Keeping Up With the Kardashians Is a Study in the Business of Sisterhood

Keeping Up With the Kardashians Is a Study in the Business of Sisterhood
Image:Dimitrios Kambouris (Getty Images)

I am the oldest of four sisters, all of whom live in New York. Though life often gets in the way, we manage to find time for each other, heaving ourselves out of our respective lives and apartments, and joining forces to eat food and pick fights in public. Recent extenuating circumstances have curtailed our gatherings, which in the past year have been scattershot and planned. We managed to get together for each holiday, though Thanksgiving was a brief mimosa brunch in a backyard and our annual Christmas gift exchange occurred in the Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, outside of a Starbucks, and concluded in my sister’s Jeep, after the three of us who were waiting on her spotted the car at a stoplight and jumped in. We pulled over in front of a Dunkin’ Donuts and passed bags of presents over the seat, took a picture, and then went home.

In years past, our relationship has flourished on social media, where photos of the four of us together garner engagement like nothing else. One year, my sister Tessa’s friend assisted us with an elaborate photo shoot for our mother’s Christmas present. The result bears somewhat of a resemblance to some other famous sisters, the Kardashian-Jenners. Though our Christmas photoshoot that year lacked the budget of the Kardashian-Jenner sisters, the effect was still the same: four women who love each other even though they’d rather die than admit it out loud, posing against a white seamless background, smiling like they really mean it.

My sisters and I have never been approached by a reality show producer or anyone other than well-intentioned friends who joke about how we should have our own TV show, “just like the Kardashians!” But thank god for the Kardashians, whose existence on television for 20 seasons are a perfect representation of what it’s actually like to have sisters, the good, the bad, and the hideous.

The Kardashians are a business, built from the cunning mind of Kris Jenner, but they are family first. While I understand the various critiques lodged against the individual members of the family, all of whom are problematic in their own ways, I am weak in the face of the strength of their relationships with each other, which are unshakeable, real, and the most appealing part of watching the show. The Kardashian sisterhood has functioned as a useful shorthand for me and my sisters to self-identify, appealing to the human tendency towards categorization. Writer Sarah Hagi tweeted in February, “anyone with 2 or more sisters knows exactly which Kardashian they are.” She is absolutely right: I am Kourtney, Jenny, the second oldest is Khloé, Tessa, third in line, is Kim, and Shaina, the baby of the family, absorbs the great weight of being both Kendall and Kylie. My sisters and I figured this out years ago, and I am proud to say that even though we will occasionally exhibit tendencies that diverge from our core identities, we remain who we are at the end of the day.

That the Kardashians are related isn’t quite interesting enough to keep me watching the show as I used to, but in the early stages of the pandemic, I caught the tail end of the 17th season, which highlighted exactly why this show is so compelling in the first place. Tensions surrounding work ethic had apparently been brewing all season, but culminated in a scene that felt so familiar that Tessa and I laughed while watching it from the living room of the apartment that we’d shared for ten years.

Kourtney, the elder stateswoman of the sisters, decided that she had had enough. The show was taking her away from her priorities, her three children, and also, the strain of filming a fake version of reality for an increasingly-adoring and contentious audience was wearing on her. She wanted out, she was tired of the drama, and unfortunately, this led to a physical altercation that looks dramatic on television, but for any seasoned professional used to the dynamics between sisters, was really just another Wednesday morning.

Yes, Kourtney did call her sister a “literal cunt” and yes, she did try to scrap with Kim, but the fact of the matter here is that neither one of these women was willing to actually hurt each other physically, on-camera or off. The real damage has already been done; this sort of physical altercation is the direct result of years and years of stewing, lingering resentments, both large and small, that live just below the surface. Anyone with sisters understands that going from zero to 100 in a matter of minutes is par for the course. Khloé’s face says it all. The aftermath of the fight, which played over the credits, looked a little more serious, but I could tell that Kim and Kourtney’s relationship would bounce right back.

Some may call it “toxic” or even “dysfunctional,” but the way the Kardashians dropped the pretense of being famous and aspirational to fight like real people who love each other sometimes do speaks to me. This is bad behavior on the part of two grown women, to be sure, but also, to me, it looks like love.

The end of the Kardashians on E!, the channel that made them, does not mean the end of the Kardashians in total. In December, it was reported that the family signed a multi-year deal with Disney to produce “new global content,” ensuring that they will be on the cultural radar for as long as we’ll have them. On social media, the sisters K will continue to do their sister shit: Kourtney will shill lifestyle advice for the hot moms of the one percent on Poosh, and Kim’s empire of makeup and loungewear will insure that her passel of children will never want for anything for the rest of their lives. Khloé’s denim brand is overpriced, but the jeans are good, and Kylie and Kendall are, and will always be fine. It’s not that I’ll miss the E! version of the world’s most boring melodrama, but I will miss the representation of my specific kind of sisterhood the most.

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