity, much as a body whose soul has departed is handier for studying anatomy. They are famous for being famous, but why, after all, are they famous? Why, of all the personal stylists, exhibitionists and rich kids in Calabasas, CA, did they become such magnets for attention? You may not be one of Kim’s 143 million Instagram followers but you do know who she is….[ ]