AILSA CHANG, HOST:
You either loved it, or you loved to hate it. But after 20 seasons and 14 years, the reality TV show "Keeping Up With The Kardashians" will come to an end in 2021. If you are in the love-to-hate-it category, the show follows the lives of Kim Kardashian West, her mother, Kris Jenner, and an ever-expanding cast of characters. And its subjects became more famous and more well-known as the show continued. In a statement Kim Kardashian West posted to social media, she said, quote, "without "Keeping Up With The Kardashians," I wouldn't be where I am today," unquote. Well, we asked Julia Alexander of The Verge to explain to us just where Kim Kardashian is today.
JULIA ALEXANDER: Here's what "Keeping Up With The Kardashians" really did is it led to a family monetizing themselves. They were the people that you were willing to watch and you wanted to watch. But then you were also buying their products and you were signing up for meet-and-greets. And the idea of what the Kardashians were able to accomplish was born out of this concept of Web 2.0, of blogs and the tabloids that came from blogs and the rise of social media. They were able to dominate that market and turn themselves into a product even more so than the show. The show just kind of acted as a vessel to get them to where they are today.
CHANG: But what was it specifically about this family? Like, what was it about their relationships, their dynamics, that kept sucking people in?
ALEXANDER: When the show first started, there was this beautiful sisterhood with them all. And I think what I really clung to, what I really came to, was no matter what was happening in the show, in the early seasons, Kim and Kourtney and Khloe had each other. And they always came back to each other and their mom, and that was what their life was.
As the show progressed and as they became more influential, as they became bigger celebrities, the show became this really sorrowful, strange kind of connection of people that there was no choice but to kind of watch because their lives were so dramatic and so public and, in many ways, very sad. And I feel like we were so tuned into this family that we had this kind of parasocial relationship with, which is a one-way connection between us and them. Because we believed we knew who they were.
CHANG: Well, I am having trouble imagining the Kardashians suddenly disappearing after the show is over. So what do you think they're going to do next?
ALEXANDER: The beauty of the Kardashians - and this is what they inspired an entire culture of Instagram influencers and TikTok creators and even YouTubers to really understand - is that they are in many ways bigger than their name, even. They are individually their own brand. So they can come out and go, I am Kim Kardashian, I am Kylie Jenner, and I don't need to have this show in order to elevate my celebrity. And using that celebrity, they're not going to monetize every aspect of themselves. So what they're going to do next is just be them.
CHANG: Well, if you had to sum up the legacy of this show, and I am surprised I'm even using that word, but if you had to, what would that legacy be?
ALEXANDER: This is going to sound outlandish, and I know it's going to sound that way. But there's a fascination to the family ethos of the Kardashians that is very - or reminds me, I should say, specifically and personally to me, of my obsession with the Kennedys in a lot of ways, which is this family that is a form of American celebrity that you just can't turn away from. They were able to create that for themselves out of nothing. Because they were B-list celebrities at best, and now they are global celebrity in a way that we have not seen in a very long time because the Kardashians and the Kardashian-Jenner clan at large is inescapable.
CHANG: You're kind of making me want to actually watch this show now.
ALEXANDER: (Laughter) I'm glad.
CHANG: Julia Alexander is a writer for The Verge.
Thank you so much for joining us today.
ALEXANDER: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.