Kim Kardashian is one of the most polarizing “celebrities” in Hollywood. She’s the ringleader of a special brand of superstar: Someone who’s found fame despite having no obvious talent or, as the expression has come to be, someone who’s famous for being famous. But by pigeonholing Kardashian as a talentless sexpot, we overlook her most significant role: savior of the increasingly elusive American Dream.
Her path to living that dream is certainly unconventional (for those who may not follow Kardashian’s movements closely, that path would be: E! reality TV show + leaked sex tape = $$$), but its results have given her everything the traditional American Dream promises: financial success, a wealth of career opportunities, and the means to give daughter North West a pretty sweet life.
I know what you’re thinking: She did not just say that you need to make a sex tape to live the American Dream. Indeed, that’s not what I’m saying. What I am saying is this: Outside of the reality TV spotlight, life for young 20-somethings who have gone about things “the old-fashioned way” (going to college, getting good grades, landing coveted internships) has been rough. Forget about living the dream. This group is living at home. They’re unemployed, under-employed, and fun-employed, paying back tens of thousands of dollars in loans they borrowed to get degrees that have yet to earn them a paycheck. The most likely way to get a job is to know someone who knows someone. Otherwise, you’re probably SOOL.
Inside the reality TV realm, however, there exists a world where success isn’t dependent on having an expensive college degree or a father who plays golf with Fortune 500 CEOs. Rather, it’s based on qualities anyone can possess: an interesting story, an outspoken viewpoint, or even just a willingness to get really, really drunk on camera. Truly, the path to success can’t get much more universally inclusive than that.
But inclusiveness brings its own set of consequences. With the path wide open, there’s no such thing as quality control and the result is celebrities like Kardashian. She doesn’t dazzle us with her inventions, philanthropy, or brains, and she doesn’t have to. As the woman who turned the phrase, “I’m doing it with class, ‘cause I’ve got a big ass,” certainly knows, if you make a few boneheaded comments, then the GIF gods will smile and spread your words across the Internet. Instead, Kardashian simply must invite us into her world. She must keep us talking about her most recent engagement, her newest hairstyle, her family’s latest drama, and the dollars will keep rolling in.
Of course, Kardashian is not a rags-to-riches story. The former pal to Paris Hilton and daughter of the late Robert Kardashian, who was O.J. Simpson’s attorney during his murder trial, had the necessary connections and money to become a success even if E! hadn’t come to her door—and it’s likely those very things that brought the TV network knocking in the first place.
But the formula that has turned Kardashian into a household name has made stars out of those from all walks of life. MTV’s “16 and Pregnant” spinoff “Teen Mom” has transformed teenage mothers — a group that, statistically speaking, would struggle to graduate from high school — into magazine cover models who can afford college classes, apartments, and boob jobs. TLC’s “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” a spinoff of “Toddlers and Tiaras,” has allowed chalk miner Mike “Sugar Bear” Thompson and homemaker June “Mama June” Shannon, a woman with four kids by four different fathers, to set up substantial trust funds for each of her children. In other words, they are living the American Dream.
Would the world be better off if we didn’t know Honey Boo Boo? Maybe. But her family wouldn’t be. They’re currently pulling in a cool $50,000 per episode, a salary that no amount of honest hard work was going to earn them. And what about Kardashian? She may not have needed reality TV fame in the same way as many others, but it’s hard to imagine another career that could have brought her more than $10 million this year.
Kardashian and her fellow reality TV fascinations have taken the American Dream into an economically uneasy 21st century. Unavoidably, they’ve done so by sacrificing some of its basic tenets — most obviously, the idea that you need to work hard to achieve success — and you could certainly argue that without those, it looks more like a nightmare than a dream. Still, as the millions of unemployed and struggling 20-somethings can attest, the old dream model wasn’t exactly working. Is a corrupted dream really worse than no dream at all? At least we still have something to believe in.
For those who can’t stomach the idea of crediting Kardashian with saving the dream that inspires our nation, all hope is not lost. The American Dream is nothing if not broad; surely it’s an idea large enough to support more than one method. So, go ahead, find a new path to financial success and happiness. It can’t be that hard. Even Kim Kardashian could do it.
[Photo credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images]