Home > Reality Check > Kim Kardashian: A Bona-fide Franchise Despite Backlash

Kim Kardashian: A Bona-fide Franchise Despite Backlash

The Kardahsian clan aren’t just a family they are a reportedly $65 million empire. One that some people would like to see tumble. This ranges from folk forming an online boycott of their reality TV show and products to donning the Queen Kardashian, Kim, with an ill-mannered award.

Like it or not, the Kardashians have become the model for today’s new brand of celebrity in which fame is manufactured through ingenious marketing and ever-present exposure that is not associated with traditional entertainment, such as singing, acting, or playing sports.

Some refer to her as merely a television personality and a socialite, but 31-year-old Kim Kardashian “for better or worse” is a consummate personal brand—with an estimated net worth of $35 million to back it up. From her reality television series, to guest appearances on television shows and in movies, to her efforts on and offline, she has shrewdly crafted her fame and fortune.

I admit that like some critics I thought the Kardashians were a bit over exposed and had no distinct or discernible skill. But then I had to take a step back. Long before there was a reality show, Kim was making a name for herself as a stylist to the stars. That’s how she hooked up with ex-boyfriend Ray J.

The rundown is that after R&B singer Brandy appears on a worst-dressed list, Kim is hired as her personal stylist. This stint parlays into a full-time business for Kim who becomes a personal shopper to stars like Lindsay Lohan and a wardrobe stylist for television shows, magazine photo layouts and infomercials. In 2006, business is booming and, with sisters Khloé and Kourtney, Kim opens Dash, a clothing boutique in Calabasas, California.

Her only claim to fame at this point is that she is the wealthy daughter of the high-powered late defense attorney Robert Kardashian (part of O.J. Simpson’s dream team) and the stepdaughter of Olympic gold medalist athlete Bruce Jenner. And she is friends with hotel heiress and socialite Paris Hilton.

Then she begins dating Brandy’s brother, Ray J.  Their sex tape breaks out in 2007, much like with her pal Paris Hilton. The rest is history. Whereas Hilton was a sexy bad girl, Kardashian was a sexy good girl: She does not drink, does not do drugs and does not party—although she will show up at a club if she is getting paid to be photographed for appearances, states Jo Piazza, author of Celebrity Inc.: How Famous People Make Money.

After the sex tape is leaked and made public, instead of playing the victim, Kim launches her own realty show on E! Keeping Up With The Kardashians. She didn’t just seek the spotlight for herself; she brought her whole family in on it. She forms her own production company, Kimsaprincess Productions LLC, following up with a line of items—clothing, cosmetics, jewelry, and weight loss products. She rises to the top as one of the highest paid stars on reality TV, earning reportedly $40,000 per episode. But she rakes in even more money from endorsements and public appearances. She did more than turn lemons into lemonade; she turned herself into a bona fide industry.

So, where did Kim go wrong? In the court of public opinion she is guilty of saying “I do” to NBA player Kris Humprhies and then divorcing him 72 days after the fact and all for the sake—allegedly—of profiting from the fanfare ceremony. Kim is said to have brokered deals to get most of her wedding décor, food, dresses and diamond ring for free or at a deep discount. Her entire wedding pulled in an estimated $18 million, which included $500,000 to throw a bachelorette party at Tao nightclub in Las Vegas, around $16 million from E! to cover the nuptials and $500,000 to $1 million from People magazine for exclusive photos

But she isn’t the first celeb to get free wedding stuff or profit from their wedding. I remember when the then co-host of ABC’s The View Star Jones solicited freebies including bridesmaids’ gowns plus gave on-air plugs for wedding suppliers when she was marrying Al Reynolds. Reportedly Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas sold photo rights to their 2000 wedding for $1.8 million.

Getting marred in front the camera is nothing new either. There have been plenty of made-for-TV weddings, including former MTV’s The Hills stars Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag and Brady Bunch alum Christopher Knight and America’s Next Top Model Adrianne Curry. Not to mention every Bachelor and Bachelorette to get engaged in the history of the ABC shows but never actually marry (minus Trista and Ryan Sutter). In fact, The Bachelorette‘s Trista Rehn and Ryan Sutter, reportedly ABC paid $3.77 million for their 2003 wedding.

