There are plenty of reasons to detest Kanye West: his huge ego and constant bragging, his chronic dissing of Taylor Swift — no, you did not make her famous and no, she definitely won’t have sex with you — and of course his general all-around doucheyness. Even President Obama has called him a jackass.
Now you can add one more reason: West is personally responsible for the second-wind resurgence of the Kardashian freak show/money machine/publicity factory that feeds off our culture’s 140-character attention span, click-bait media desperation and brain-dead pop culture.
Just when it appeared the Kardashian clan was destined for the junkyard of history back in 2012 — following widespread backlash to the sudden end of Kim’s disastrous and transparently fake 72-day “marriage” to pro baller Kris Humphries — West revived the fading brand with his unlikely hookup with Kim, their subsequent marriage and the birth of future faces of the franchise, North and Saint West.
According to Ian Halperin's new put-them-under-the-microscope masterpiece of pop-culture reporting, Kardashian Dynasty (Simon & Schuster, $26), the Kimye relationship, like so much else with the Kardashian circus, was stage-managed by momager Kris Jenner. Desperate to change the subject from the growing allegations of marriage fraud, Kris the master media manipulator drew up a list of potential celebrity boyfriends for Kim that included West, Justin Bieber, Nick Young of the Lakers (currently trying to convince Iggy Azalea to stay engaged to him despite his filmed admission of cheating on her) and Matt Kemp of the Dodgers.
West, eager to jump on the Kardashian buck-raking train as a way to enhance his already swollen media profile and sell more records, agreed to start dating Kim with the understanding that it was just another fake-out in the Kardashians' endless bag of publicity tricks. But suddenly, real feelings emerged and the two lovebirds couldn’t keep their hands off each other in private and, more importantly, in public.
The sucker-bait media led by TMZ bit big time and the rest is gag-me-with-a-narcisstick history.
Similarly juicy nuggets are scattered throughout Kardashian Dynasty. Finally, the multibillion-dollar cultural colossus built upon the unlikely foundation of a Kim K and Ray J sex tape released just nine years ago gets a serious biography — and a tough but fair takedown — that is long overdue.
It’s easy to call the Kardashian phenomenon a sad joke built upon a “reality” show that has very little reality and lots of show business. It’s much harder to prove that America — and the 152 other countries where Keeping Up With the Kardashians generates mega ratings — have been played for suckers by a bunch of no-talent nobodies-turned-celebrity-grifters famous for being famous.
But that’s exactly what Halperin has done, delivering the goods via prodigious digging through court documents, hundreds of Hollywood sources and the kind of dogged shoe-leather reporting that has gone out of fashion.
Going above and beyond the call of duty, Halperin — best known as a documentary filmmaker on subjects like Kurt Cobain and Lady Gaga — forced himself to watch every episode of KUWTK and its various spinoffs to gain insight into how the clan casts its magic spell over a global audience and, more importantly, so that we wouldn’t have to watch them ourselves.
He deserves combat pay.
“After a while, I could feel my brain cells dying,” Halperin said in an interview. “My mind turned to mush.”
Without his ambitious work, casual viewers might never know about the “vagina smell-off” that Khloe and Kourtney engaged in during one not-much-happening episode by ingesting large quantities of pineapple juice and then judging whose va-jay-jay smelled sweeter.
Aside from detailing the banality of what passes for “entertainment” in most of the Kardashian episodes, Halperin has performed an important public service: confirming the long-rumored and vehemently denied charge that momager Kris did indeed broker the sale of Kim’s sex tape to Vivid Entertainment, the Valley-based porno producer that paid her a $5 million “settlement” in 2007 to drop her lawsuit over the release of the tape.
Next thing you know, Kris had barged into Ryan Seacrest’s office pitching a reality show about her family — starring the sex-tape girl everyone was suddenly talking about — and attaching herself as the executive producer.
Halperin produces multiple sources to back up his claim that Kris, rather than trying to suppress the sex tape as any normal parent would, arranged its sale. And he insists that there has been no legal pushback from Kardashian lawyers despite the family issuing a pro forma denial. “I’m 100 percent confident about that claim,” he says. “I have conclusive proof. And they know it’s true.”
