" In order to see how this influences the show's representation of the interpersonal relationships of the family, one may examine a scene from the first episode, in which the editing choices serve to identify the shop as a particular kind of expressive space.
The special role of the shop as a space of differential relationships and conversations can be seen in the first episode when Kourtney and Khloe are in the shop discussing a dinner Kourtney had with Scott the night before, where Scott acted aloof and generally impolite. The two sisters discuss Scott's astrological sign and the way it relates to Scott's personality, and later, when Scott arrives, the three of them discuss the variability of Kourtney and Scott's relationship in positive terms, highlighting the fact that they can make up so readily. All the while, Kris has been in the store, but she does not speak throughout the entire scene except when the show cuts from the action at the store to a "confessional" sequence common in reality shows, where a character discusses the events of the show. There are repeated shots of her looking suspiciously at Scott, but because the store is the space in which the sisters' relationship is highlighted, anything she says in the store is not included in the episode, thus marking the store as a space exclusively reserved for the sisters.
This is worth noting because it demonstrates one of the central aspects of a reality show, which is the fact that each thirty minute episode is culled from hours and hours of footage in order to produce a succinct, coherent storyline out of the entirety of the character's lives. Recognizing this fact is important, because it allows one to appreciate how the show represents a piece of cultural and artistic production just as much as a fictional series, because the "characters" of Kourtney, Khloe, Kim, Kris and the rest of the family may actually be thought of as relatively independent of the real people themselves. In effect, the show portrays characters living in a world many degrees closer to reality than the average television sitcom, but which has important differences from reality, namely the inclusion of editorial control. Thus, the show is able to portray the communicative spaces of the Kardashian home and D-A-S-H as fundamentally different by highlighting who speaks and what they talk about, even if the distinction is likely not as dramatic in real life. For example, it seems reasonable to presume that Kris spoke to her daughters and Scott at some point during the filming of the aforementioned scene in D-A-S-H, but nature of the show allowed the producers and editors to exercise these portions in order to dramatize the experience and better identify the space of the store as fundamentally different from the environment in the home, where Kris remains the central and dominant character.
This editing has oftentimes been decried as something which renders reality television inherently less valuable than other forms of serialized entertainment, and indeed, a review of show in the Armenian Reporter claims that while "the show may be 'unscripted,' […] each episode is a choreographed self-contained train wreck where family members make up a cast of quirky characters who amplify their persona for airtime," claiming that "the staged scenes, amateur acting, and camera hogging are disengaging" (Gregorian, 2007, p. C19). The claim that reality television series are staged or otherwise not "genuine" representations of their subjects has been around since the genre first blossomed, and is a relatively easy criticism to make, but it ultimately is not worthwhile, because it does not do anything to uncover the meaning created by the show itself.
Thus, rather than complain that editing and possible staging detracts from the "reality," it is more productive to examine what is done with the ability to edit and stage scenes, because the importance of any cultural production does not lie in the degree of fidelity to objective reality, but rather the meanings created through the subjective interpretation of that reality. The fact that reality television series purport to represent reality is almost incidental, because they impact the cultural landscape in generally the same way as a scripted series, regardless of how closely it claims to represent reality. This will allow one to understand how the editing and particular choice of setting and content in reality television serves to implicitly and explicitly shape ideas and opinions about a wide range of subjects.
In the case of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, one of the most important cultural impacts of the show centers around the fact that the four older children are all Armenian, and thus the show represents one of the most prominent representations of Armenians in American entertainment and culture. While the name Kardashian is clearly Armenian, the family also takes ample opportunities to highlight their cultural and ethnic heritage, and the family's ethnicity is implicitly "characterizes the sisters' brunet aesthetic and also the tone of the show, which is anything but Presbyterian-genteel" (Merkin, 2010, p. 101). In particular, the sisters' Armenian background is explicitly brought up in discussions of their appearance, because the show's focus on fashion and Kim's career as a model makes the family's ethnicity a prominent factor ("Kim Kardashian is proudest of her Armenian genes," 2009, p. 14). In a television environment populated almost exclusively by Anglo role models and talking heads, Keeping Up With the Kardashians represents a celebration of Armenian ethnicity and provides a much needed diversity to the cultural investigations of reality television. While some might debate about the relative worth of the Kardashian sisters as role models, the fact remains that their embrace of their Armenian heritage serves to generate a positive image of Armenians in the public consciousness that is free from many stereotypes and assumptions.
In addition, Kris' role as the matriarch of the family hints at the family's roots, because of her first marriage to Robert Kardashian, whose family "was like the Armenian version of the Rockefellers," including a strong matriarch, Helen Kardashian, who embodied the idea that "Armenian women were there to run the household" (Bruce, 2011, p. 55). Kris was "especially close to Helen," and for over twenty years the older woman acted as a kind of mentor to her, such that Kris took on the same role managing the family and household embodied by Helen Kardashian, albeit with a contemporary twist (Bruce, p. 2011, p. 55). As the matriarch of a large family, Kris similarly represents this traditional ideal, but in a way that serves to expand the role of the mother and wife by channeling her management of household life into management of a media empire, to the point that in 2010, the family made "more money […] than what Angelina Jolie, Sandra Bullock, and Tom Cruise are estimated to have earned combined: a staggering $65 million" (Bruce, 2011, p. 48). Thus, Kris' role as manager represents a simultaneous reification of the traditional role of the matriarch in Armenian culture while reinterpreting that role in a contemporary context.
In some ways, Keeping Up With the Kardashians may be seen as a partially accurate picture of Armenian life in Los Angeles, because the family embodies some of the more obvious trappings surrounding a certain class of Armenians in Southern California, in that their cultural heritage is celebrated and expressed through the lens of their abundant wealth. In fact, the aforementioned review of Keeping Up With the Kardashians in the Armenian Reporter begins by saying "welcome to a world where everyone has silky long brunette hair, Range Rover SUVS, and a small dog. No, this isn't the parking lot of a private Armenian school in Southern California; it's the reality show called Keeping Up With the Kardashians" (Gregorian, 2007, p. C19). The connection between their wealth and their Armenian heritage is further highlighted by their charity work; in 2009 "the unlikely pairing of the Armenian Church and the sex-scandalizing famous party-girl-turned-celebrity Kim Kardashian helped raise more than $90,000 for the Etchmiadzin Children's Fund," a charity which supports Armenian orphans ("It Girl' Kardashian helps raise $90k for Armenian orphans," 2009, p. 10). This is just one of the public appearances and charity events related to the show, and because of the unique nature of cross-media branding in the twenty-first century media landscape, one cannot consider the show's representations of Armenians without additionally considering its effects on Armenian culture and society off of the small screen.
In this way, the show serves to represent the idea "that in California, Armenians cared for each other and [want] to move forward and progress together" (BBC Monitoring Central Asia, 2003, p. 1). In fact, California has a substantial Armenian population, and Los Angeles is "home to the largest Armenian population in the Diaspora," including "eleven Armenian day schools" and numerous Armenian cultural organizations…