The only video game I have ever spent money on is “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood.” The 2014 role-playing saga was an enticing exploration into celebrity culture: players entered a fame-obsessed world of tabloid drama and invasive photographers, navigating the E-list in hopes of ascending to the upper echelons of celebrity royalty. For my 13 year-old self, spending real money on the game was a gateway into the Kardashian reality — a reality that, with the impending cancellation of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” is now uncertain.
In an Instagram post shared Sept. 8, Kim Kardashian announced that the reality show would be ending after its 20th season.
“Without ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians,’ I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Kardashian wrote. “I will be forever in debt to everyone who played a role in shaping our careers.”
Reactions were mixed. Piers Morgan, a British television host and frequent critic of the family, said that: “This is a rare moment in a horrible year when we should come together as a country in a moment of national jubilation.” Others proposed that Kris Jenner, the family matriarch and momager, should join the cast of “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” But the most popular reaction among fans was that this was inevitable: that the Kardashian cable empire was destined to collapse.
So why was the show canceled, and why did we all see it coming?
Though members of the family have yet to provide any reasons, it’s clear that the show became a vestigial feature in the larger scope of the Kardashian industrial complex. From a numbers perspective, ratings were down: viewership peaked in the Season 4 finale in 2010 with 4.8 million total viewers, whereas the most recent episode had only 810,000 viewers.
In a broader context, the show’s demise corresponds to the changing dynamics of what it means to be a celebrity and cable TV’s diminishing role in it. When “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” first aired in 2007, cable TV was at its peak and social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter had yet to gain relevancy. In an attempt to maximize Kim’s 15 minutes of fame following the release of her sex tape, the show became a refreshing way to indulge in the personal dramas of a rich family. Without the exposure of social media, “Keeping Up” was an entertaining way to keep in touch with America’s most controversial family.
But streaming services like Netflix and Disney+ are monopolizing the entertainment industry, and cable TV is now an expensive burden. The popularization of social media has provided the Kardashians with a separate platform to build their brand, garner million dollar sponsorships and argue with Taylor Swift. With their scandals immediately gaining traction over social media, the show became an outdated method of relaying drama six months after it happened.
Some say that the Kardashians don’t need “Keeping Up.” In an age where Snapchat stock lost $1.3 billion after Kylie tweeted that she doesn’t use Snapchat anymore, the Kardashians wield tremendous power in redefining celebrity, beauty standards and entrepreneurship. Kim and Kylie each own multimillion dollar cosmetics companies; Khloe heads a denim brand, Good American; Kourtney hangs out with TikTok star Addison Rae for some reason; Kendall remains one of the highest paid supermodels; and Rob, of course, has a novelty sock company.
With “Keeping Up,” the Kardashians established a cultural stronghold on celebrity status. Through the show, they manipulated their narratives, attracted unanimous public attention and carefully carved out their brand. Now that this part of their legacy is over, they have translated their raunchy authenticity into lucrative businesses and brand deals.
“Their relevance is not on TV,” a partner at brand consultancy Prophet said. “They are absolute brand marketers, and that’s what they exist for. They don’t necessarily need television to do that.”
If there’s anything the Kardashians can do, it’s follow trends. As cable TV becomes virtually obsolete, maybe their next venture will be Netflix. Remember: the Devil works hard, but Kris Jenner works harder.
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