© Copyright 2018 Michelle So, Ryerson University.
This paper focuses on Kylie Jenner and her life as a celebrity through Reality Television. Historically speaking, the Kardashian and Jenner sisters rose to fame after the fallout of their breakout star, Kim, as the victim of a released intimate video led to the family to acquire their own reality show. Through Ryan Seacrest Productions, a camera crew has followed the clan for over a decade day in and day out. Sadly however, the daunting life of consistently being documented and thus scrutinized has been addressed as something that they’ve “signed up for” (Seacrest, Keeping Up With the Kardashians) while most of the Kardashians’ children have not, thus leading to the children of the older sisters -whom have been in their thirties when filming commenced- being left out of the show as much as possible. In relation to such, the show began in 2007, when Kylie Jenner was just ten years old implying that she did not have the understanding nor the authority to sign off on being on a reality show for “as long as she could remember” (Seacrest, Keeping Up With the Kardashians) mainly her entire upbringing. Kylie has since become a cultural tastemaker and can be considered a celebrity. This paper plans on exploring the meaning of being a celebrity as well as the rise of reality television in mainstream culture under the scope of Jenner’s life.
What Is A Celebrity?
Kylie Jenner can easily be considered a celebrity in many facets owing her being well-known to her strong social media presence as well as her long-running appearance on Keeping Up With The Kardashians. However, before labelling someone a celebrity, one must first ask the question of what is conditional for receiving said title, and also ask if low-culture media (such as reality television) can be considered real medium for becoming a celebrity. Some scholars argue that “in recent decades the meaning of a celebrity has altered and is now often applied to those who are famous for being famous.” (Furedi, 493) Such notions are applicable to the Kardashian-Jenner family having once cited that Kim “bought her a career” in reference to one of her other sisters and how she was the springboard for their rise to the media’s attention through the incitement of their docu-series/ reality show. According to Frank Furedi in Celebrity Culture, “It is evident that celebrity status is in some sense a marker of authority and that its influence transcends the world of day-time cable television and at least indirectly influences all sections of society.” (493) Furedi’s assertion on the meaning of celebrity thus creates the first condition for being given such a title. One must have influence and authority to be called a celebrity.
However, the conditions for such have changed as time has passed.“Whereas the first group gained their status through their superior talents and abilities the second have been manufactured and made famous through media publicity. Today’s celebrity is not simply a well-known person but a product of a cultural industry devoted to the fabrication of interchangeable stars. Critics of this process point to the trivialisation of public life through the assembly line production of instant celebrities. Others positively endorse the opportunities afforded by the mass production of celebrity status and represent it as a positive egalitarian development for providing access to fame to ordinary people.” (Furedi, 493)
The above again creates new conditions for warranting the title of celebrity. Now, to be called a celebrity, one must be well-known, a product of our current cultural industry, and must transcend class distinctions in terms of one’s level of ability to relate to said celebrity. In application to Jenner as a celebrity, she seems to fulfill all requirements warranting the title of, and cultural implications associated to celebrity. She is very well-known, shown through having record-breaking amounts of followers on various platforms of social media. She is a product of the current prominent genre of media, the show itself then creates a relatable narrative where the camera crew follow the family around behaving as any other family does making her relatable. Just like everybody else, the clan has family dinners, they fight, and they have jobs (albeit more glamorous ones than the norm), and they are even able to reflect on their actions as well as explain their thoughts in their narrations/ explanations of certain events.
