If you ask anyone what Kim Kardashian is famous for, you’ll probably hear something like "She's famous for being famous." Not that this is a helpful answer! Even the Kardashians find it perplexing.
"Yes, we've heard it," the girls respond in their new book Kardashian Konfidential. "You know, when people say, 'They're just famous for being famous.' Um, what does that mean, anyway?"
The New York Times' Eric Wilson recently weighed in on the topic.
"Ms. Kardashian is famous, gorgeous, and lives her life voluntarily under the microscope of reality television," he wrote. "More to the point, as the branding expert Robert K. Passikoff put it in a phone interview this week, 'You would have had to be living in a cave in Nepal to have not been exposed in one way or another to the celebrity ilk of Kim Kardashian.'"
So, how did this happen? We did a little digging to try figure out why Kim is now one of the most famous people in the world, and how the hysteria literally happened overnight.
In 2006, she briefly dated Nick Lachey, who was rebounding from his divorce from Jessica Simpson. According to People magazine, Kim and Nick had met at a party for Arizona Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart in April. Nick, then 32, and Kim, then 25, visited the Hollywood club Shag on May 15, and on May 24, very innocently caught a showing of The Da Vinci Code in Westwood. People reported that the pair held hands as they exited the theater, but separated when photographers started snapping. The paparazzi went wild.
"It started when I went out on a date with Nick Lachey," Kim writes in the new book, Kardashian Konfidential. "Of course the paparazzi took pictures, because people were curious about who he was with."
"So the next night I was out with Paris Hilton," she continues. "We were in her car and the paparazzi started taking pictures. Usually they would shout, 'Paris! Paris! Paris!' [But] they started yelling 'Kim! Kim! Kim!' I wanted to hide, and Paris and I just looked at each other and laughed."
"She said, 'Whatever you do, just smile.' I thought, this is so weird, I don't know what’s going on. It was surreal."
A "source" close to the couple told People that Nick and Kim were in the "beginning stages of a relationship."
That was simply not true — Kim says they only dated for a week. But it didn’t matter. Kim Kardashian, the enterprise, had officially been launched.
Kim hardly comes from humble beginnings. Her dad was power-attorney Robert Kardashian; her stepfather is Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner; and she grew up with a slew of rich and famous neighbors — for example, Bruce Springsteen lived next door. Her privileged upbringing surrounded her with money and ensured her a certain social status. Due to proximity, the seeds of fame and fortune were planted at a young age.
Opportunities aside, she's always been super-ambitious. Before Kim was famous, she worked in retail; had a closet-organizing business; made money selling things on eBay; co-operated a kids' clothing store, Smooch, with her sisters and mom Kris Jenner; and became a stylist. But, starting when she was about 12 years old, her real dream was to be a reality TV star.
"I always wanted to be a reality TV star," says Kim, who admits in Kardashian Konfidential she always wanted to be the center of attention. "When The Real World first came out on MTV [in 1992] I told my friend Alison, 'When we get old enough let’s make an audition tape!' It turned out that the company that produces our shows for E! is the one that created and still produces The Real World!"
Then, quite suddenly, her dream came true.
"One of our mom's best friends is Kathie Lee Gifford. Whenever Kathie Lee would visit us, she'd say, 'You are such a crazy family! Where are the cameras? We need cameras in here!' She thought our family would make a really funny show. So my mom went to Ryan Seacrest with the idea and he loved it. And literally a week later we had all these people with cameras in our house filming, and it was on the air really soon after that."
"It all happened so fast," she says, "we didn’t really know what we were doing. Then, right after we began filming, I was asked to pose in Playboy."
And then there was the sex tape.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Now, she's a household name. An entrepreneur. A budding singer. A sometime actress. A designer. A perfumista. And everything in between. In late November 2010, she was even hired by Charmin to open up a new bathroom in Times Square. Now that's famous. (And kind of weird.) Her wedding to Kris Humphries pulled in $18 million in one day. There are obvious downsides to living your life, and love, in the public eye; Kim filed for divorce after 72 days of marriage.
Kim is now in a relationship with rapper Kanye West, a longtime friend who’s become her most high-profile boyfriend to date. The two were first photographed together in April 2012, and it was months before they publicly admitted to being a couple. Now, the duo lovingly referred to as “Kimye” are virtually inseparable. They’ve traveled to Paris and Hawaii together, and even went house hunting in Miami recently, where Kim is filming a third season of Kourtney & Kim Take Miami. On December 30, 2012, Kanye revealed that Kim was pregnant with the couple's first child.
But why Kim? And why anyone, for that matter? Why are we so obsessed?
"It almost doesn't matter what you're famous for," Jake Halpern, a journalist, radio producer and author of the book Fame Junkies, explained to us. "If you look the part of a celebrity and you're on the red carpet and someone's taking your picture, everyone starts to drool."
"We're increasingly less interested in the content of what these people do, he continued. "And more interested in the kind of celebrity nature of their lives. What happens on the red carpet at the premiere is more of interest to us than the premiere itself. … [Kim] is a performer. And the performance that she's giving is how she lives her pseudo-celebrity life and navigates all of the drama in that world. That, in and of itself, is a kind of performance. And she's obviously quite good at it."
Mathieu Deflem, a Professor of Sociology at the University of South Carolina, teaches a unique course called "Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame." (We'd go back to school for that!) "[Kim's fame] is predominantly brought about by her audience rather than because of any accomplishment on her part," Deflem told us. "And it is this fame that subsequently has become recognized as her accomplishment." Ouch.
"We're not big fans of the word famous," the Kardashian sisters say in Kardashian Konfidential. "Or really, we should say we're not big fans of using it when we talk about ourselves. It makes us sound conceited. We are businesswomen, sisters, a mother, a wife, entrepreneurs, [and] fashion designers! We're just living our lives, and our claim to recognizability is that we do it in front of the cameras and people like watching it."
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