x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Accessibility, the Kardashian way

Times have changed in Hollywood, and the Kardashians are demonstrating how to capitalise on them.

Hollywood was once a town of glamour and elegance and substance. The outside world didn't know much about the stars' private lives, but assumed they were perfect, since there were no tabloids to catch them running around without their make-up on.

Then, somewhere around the advent of the 24-hour news cycle and Anna Nicole Smith marrying an elderly oil tycoon, things changed, and an entire genre emerged.

Elayne Rapping is a former American studies professor at the University at Buffalo in New York state with a penchant for both old Hollywood movies and Dancing With the Stars. She was amused - but not surprised - to learn the Kardashians are taking on the UAE.

"American culture and American media is a global enterprise. One of our best exports is not anything that we manufacture anymore - it's really popular culture," she says. "Not that the Kardashians are such wonderful role models. But they are rich and famous and beautiful."

America's love for the Kardashians is also slightly ironic, according to Rapping.

"They're not Angelina Jolie," she says. "We can make fun of them. Even if we're unemployed, whatever is going on, we can say: 'Well, we would never be that stupid; we would never be that ridiculous'."

But they can't be written off, either. Their popularity speaks to a shift from the secrecy of old Hollywood to the accessibility of new Hollywood. The Kardashians have lowered the bar to accessibility in Hollywood so low, anyone can aspire to join the club.

"People look at this and say, why not me?" Rapping says. "I have a better chance to do that than to be George Clooney."

Dawn Johnston is a professor in the communication and culture department at the University of Calgary in Canada who studies celebrity.

"At some level, while we continue to buy into their celebrity status, we also recognise how ridiculous our interest is," Johnston says. "For the most part, these 'reality' celebrities aren't particularly successful at singing, acting, or writing, but are geniuses at self-promotion. Our awareness of that fact makes us slightly embarrassed to support them, but we find ourselves pulled in to their 'stories' in popular culture."

Although Kardashian has become famous by her associations with famous people, Robert J Thompson, a pop culture professor at Syracuse University, believes there is more to her appeal.

"Keeping Up With the Kardashians demonstrates that she and her family are actually interesting to watch," says Thompson. "For all of our mockery, the Kardashians, and Paris Hilton, are very good at what they do. Not just any rich, attractive socialite could carry one, much less several, reality series to success."

* Sonya Bell and Greg Kennedy