An article in the Guardian this week recounts a meeting with Kim Kardashian who is famous for being famous. Kardashian stars along with her family in a reality TV series Keeping up with the Kardashians, now in its seventh US season on channel E!. The premise of this very popular and heavily merchandized series is that it shows the real lives of a real family as they unfold in real time. There are substantial tensions between these ‘real lives’ and the shaping of narratives for plot development from season to season. In an interview Kim Kardashian revealed worries she had had about about the show’s narrative as Season Four approached:

I was like, ‘You guys, I don’t know that I have much more to give. I can only be myself, like … we’re so boring now, we’ve shown everything’. […] And then Khloe got married, Kourtney got pregnant and everything else just happened organically.

But her worries relate only to the narrative progression of the show, and altogether deflect any tension between the family’s lives and their presentation on TV. Indeed where the tension begins to surface it is diffused by turns of phrase like “everything else just happened organically.” Indeed it seems irrelevant to wonder whether or not Khloe got married and Kourtney got pregnant to keep the show interesting—as the context suggests—as it becomes impossible to gauge the limits of the tableau they present.

This ambiguity bleeds into the social relationships of the cast. Kim is currently dating prominent musician Kanye West, who “will appear intermittently” in the next season of the show: she reports that they are taking their relationship “season by season”. She anticipates that she would allow her children to appear on the show but no more than her toddler nephew who “can come in and say hi/bye, and that’s it:” he “isn’t allowed to drive story lines”.

Of her success Kim explains “I mean, acting and singing aren’t the only ways to be talented. It’s a skill to get people to really like you for you, instead of a character written for you by somebody else.”

Questions arising:

  • What are the limits of the tableau here? If it is limitless, is the term ‘tableau’ useful?
  • Which elements differentiate the Kardashian brand structure from the Emin brand structure? What is the role of Emin’s gallery artworks in this differentiation?
  • Does the Kardashian show shift onto the viewer the responsibility of managing the tension between reality and representation? Is the site of responsibility the same in the non-specialist negative reception of Emin’s artworks like ‘My Bed’ (2000)? If so, is the site of responsibility any different in Emin’s more recent artwork?

Kim Kardashian: my life as a brand. Text: Emma Brockes. Photograph: Danielle Levitt
Accessed at 14:16 on 12.09.2012