The Rise of Low-Culture Art
Needless to say, reality television is not considered the upper echelon of culture. In fact, it can be regarded as one of the lower forms of entertainment/ art if we were to rank them. In light of such, the rise of reality television into mainstream culture remains a subject of discussion as it is a low-culture medium of entertainment but can still be widely talked about. One must question the reasons by which many people become fascinated by such forms of entertainment. In reference to Ferudi, reality television and it’s ability to focus attention on select individuals may create talking points for the general populous as people can be argued to be inherently gossip-driven. “Celebrities, especially the manufactured ones serve as the focus for gossip and exchange of information. Such gossip is not simply part of an isolated and arbitrary exchange between individuals but an integral constituent of a culture in which the narratives of everyday life are frequently recycled through conversations about celebrities. As Jane Johnson, a reporter for the popular British celebrity publication Closer observed: “celebrity gossip is a national obsession and a unifying experience across all social groups”.” (494) In relation to such, Jenner’s life has been made available and through word-of-mouth has become a talking point in plebeian life. People follow her social media and watch her on her family’s show so they have something to talk about. This argument is representative of the multiple times she’s been brought up in university courses as well as in common conversations crossing the cultural borders as she reaches both academics as well as regular people.
Especially considering the platform of reality television, Jenner has been able to reach people on a more personal level as her show only depicts her as she is rather than having her play a character in a fictional narrative. Reality television attributes to people’s need to connect and relate to the ‘reality’ of situations rather than the simulation of such.“The commodification of celebrity culture both fuels and responds to a market for new but readily recognisable and reassuringly familiar celebrities. The creation and commodification of celebrities has itself become a source of popular fascination. Reality television self consciously constructs or invents celebrities in front of an audience. Indeed the audience is expressly afforded the opportunity to choose soon-to—be celebrities. Through this ritualised form of participation the public is encouraged to identify with and invest significant emotional capital in their chosen contestants… people’s fascination and interest with celebrities as possessing the potential to connect with public life. The very fact that many celebrities are in many respects ordinary individuals, who have been forced to confront the normal problems faced by everyday folk is sometimes represented as an example of democratising public discourse.” (Furedi, 494-495)
Also under the scope of reality television, the genre is notoriously known for it’s scandalous and eccentric subjects, and Keeping Up With The Kardashians is no exception. In the show itself, the family is known to have been so scandalous and rowdy that the camera crew for the pilot episode of the series cited that it was hard to “keep up” with them thus inciting the show’s name. Episodes have shown controversial matters such as fistfights between sisters, and Kylie Jenner, as young as ten years old, swinging on a stripper pole creating narratives that people will love to hate, and love to talk about thus attributing to the family’s rise to the spotlight. “Like so many other conspicuous young women, they are delivered to us by the media via a compelling narrative that often implicates us, the consumers, in a public evaluation. So spectacularization often takes on a moral character. We can tut-tut over LiLo’s latest contretemps and wonder out loud what she should do to make amends; and every time we pontificate about her downfall, it serves to keep her at the forefront of our consciousness, which is where all modern celebrities strive to be.” (Cashmore, 307)
Women and Their Lot In Celebrity Life
It is interesting to note that Kylie Jenner has brothers who appear on the show but are not given the same amount of attention despite having their fair share of scandals. Brody Jenner and Robert Kardashian Jr both have had major scandals, one in impregnating the family’s number one enemy, and the other in badmouthing the family on multiple occasions. However, neither brothers have been given the same amount of attention as there has been on the women of the family. The family’s women have been scrutinized more deeply than the men showing the general public’s inherent harshness on women as a whole.“Projansky also deals more generically with the manner in which the media cycles girls and young women. At work is a “simultaneous adoration and denigration” (97), a phrase that conveys what seems like a paradox, but which is in fact a perfectly compatible coupling: there is something deeply agreeable about criticizing, even disparaging someone we once admired, venerated and even loved–and perhaps still do.” (Cashmore, 307)
We must also note that Kylie and her sister Kendall have been sexualized at very young ages and have continued to be sexualized even today. The level of scrutiny placed on their bodies as well as their sex-appeals have been palpable throughout their early teens through to their twenties. The two young women have not only been sexualized but also have been the centre of many scandals thus leading to more attention on them. “Media turn girls into spectacles—visual objects on display,” emphasizes Projansky (5). Some are rendered fabulous (Projansky’s word), and are afforded coverage because of their intelligence, athletic abilities, and self-confidence, while others are worthy of attention because they are at the centre of scandals.” (Cashmore, 306) The two young women have come under fire for many things from their choice to be in certain ad campaigns to their stylizing choices in everyday life. We as a gossip-driven, scrutinizing public forget that they are just young women who are trying to figure life out who are allowed to make mistakes. In wake of the forgiving regard one may give to a young person of the same age who isn’t famous, Kylie and Kendall have been chastised with the phrase “they should have known better” assuming that celebrities should know everything and be aware of the infinite ways one can be offensive regardless of their level of naivety or the fact that life is a learning experience and that people make mistakes. Kendall and Kylie have become sexual objects, and scandalous spectacles rather than people.
