Like it or not, the Kardashians have risen from reality-TV stars — famed for sex tapes, plastic surgery and shotgun weddings — to America’s royal family. Critics have discounted the clan as an unfortunate blip on our cultural radar. But the ladies have taken their 15 minutes of fame and created a dynasty that might just be the most powerful in the world.
In May, Kim successfully lobbied President Trump to commute the prison sentence of a 63-year-old grandmother, Alice Marie Johnson, who had served more than 20 years on drug charges. Kylie, meanwhile, single-handedly tanked Snapchat’s stock in February — sending it plummeting $1.3 billion — with a disparaging tweet about the social-media platform’s redesign. That is true power. And they’re not just making waves in the worlds of social justice and business. The family’s interracial relationships have been shifting societal norms since long before the Windsor family was lavished with praise for Prince Harry’s May marriage to mixed-race Meghan Markle.
To many, the Kardashians are the pinnacle of the American dream. Queen Kim, the first on the scene, rose from the Los Angeles version of nothing (Paris Hilton’s closet organizer) to a multi-millionaire with direct access to the president of the United States. People want what the Kardashians have — the “Happy Birthday” Rolls-Royces, the diamonds worth robbing, the audacity to get an earlobe reduction so said diamonds sit just right. Unlike in England, where royal watchers squeal when Kate Middleton or Markle wear a high street brand, in the US, the more over-the-top the Kardashians’ purchases, the bigger the response.
But like any good monarchy, the Kardashians realize they need to at least appear accessible. The Windsors have their walk-abouts, where they stroll through quaint village streets and glad-hand their loyal subjects. The Kardashians engage with fans on Instagram — the sisters’ collective following totals nearly 500 million. If a regular person posts a flattering comment under one of the siblings’ photos, there’s always a chance their icon will deem them worthy of a direct response.
Mindful that the plebes can’t afford their lifestyles, the Kardashians hawk their own version of royal memorabilia: $29 Kylie Jenner lip kits and $149 Good American jeans (that’s Khloé’s line).
Want further proof the Kardashians are more powerful than the Windsors? Unlike the real royals, the sisters are unburdened by nearly 10 centuries of tradition and protocol. In June, it was reported that Markle received a slap on the wrist for having told an Irish politician she was “pleased” by that country’s pro-abortion vote — going against the monarchy’s politically neutral stance. Kim & Co. may keep mum about their political affiliations — lest they lose a red or blue-state fan — but they’re not afraid to publicly weigh in on high-profile matters.
In July 2016, Kim tried to expose America’s sweetheart, Taylor Swift, as two-faced. After Swift publicly feigned surprise at how she was name-checked in the lyrics of a song, “Famous,” by Kim’s husband, rapper Kanye West, Kim Snapchatted a video of West warning Swift of one of the more controversial lines — and Swift giving her blessing.
One way the Kardashians are like the Windsors: Sometimes they have to keep each other in line. In April, after the notoriously outspoken West posted a series of tweets praising Trump, he pulled back, writing: “My wife just called me and she wanted me to make this clear to everyone. I don’t agree with everything Trump does. I don’t agree 100% with anyone but myself.” Here’s another: Many Brits feel the royals should be banished because they’re a waste of taxpayer money. Many Americans wish the Kardashians would go away because they make our country appear tacky and materialistic.
And just as the royals have the causes they champion — Prince Harry for HIV/AIDS, Prince William for community development in Africa — the Kardashians have raised social consciousness. “I’ve never seen anyone on television do such a great job of being so inclusive and so diverse,” said Ian Halperin, author of the book “Kardashian Dynasty: The Controversial Rise of America’s Royal Family.” There is no doubt that the American conversation about gender acceptance has been hugely impacted in a positive way thanks to Kylie and Kendall’s father, Caitlyn (né Bruce) Jenner, publicly coming out as transgender in 2015. While Bruce was already famous as an Olympic champion, the plain truth is that his profile was raised exponentially by his daughters’ and stepdaughters’ success. Would Vanity Fair have put Caitlyn on the cover had she not spent eight years on E! as the clan’s goofy dad?
They’re also breaking down racial barriers. Three of the sisters — Kim, Khloé and Kylie — have children with black men. “I think any civil-rights leader would applaud them for what they’ve done,” said Halperin. “You see people of all ethnicities and backgrounds on their show and that’s one of the strongest parts of what they have accomplished.”
Like the Windsors, the Kardashian family is a matriarchy with a queen mother — Kris — pulling the strings behind the scenes. She organizes her daughters’ appearances and business deals with royal precision, ensuring that each member of her queendom makes a maximum impact.
But lest you think the Kardashian monarchy is a fad that will fade over time, be warned: This year alone, three new children were born among the sisters. There are nine little Kardashian princes and princesses. One of Kim’s kids has already appeared in a Fendi ad campaign and two grace the September cover of Harper’s Bazaar. For God’s sake, Kourtney’s son’s name is Reign! And while Kim has long been regarded as the most famous sister, Kylie — America’s youngest “self-made” billionaire — is nipping at her heels and ready to usurp her title. Whoever captures the throne, one thing is for sure — it’s going to be one hell of a coronation.