The Kardashians and Scripted Reality: Keeping It Reel

RPF or “Real Person Fanfiction” has long been a staple of the fannish world and the literary world. Whether it’s Taylor Swift and the JoBros or romance featuring the cast members of the Lord of the Rings films… or tabloid headlines about Jennifer Aniston’s continued heartbreak over Brangelina… people have a fascination with celebrity persona and the stories beyond the stage and screen. What is historical fiction but liberties taken with the celebrities of the past? And let’s not forget contemporary reality-based fiction like The Social Network, which fictionalized the lives of people who exist in the here and now and then won awards for it. Is it any surprise that the booming business of reality-based television has embraced its own version of the genre and found a way to monetize it?

Much of the Internet community was in an uproar today as E! “broke the news” of Kim Kardashian’s impending divorce from new husband Kris Humphries. But, realistically, their entire relationship has been manufactured for E!’s cameras. I wouldn’t be surprised if the divorce was planned from the beginning, specifically to coincide with the November Sweeps ratings period. And the hefty wedding price tag…? Likely balanced out by ad sales and sponsorships arranged by E!’s savvy marketing and sales department. I hate to pull back the curtain and point gleefully at the Wizard, but the Kardashians’ whole lives are, to some degree, scripted for the viewing public. They’re real, but they still play characters. Much like the denizens of MTV’s Laguna Beach and The Hills.

Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries are just following in the footsteps of Lauren Conrad, Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag, and hanging out in good company with everybody else on an E! reality show. I can’t even begin to tell you what a guilty pleasure Dirty Soap is… in part because of how much dramatic license is being employed. I’m not remotely outraged about it; in fact, I’m completely amused and entertained. I love the show! Who am I to complain if Kelly Monaco (Sam, GH), Nadia Bjorlin (ex-Chloe, DAYS), Brandon Beemer (Owen, B&B) and their castmates want to televise a storied variation of their own lives? It’s nothing that people who watch the soaps haven’t been inventing on their message boards for years. The actors might as well take back a little of the narrative — and they’re shining a spotlight on daytime while they’re at it!

Let’s face it: Challenge-based shows like Survivor are few and far between. Gone are the days of The Real World season one, where a group of people moved in together to “find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real.” Subsequent seasons of that series became less and less real, casting “characters” rather than people and engineering storylines like a team of soap head writers. Kim Kardashian and the like are just the latest incarnation of the concept — with a financial haul that keeps E! in the black.

The only thing that makes me see red is that this faux reality craze is undercutting the demand for true serial drama. Keeping up with a couple Kardashians shouldn’t erase the joys of hanging out with your Brothers and Sisters and All My Children!


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