This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
Kris Jenner: Devil, Saint, Hero, Nemesis, and Friend
Kris Jenner, you’re doing amazing, sweetie.
Keeping Up With the Kardashians ended Thursday night after 20 seasons on TV. I don’t know what happened because I didn’t watch it. I’m willing to bet none of you did either.
Despite the media fanfare over the reality-TV juggernaut coming to an end, this has been the lowest-rated season in the show’s history. If pressed, I don’t think I’d be able to reference a single memorable moment from the season, a rarity for a show that has been its own self-sustaining meme factory over the years, not to mention a processing center for the family’s extensive drama.
I’d certainly be able to gossip with you about any number of things that have happened off-screen, however, from Scott Disick’s disgusting relationship with 19-year-old Amelia Hamlin, daughter of Lisa Rinna and Harry Hamlin and 18 years his junior, to Kim Kardashian’s combination divorce and maybe-not-becoming-a-lawyer-after-all drama. And I think all of us became rabid with excitement when a trailer dropped for the Andy Cohen-hosted tell-all reunion airing next week, which teased “he’s really going there” questions. All of this despite not realizing—or perhaps not caring—that the finale was even taking place last night.
There have been think-pieces galore analyzing the end of an era now that Keeping Up With the Kardashians is bowing out, countless odes to its influence and testaments to the ways in which it changed television and culture as we know it. All of this bellowing about how important the show is despite it going out, truly, with barely a whisper.
Ain’t that the way: Nobody’s talking about Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and yet we’re all talking about the Kardashians. As the saying goes, the devil works hard, but Kris Jenner works harder. And, by the grace of Beelzebub, she’s done it again.
Jenner’s master manipulation skills have become a meme in their own right. And the devil comparison evolved into a ubiquitous, loving homage to her branding skills and the tentacles that seem to guide each of the clan’s desired media narratives and perceptions. And while such an ability and desire for control should seem nefarious in every way, Jenner’s goofiness and warmth—not to mention her obvious appreciation for being included in the public gaze alongside her daughters—has made the whole thing lovable.
Whatever the legacy of Keeping Up With Kardashians, Jenner, and this about her specifically, may forever be my favorite thing to come out of the show.
While momagers, stage moms, and moms craven for their own fame developed into their own, negative reality-TV trope over the time that Keeping Up… has been on air, Jenner has managed to turn that stereotype into a triumph for herself. She’s certainly weathered the jokes and spoofs but, in the end, we all stand in awe of her hustle. It’s not desperation. It’s work ethic.
Dissecting Jenner’s acumen for this, Mariah Smith wrote for Vice in 2019, “She’s managed to snatch the title of ‘Employee of the Century’ from the ruler of Hell who’s held the title for over 6,000 years. And, somehow, that’s a compliment. If not that, it’s a hat tip to her ability to create drama for her family to serve storylines for their show, as well as her ability to make their more heinous behavior disappear.”
Among the drama/distractions credited to, or at least rumored to be owed to, Jenner’s devilish behavior: When Tristan Thompson, the father of Khloe Kardashian’s child, had an alleged affair with Jordyn Woods, a close Kardashian family friend, Keeping Up… fans gossiped that it was all concocted by Jenner to drum up interest—and ratings—in season 16 of the series.
When Kylie Jenner broke up with Travis Scott and Scott subsequently released the single “Highest in the Room,” which seemed to reference Jenner, it was just a week later that a video of Jenner awkwardly, chillingly singing “Rise and Shine” to her daughter went viral—another rumored Kris Jenner orchestration.
When rumors ran rampant that Kylie was pregnant in 2017, an uncharacteristically long time passed before the news was confirmed. The suspected reason: Kris wanted to time the news to be advantageous to Kylie’s business, hoping to spike Kylie Cosmetics sales and “make sure no one forgets Kylie is also a businesswoman.”
When the family was being dragged through the press and across social media for months over their flagrant partying and large gatherings while the rest of the world was shut down during COVID, news started to leak that Kim Kardashian and Kanye West were getting divorced, totally diverting the conversation away from the criticism. Who were the “multiple sources” who leaked the news? If you scanned Twitter at the time, you’d see a flurry of photos of Kris.
We could go on and on with more examples like this. It truly never ceases to be fun. That’s the remarkable thing about Jenner’s ways: She’s so good at this that she’s managed to puppetmaster her family of reality TV stars to the point that they have transcended that very reality-TV platform.
There’s been a lot of analysis about that: The rise of social media, at which the Kardashian-Jenners are masters, has replaced the show and its longer production time as the best venue for controlling messaging. The family drama that would play out on a TV show is now better suited for the immediacy of Instagram Stories, TikToks, and TMZ-like online tabloids. The family’s brand is so robust now there’s no value in the TV show as a marketing tool anymore.
Whichever of those theories are valid, I suspect there’s a uniting factor behind all of them—and she’s got a short, cropped haircut and a devilish smile.