Not only did the insatiable (financially and sexually, according to the book) Kris leverage her daughter’s sexuality into a media empire, but she has doubled down on that dubious bit of parenting by essentially pimping out Kendall and Kylie, the two teenage daughters she had with Bruce Jenner (now known simply as Caitlyn). Although neither Kendall nor Kylie sex tapes have emerged yet, the young women have proved equally willing to strip down for the cameras, to the point that they are now much bigger fish in the celebrity sea than Khloe, Kourtney and even Kim.
“Kendall and Kylie are in a different stratosphere now,” Halperin says. “They’re much younger and more attractive than their sisters.”
There are so many threads here that it’s hard to follow them all, but Halperin does a good job of weaving them together. Start with the O.J. connection: America had never heard the name Kardashian until Kris’ ex-husband, Robert Kardashian, emerged in 1994 as O.J. Simpson’s best friend and part of his legal “dream team” during his trial for the murder of his wife, Nicole, and her friend Ronald Goldman. Kris, it turned out, was one of Nicole’s best friends and suspected immediately that O.J. had murdered Nicole.
Then there is the Paris Hilton connection. Kim got her start in the celebrity business by organizing their closets. Hilton, whose initial fame was spurred by the release of her own sex tape, One Night in Paris, was one of Kim's first customers. They eventually became friends, and the paparazzi took notice of Paris’ new sidekick. Suddenly Kim was becoming famous for her association with another no-talent “star” who was famous for being famous.
But it was only as Paris’ star was fading — her mindless reality show, The Simple Life, had just been canceled — that Kim, and equally important, her momager Kris, saw an opening. What had worked for Paris could certainly work for Kim, and soon the sex tape, Kim Kardashian: Superstar, was on the market.
Halperin devotes a full chapter to the Caitlyn phenomenon, which has dominated Kardashianworld for most of the last year. He details Jenner’s troubled childhood, his 1976 Olympic triumph, marriage to Kris, and eventual decision to come out and become America’s most famous transgender activist.
It is here — and earlier in his quest to prove that Kris and Kim were fully complicit in the release of her sex tape — that Halperin deviates from the traditional literary and journalistic standards that give the rest of the book such credibility. Posing as a man seeking to undergo a gender transition, Halperin visits the Beverly Hills doctor who operated on Caitlyn and the support group who helped guide her through the process.
Earlier, he had posed as someone seeking to sell a sex tape of pro baller LeBron James to Vivid in an effort to nail down just what the process entails. Bottom line: Vivid executives made it clear to him they could not release his sex tape — or any sex tape — without the express written consent of both parties depicted in the tape. This, he asserts, confirms what his sources were telling him about Kris’ backstage role.
Halperin defends his subterfuge as an accepted practice that has become part of his brand, not just in his films but in his previous biographies, including Unmasked: The Final Years of Michael Jackson, Love & Death: The Murder of Kurt Cobain and Whitney and Bobbi Kristina. “I’m known for infiltrating to get information,” he says. “I do it in my movies, too.”
Conventional wisdom says the bulk of the Kardashian audience is tween girls in flyover states who want to emulate the self-absorbed, look-at-me, bling-bling lifestyle and promiscuous love lives of the Kardashian girls and those in their orbit. But Halperin says his research proved that it's not that easy to dismiss their audience.
“Unfortunately, it is almost everybody from every walk of life: intellectuals, university professors, cultural elites, fashionistas, rock stars — they all watch the Kardashians as a guilty pleasure,” he says. And although he resists the urge to criticize and philosophize throughout the book, no matter how absurd the material he turns up, he responded quickly and forcefully when asked what the Kardashian empire — which he now estimates is a multibillion-dollar industry — says about our pop culture.
“It shows us that right now society’s priorities are not in order,” he says. “There’s too much obsession with fame and fortune, and there’s no substance to the American dream. We’re all eating McDonald's for the rest of our lives.”
A fan of Hollywood’s golden age, he couldn’t help comparing these modern “stars” to old-time stars such as the great actor Laurence Olivier.
“Back then you had to pay your dues and master your craft,” Halperin says. “Olivier would be turning over in his grave if he could see what passes for a star today. Today you can take shit on a stick, package it and become a sensation overnight.”
And when the sensation starts to fade, you can marry Kanye West and keep the shit-stick rolling on down the line, laughing all the way to the bank.