Race, Sexuality & The Kardashian "Phenomenon"

Why are the Kardashians so popular? And what's with the black guys?

Those are questions raised in pieces by Harriet Ryan and Adam Tschorn in today's LA Times and Yolanda Young on The Huffington Post yesterday.

The Kardashian sisters' late father, a lawyer, helped O.J. Simpson win acquittal; Kim hung out with Paris Hilton and was featured in a graphic sex tape. Not exactly major achievements. Cut to: Two TV shows, a fragrance, and a clothing line. KimKardashian.com is the world's most popular official celebrity website. Plus, somehow, as Ryan and Tschorn note, Kim, Khloe and Kourtney are attractive to both men and women — a rare feat of marketing. Ryan and Tschorn claim the sisters' popularity "comes despite the fact that the sisters lack the talents that traditionally lead to superstardom and, some believe, partly because of it." The idea is that young women relate to them, because their fame seems attainable, and because they're curvy, yet talk about working out and diets — so down to earth! Former Star editor Bonnie Fuller, actually claims that the girls are wholesome:

"It's a modern-type of wholesome. We're living in a very different world now. Sarah Palin's daughter has a child out of wedlock… Despite everything that has gone on with them, they come across as a very tight-knit family, and that appeals to women."

But Yolanda Young takes issue with the sisters, writing:

When George Lopez asked Kim and Khloe, "What's up with ya'll and the black guys?" he was likely hinting at the notion that the Kardashian sisters play up their partners' sexuality in an effort to play up the black man as stud persona. Historically though, white women, who have sought to use black men in this manner, have done so privately, perhaps taking a trip to the Caribbean or hosting a discreet Mandingo Sex Party. By contrast, the sisters have publicly professed love for and, in the case of Kim, had sex with, their black paramours, even though doing so carries a stigma, perhaps making them, in certain circles, less desirable mates.

And:

It is highly offensive to some that women who've been labeled unattractive, dumb, reckless and whorish — death knells to black women — managed to land black men who could score them invitations to the White House.

The "who are these white women taking the good black men" argument is interesting when you consider that to some people, the Kardashians are not, technically, white. It's impossible to properly discuss the ethnic groups of Eurasia here, but there was a very recent time that being Armenian meant being subject to genocide. In a world of Anglo-Saxon dominance, Armenians can be categorized as "other." (Young writes, "I've heard black women snipe that Kim and Khloe date black men because white men don't want them.")

Young does have a point, though — the Kardashians seem to be getting away with things not many celebs can. Is it their involvement in social media — websites, Twitter, etc? Is it the complete lack of lofty ideals some actresses or singers have? Do they represent the kind of giddy party girl men want to hang out with and women wish they could be?

It can't be denied that physically, the Kardashian sisters have a very obvious appeal: With their dark hair and curves, they're a refreshing alternative to the standard super-skinny Hollywood blonde. Personality-wise, they're funny, friendly and admittedly not perfect, so it seems that the "mystery" of why they have such a following really isn't a mystery: Pretty, nice, rich girls who know the right people and go to the right parties are always popular, right?

The Kardashian Phenomenon [LA Times]
What Black Women Could Learn From the Kardashians [HuffPo]