The Kardashians are everywhere. For almost a decade, anyone with an internet connection or a tabloid section of their local grocery store has been saturated with news of the infamous clan’s antics. From the latest buzz on Kylie Jenner’s lips to Kim Kardashian’s constant stream of selfies, there is no escaping the glamorous brand of America’s favorite family. In the whirlpool of wealth and fame that the Kardashians seem to secrete, however, it is easy to forget that they are exactly that: a brand.

Over the past decade, the Kardashians have built their multi-million dollar empire on appearances. It’s doubtful that any other American family is so practiced in the art of public relations; Kim Kardashian, the eye of the “k”-loving storm, can cleanly take the title of most accomplished in the reputation game. In 2003, Kim was a low-grade socialite whose friendship with Paris Hilton catapulted her onto the periphery of Hollywood’s spotlight. After a sex tape leaked of her and ex-boyfriend Ray J in 2007, all precedents pointed to Kim’s public image becoming tarnished beyond repair. And yet, with the shrewd business sense she so rarely gets credit for, she managed to turn a profit on the violation of her privacy. Kim used her newfound notoriety to cultivate a fanbase on social media, and leveraged her following to remain Hollywood-relevant. Later that year, Keeping Up With the Kardashians aired on national television, and ever since the world has born witness to the Kardashian’s ballooning fame and larger-than-life personas.

Nowadays, Kim is recognized as one of the world’s most successful reality TV stars, with a net worth of $85 billion. The Kardashian brand has grown to encompass clothing lines, luxury beauty products, diet supplements, books, and a multitude of smartphone apps (each curated and produced by a different sister). With 51 million followers on Instagram, Kim has established a veritable social media empire, complete with loyal subjects and Balmain gowns. Like it or not, she has become the quintessential household name in an era of likes, follow-backs, and flawless (or flawlessly-edited) selfies.

“We are now surrounded by screens that glint alluringly with the suggestion of fame and and fortune (for the right amount of followers).”

This is the new American dream. While once upon a time young people were promised the chance to unrealistically pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get rich off hard work, we are now surrounded by screens that glint alluringly with the suggestion of fame and and fortune (for the right amount of followers). Essentially, both promises offer the illusion of a guarantee: work hard enough, get X amount of obscene wealth. Market your daily life to the world (in an aesthetically pleasing, scandalous, or fashion forward format), and prepare for the flocks of adoring fans and possibly your own TV show.

Celebrities like Kim Kardashian and her ilk help recite this script perfectly, for the greatest tool in their arsenal is their aura of relatability. To be truly successful in the realm of social media (as Kim undisputably has been) one must strike a balance between oozing perfection, and maintaining enough normalcy to cultivate hope that one day, you too can be as wealthy or as beautiful or as seemingly content as their photos portray them. It’s a brave new world where regular girls and boys can claw their way into the national spotlight by achieving internet fame (or internet infamy). But the cyclical nature of internet celebrity guarantees that most people’s 15 minutes are cut to five; the half life of modern day fame has shrunken to days or weeks as an up-and-coming Viner, Youtuber, or Instagrammer direct the focus onto themselves.

“It’s a brave new world where regular girls and boys can claw their way into the national spotlight by achieving internet fame.”

That’s the other thing Kim Kardashian gets so little credit for: her ability to maintain the relevancy of her brand in a world with a dwindling attention span. After all, if she lacked the ability to leverage what she had to work with and milk it for more, she would have faded into the dark pit of Hollywood obscurity as just another stranger with a sex tape. The Kardashians came in swinging to an evolving arena where everyone is marketing themselves and everyone has something to lose; whether you love them or hate them, it’s difficult to deny they’re the winners of this round.

Featured Photo: America is mysteriously, but undoubtedly enthralled with the Kardashian’s unique brand of sensationalism and shamelessness. Photo by Nathan Smith

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