A Person As A Product For Consumption
In her guardians having signed off for her to be present on a reality show from her youth. Kylie was unknowingly thrusted into the world of celebrity and celebrity-shaming in which she has become more product than person. Kylie has cited many times on the show that she felt that she was not meant for this life and that it was placed upon her. In relation to such, she has also noted that her years of continuously being watched and scrutinized have placed pressure on her to project a certain lifestyle and persona that isn’t representative of who she feels she really is. In other words, she feels like a product and that she has to deliver the Kylie Jenner brand at all times. “It’s a dirty job, but someone has to get rich beating rival hacks to sleaze, splatter, and scandal stories about young women. After all, it is a question of supply and demand. We—the consumers, fans, audience, or guiltless voyeurs—want ever more prurient tales of the people we elevate to fame, and we want them not tomorrow but as they unfold. “ (Cashmore, 306)
As the voyeurs of a reality show/ docu-series, we enter the spectatorship with a notion that we are owed the intricate details of Jenner’s life. In many cases, the audience projects an obligation to share everything with them. However, while most celebrities are given the basic freedom of privacy in small doses, the Keeping Up With The Kardashians subjects aren’t afforded the same luxury. Their choices to leave certain topics out of the show’s narrative have caused frustration in viewers as they have been spoiled by the gift of consistent ‘inside’ looks on the subjects’ lives.
In more recent events, Kylie Jenner’s pregnancy has been a subject of much debate due to the pregnancy not having been confirmed until after the baby was born. Kylie cites that she felt obligated to share her pregnancy with her followers but decided not to not out of any dark intent but out of wanting the experience to be her’s and her’s alone.
Us as consumers have created a needy narrative of always having to know everything about highly-publicized people so much so that celebrity couples feel the need to release statements when they break up. Private matters automatically have to become public in their line of work.
In certain ways, one can argue that Kylie Jenner’s pregnancy was a crucible for her to take back her agency as a human being and break out of her role as a product. Many celebrities have cited exhaustion and even disdain for the public’s fascination with their personal lives but acknowledge that they knew that this was integral in their line of work. However, in relation to reality television, and Kylie Jenner’s life, no one could have predicted that reality television was to become this popularized in the last decade, and Jenner would have no way of knowing that this was her future at age ten. Ethically, us as the consumer can’t scrutinize, nor can we seek out personal information on, someone who wasn’t given neither the choice nor the information on what her life would be.
Cashmore, Ellis. “Spectacular Girls: Media Fascination and Celebrity Culture by Sarah Projansky.” Women’s Studies, vol. 45, no.3, 2016, pp. 306-8.
Driessens, Olivier. “The Celebritization Of Society And Culture: Understanding The Structural Dynamics Of Celebrity Culture.” International Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 16, no. 6, 2013, pp. 641-57.
Furedi, Frank. “Celebrity Culture”. Society: Symposium: Celebrity Around The World, vol. 47, no. 6, 2010, pp. 493-97.
@KylieJenner. “#ad I can always count on my @sugarbearhair vitamins to help keep my natural hair healthy and strong 🐻💗+ they taste delicious! #sugarbearhair.” 24 July, 2017., https://www.instagram.com/p/BW8Llwjl6ml/?hl=en&taken-by=kyliejenner
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Our Family #MyCalvins. Calvin Klein. N/a. http://explore.calvinklein.com/en_ROW/page/projects-mycalvins-kardashian-jenner-family. Ad Campaign.
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