Many years ago, one of the younger members of the Kardashian-Jenner clan got her first period. I know this not because it’s the natural course of things for most women, but because the event was a featured part of one episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. That was way back when Bruce was still Bruce and married to Kris and the clan was billing itself as a large, happy, extended and blended family.
Which woman discussed her first menstrual cycle on the show? I can’t remember now, but whomever it was (Kendall, I think) later told Oprah she wished it hadn’t been broadcast.
Can you blame her? How many of us want our childhoods discussed with even our closest relatives, let alone on a “reality” show. Of course the show’s plot was heavily edited, staged and filtered, but when you’re a preteen, you don’t control that filter, even when it involves a deeply private (and potentially embarrassing) moment of your own life.
In the beginning, I liked the Kardashians. There was an authentic core to the family. As a viewer, you knew they ran in rich circles, but they didn’t seem too rich. They came off as the middle-class kids in their ultra wealthy neighborhood, somehow relatable and down to earth. They were not a brand; they were not influencers. They weren’t Instagram stars. Instagram didn’t exist. Over time, they created a whole new genre of marketing and dominated it, but in the beginning, they were just a loud, gregarious group of people who teased their Olympic legend dad.
As the show went on, the cast seemed to hemorrhage people. Rob dropped out of sight. Kendall and Kylie made the occasional appearances but focused more on their other, probably more lucrative, endeavors. Spinoffs came and went. Despite that, Keeping Up With the Kardashians somehow stubbornly held fast to its Sunday night time slot, renewed season after season after season, in a way that’s not atypical of many modern reality shows. Dancing With the Stars, Big Brother, The Bachelor/Bachelorette, Survivor, Shark Tank…. the list goes on.
What makes KUWTK different from all of those, of course, is that you need The Kardashians at the core. There’s no revolving cast that changes from year to year. You can’t replace Kim Kardashian with Julianne Hough (DWTS) or Khloe Kardashian with Chris Sacca (Shark Tank). There’s no guest cast that can step in when they need to shake things up. Which would often leave those of us, who like to think about these things, wondering: how long can this go on? When will KUWTK finally end?
Despite news last year of a renewal through 2020 — the figure and dates are disputed as are the exact personnel who might be involved with the show — KUWTK finally has signs of fraying at the edges. Or, at least, signs the family is willing to have edited into the show. Watching last Sunday’s Season 15 premiere, tuning in, I’ll admit, largely because of the pre-episode press of Kourtney’s stated desire to step away from the program, I had the voice of Big Brother echo in my head: “You are not allowed to talk about Production.”
(Anyone who’s tuned in to Big Brother After Dark or watched the live feeds knows that when a houseguest starts chatting about the producers or the people running the show behind the walls, the Voice Over the Loudspeaker so tells them to stop, using that exact phrase, likely recorded years ago by a crew member or AD who’s long since moved on to other pastures.)
As told in the season premiere, Kourtney doesn’t want to devote her entire day to a photo shoot organized by Kim. She eventually reveals she is basically done with the entire KUWTK endeavor, saying if she had enough money she wouldn’t even film the show, and she’s embarrassed by her family’s constant public display. Her sisters don’t seem particularly sympathetic. Underneath Kim’s brutal insistence that Kourtney work her schedule around hers — Kim’s work commitments, she basically said, were more important than Kourtney’s desire to be with her three children — may have been an unspoken reasoning: the family, including Kourtney, is paid by E! to perform, i.e., let cameras follow them during set filming periods. If Kourtney doesn’t do it, she’s in essence not doing the job she was paid to do. If I’m being kind to Kim, I’d say her comments were rooted in a deep work ethic instead of pure nastiness.
Other commentators were not so kind. This was Mariah Smith in The Cut:
“Now, I’d rather have a 45-minute conversation with a hairbrush than with Kourtney Kardashian, but I really feel like her family is treating her like trash. I have two sisters, and if either of them ever spoke to me the way Kim did to her, and without remorse, all of our bodies would be at the bottom of the Hudson River. That’s not how sisters speak, and if you think sisters speak this way, then you need to chat it out with someone. I will say that my sisters and I have said some vile things to each other, but never once did we say anything that made us think the other human was vile and/or disgusting/someone I wouldn’t want to be captured on film with.”
Without a doubt, even if I want to give Kim and Khloe the benefit of the doubt, her family was treating her like trash. I, too, would sit and look at my phone and ignore them if I was in that situation as well. If I wasn’t forced to film a show, I would probably walk away.
And I hope Kourtney, when all of this season’s shenanigans are duly revealed, does walk away. Nothing would make me happier (well, in this context, certainly there are many other things in my real life that would make me happier) than to have Kourtney say Adios and fully be the human being that she wants to be.
It feels just somehow, and right. Kourtney is the oldest, the quiet one, the one into ayurvedic therapies who once had a same-sex dalliance that was explained away on the program but seemed a bit too comfortable for it to be entirely for show. She was the first to become a mother, the first to sustain a long term relationship, however rocky.
In short, Kourtney is interesting. Sorry Kim, but when you say Kourtney is the “least interesting to look at,” my guess is that Kourtney is actually the most interesting Kardashian to actually know. She’s deep, she’s real. She’s emotional, and, somehow, despite being the oldest, has long been bullied by her younger sisters. There is an instinctive, visceral delight in seeing Kourtney stand up to that bullying. She’s almost 40 now and has the right to live her own life, without having to sacrifice any of it as fodder for an empty reality program that is the only retaining wall left holding up the E! network. If the Kardashians bolt, E! will be left with Below Deck and Botched. Not that those are bad shows. Botched often made me consider getting that deviated septum surgery. But I digress.
So, go forth Kourtney Kardashian. If you “can’t commit to filming,” in the words of your younger sister, then leave. If you don’t want to do it anymore, then leave. If you’re fed up, then leave. Let E! sue you, or get a good lawyer that will make the case that you should always be able to control the filters on a show that’s based on your own life. If you can’t, then the contract was never valid to begin with.