Kim Kardashian’s 72-day wedlock isn’t even at the top of the list for couples with the shortest marriage. Drew Barrymore and Jeremy Thomas were married six weeks while Mario Lopez’s marriage to Ali Landry lasted 13 days followed by 9 days each for Cher and Gregg Allman and Dennis Rodman and Carmen Electra. Britney Spears and Jason Alexander come in at 52 hours (remember the Vegas quickie) followed by Robin Givens’ marriage to Svetozar Marinkkovic for less than 24 hours before they split.

Maybe there’s something to be said that this isn’t Kim’s first. So, in 2000 at age 20 she married 30-year-old music producer Damon Thomas. Their marriage ended in a messy divorce in 2004. It took her less time obviously to realize her marriage to Humphries was “a mistake.” But for all we know, Kim may be taking the high road and not airing any dirt on Humphries. For some women all it would take to bring a marriage suddenly to an end is a physical altercation. Remember when Oprah warned Rihanna (a gal pal of Kim’s)—“if a man hits you once, he will hit you again.” There would be less hateration if there were more painful details, say, Humphries admitted he was a sex addict.

Whatever their reason, Kim has come under attack. BoycottKim.com has called for a boycott of the realty TV star, stating “we will not continue to allow Kim Kardashian to exploit the American public and media for personal and financial gain.” Over 500,000 people have signed the petition. Truth be told I would rather sign a petition that boycotted the Bachelor franchise for exploiting the public when it comes to love and marriage. For 10 years the reality show has been a “free sex for all.”

Kim also was named the most ill-mannered person of 2011 by the National League of Junior Cotillions because of her highly publicized engagement, wedding and 72-day marriage. Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, reigned supreme on the NLJC’s 2011 list of the Ten Best-Mannered Persons for “the poise and dignity with which she conducted herself in the public spotlight” before and during her eight-month marriage to Prince William.

On top of all of this, was a claim by Star magazine that items sold under the K-Dash by Kardashian label, the Kris Jenner Kollection, and Kim Kardashian Shoedazzle line are made in regions of China where factory workers are paid as little as $1 and hour and some workers are as young as 16-year-old. There is no actual proof just speculation. Of course, other famous fashionistas have been accused of using sweatshops to produce clothing. Kathy Lee Gifford ran into trouble back in 1996 with her Kathie Lee line sold at Wal-Mart as did Sean “Diddy” Combs with his Sean John line.

Despite the tons of backlash she has gotten since the quickie divorce, Kim still ranks among the top 5 most followed people on Twitter. @KimKardashian has some 12.3 million followers. Lady Gaga holds the top spot with 17.5 million followers. Next is Just Bieber with about 16 million, Katy Perry at roughly 13 million, and Brittney Spears is right behind Kim separated by 100,000 followers. Where Kim has them all beat is that she has about 9,000 tweets compared to most celebs’ couple thousand.

Kim might be laughing at her haters all the way to the bank. She recently opened Kardashian Khaos at the Mirage in Las Vegas. The new celebrity lifestyle boutique is said (by the Kardashians) to be the first celebrity concept store of its kind. E! just reported limited-edition Mattel-made Kim, Khloé and Kourtney “Dash dolls” are in the works and could be available wherever Barbies are sold later this year. And the New York Post wrote the Kardashians approached American Media Inc—parent company to Star, The National Enquirer, Shape and Playboy—about publishing their own glossy magazine.

Until now I was pretty much apathetic towards Kim and the Kardashian clan—although I was fond of brother Rob on Dancing With The Stars. But after all the latest uproar, I’m joining the Kim Twitter pack. Next Christmas I may even add a Kim Dash doll to my mantel next to a Kimora Lee Simmons Barbie doll.

—Carolyn M. Brown

Categories: Reality Check
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