TV Killed The Reality Star
I grew up secretly watching The Simple Life (starring Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie), My Super Sweet 16, and other weird shows which may or may have not been screened on the MTV channel when my parents were still at work. Us, 20-somethings, are a part of a generation who saw the rise and fall of daytime TV shows and, with that, reality shows. In 2017, we no longer see television sets as a household necessities. For some reason, it seems less rational to invest in a set of expensive equipment which takes up space in an already-small apartment, than it is to pay for a monthly Netflix subscription. Not only is this because millennials cannot afford the kind of house that baby boomers had (plenty of space for your comically-massive TV set, at least for the 2017 standards) but also prefer the liberty of choosing what they want to watch — not skipping between channels, noticing that there’s nothing really on and that one intellectually-demanding show only starts in 2 hours, and reluctantly settling for watching two rich girls pretend to be working-class. Speaking of Paris Hilton, The Simple Life gave way to one of the biggest reality TV stars of all time — Kim Kardashian (at that time a very minor character). A decade later, despite reality shows decreasing in popularity, their ratings drowning and being carried away by the current of clichés, Keeping Up With The Kardashians manages to keep its head above the surface of the water. The family has suffered some cancellations as well — Kardashian spinoffs which focused on Taking [insert late-aughts “cool” destination, such as Miami, New York, the Hamptons] are long gone. Rob and Chyna, a recent attempt on monetising a subplot of the Kardashian clan, was not only flop, but also one as short-lived as Chyna’s and Kardashian’s actual relationship. Thus, one can say that reality shows (those which are unavailable on Netflix) are unsuccessful in establishing a connection with 2017 viewers, just like Paris and Nicole failed to save their iconic friendship.
What is the sense of Keeping Up With The Kardashians? No one watches it to Keep Up. Dedicated fans of the Kardashian-Jenner family already know the plot of the show months before it actually airs on E! Entertainment. In fact, it is not even a recap of what the paparazzi deliver to the pages of The Daily Mail, but even older news. The reason behind that is as simple as the rise of social media. When Keeping Up With The Kardashians first aired in 2007 (quite ironically, a few months after The Simple Life was inevitably and tragically cancelled), Facebook was just 3 years old and definitely not quite as popular as it is now. Snapchat and Instagram were unthought of, unimaginable, all we had was a lame account on MySpace where we attempted to chat up our middle school idols. Nowadays, we have not only grown up, but also acquired some self-respect and downloaded a few apps which let us “like” celebrities’ photos and activities, while also knowing about them more than ever. Although I can understand Instagram as a way of promoting a show (one can upload trailers, promotional shots, behind-the-scene pics), Snapchat seems to be getting in the way by not only giving away spoilers (it’s nearly-live, it’s a video), but also by being plain dangerous — Kylie Jenner regularly snaps while driving one of her many Ferraris. Nevertheless, it seems like all reality stars own an Instagram account, whether they are 14 like Dance Mom’s Maddie Ziegler or 53 years old like Real Housewives of Miami’s Yolanda Hadid (mother of models Gigi and Bella). One may even claim that their social media accounts help them gather an audience for the weekly show — if not for their profile, would those celebrities even be real?
When it comes to Keeping Up With The Kardashians, fans get to experience every Kardashian-Jenner events not only live (by following the sisters on Instagram and Snapchat, definitely their main social media outlets), but also relive the moment twice — in the news, which usually publish the story a few hours after it happened, and then, finally, the TV show, which airs a few weeks or months later. But the real question stands: why do people bother watching the reality show, when it’s just a repetition of what they already know?
One possible explanation is that the audience, especially the biggest Kardashian-Jenner fans, want to simply relive the moment. For example, when the earlier-mentioned Robert Kardashian Jr. started dating Blac Chyna, it caused a level of drama which rarely appears on any daytime show (because honestly, who dates their younger sibling’s significant other’s ex-partner?). An event like that, in reality show reality, happens once every few months. And this genre of television survives on the high ratings they can garner from such (actually pretty seldom) affairs. Therefore, it is definitely appealing to some viewers to relive the moment a few months later, whether it is out of sheer boredom or some personal nostalgia connected to the Kardashian-Jenners which I do not really understand.
Another reason for this phenomenon is that the Kardashian women are smart, and never reveal all the details at once — like an ace up their Balmain sleeves. Celebrity gossip readers saw Kim struggle through her two pregnancies, Kourtney manage to raise a family with her estranged partner, and Kylie break up with her much-older boyfriend (multiple times). Those kinds of headlines hit the contemporary, digital newsstands on a daily basis. Nevertheless, when the new season of the show finally airs, the episodes provide a different, arguably more personal view on those highly-publicised events. Not only are they discussed by the actors themselves (often in personal interviews), but the cameramen manage to portray a much more extensive view of the situation, whether it is a VIP backstage area at a Kanye West show, or during a family banter in the privacy of a homely kitchen (over Kourtney’s gluten-free breakfasts). Therefore, however public the Kardashians may be, they pride themselves in their guarded privacy — very few people can walk into their homes. Physically, that is. Because somehow I have a vague idea that there’s a whole nation out there that knows the exact layout of Khloe’s house.
Nowadays, everyone can live their own reality show, without needing to sign a deal with MTV or E!. With so many (free) outlets available, one can narrate their life just like they want to. It is not necessarily bad, it is just one of the things that define the 2010s, and make it different from the reality show-crazed aughts. People over 45 tend to put down the current youth just because they do things differently than their parents. So why should we, 20-somethings who have seen it all (when it comes to bad MTV programmes), care about their spiteful criticism of Snapchat filters? The end of reality TV might be here, but don’t let anyone snatch that spotlight from you.