Keeping Up With the Kardashians has become one of the most popular and successful reality TV shows in history. In fact, the show is currently on its 13th season and tenth year on television. Yet, if you Google search the show you will see that the show’s ratings are far from perfect. Does 2.8/10 seem like the ratings one of the most successful shows on television should have? How can a show be on the air for 13 seasons and have such low ratings? Something doesn’t seem to be adding up.
I’d like to dissect this show further. In order to do this thoroughly, I would have to do a textual analysis of the show/a season of the show.
How does this series portray femininity?
The main characters of this show are six women. As the Season 13 Poster would suggest, all exhibit characteristics and qualities that are traditionally “feminine”. All are beautiful, well dressed, and put together. From what I have seen of the show, it is not a stretch to say that the women are obsessed with their images. They want to be the skinniest, the sexiest, the youngest looking, the healthiest, etc. Much of the show revolves around these aspects of the women’s lives. They appear to be extremely vain. But that should be expected of celebrities, right? Or is that what we should expect from all women?
Although it is not traditional for successful TV shows to have so many women as the main characters, this show contains many of the traditional roles of women in television. The women are often in conflict with one another (catty stereotype and overly emotional stereotype of women), involved or trying to be involved in a romantic relationship (women dependent on men), or trying to improve their appearance (vain stereotype of women). I challenge you to try to find one episode in this series that doesn’t have at least one of the scenarios listed above in it. This show thrives on the dramatization of stereotypes of women. Thus, the characters themselves are forced to be hyper-feminine to fit in the rigid traditional gender roles. The Kardashians are actively “doing” gender roles.
This shouldn’t be surprising. Television has been hyper-femininzing women since its birth. The textbook Media Messages by Linda Holtzman and Leon Sharpe gives in depth analysis of femininity and women in television. They explain, “By and large, female characters in prime time are likely to be knee-deep in interpersonal roles that involve romance, family, and friends” (110). Sound familiar?
The film Miss Representation also gives an excellent analysis of how women are portrayed in popular media. The film comes to the similar conclusions: women are hyper-feminized and hyper-sexualized to sell products/gain viewers/keep ratings. Is that what Keeping Up With the Kardashians does? Absolutely! And on top of that, they’re doing it extremely well and making millions of dollars off of viewers who can’t wait to tune in next time to see how the fight between Kourtney and Kim plays out, or how Khloe’s date went, or how Kylie’s lip injection session went, etc.
Keeping Up With the Kardashians has been so successful because it reinforces gender roles and concepts of femininity that we are all familiar with thanks to television. It will continue to be successful until society as whole stops believing gender roles or that women are defined by certain actions.
Hopefully that day will come. But in the meantime, you may have to watch season 50 of Keeping Up With the Kardashians.