The sophomore season of The Kardashians is upon us, and—in case the summer’s Kar-Jenner tabloid news didn’t provide enough of a preview—Hulu has dropped a trailer that gives us a pretty good sense of what we can expect from the show. So, how should we all bide our time until September 22? As we look ahead to everything from nostalgic SKIMs campaigns to Kravis’s Dolce & Gabbana-“hosted” wedding and Kim’s self-assessment that she is a “Jackie and a Marilyn,” here’s a Kardashians-inspired end-of-summer reading list to accompany the upcoming season.
Kim, SKIMs, and iconic Victoria’s Secret Angels: Ways of Seeing by John Berger
Adapted from art critic John Berger’s 1972 BBC documentary of the same name, this book unpacks the white male gaze, how nostalgia is used to manufacture publicity, and many other musings related to the underlying mechanics of art and media. When Kim asserts her dominance in the underwear domain by dressing some of Victoria Secret’s most memorable angels in SKIMs (“You have no idea how iconic this is,” she tells North), we might recall Berger’s insight about the ability of old-school imagery to bolster a product’s selling power: “Publicity is, in essence, nostalgic. It has to sell the past to the future.”
BTS of 818: How the Gringos Stole Tequila, by Chantal Martineau
Another shot from the trailer shows Kendall holding up a bottle of 818 tequila as her voiceover says, “I really want to be my own boss.” It seems as though some BTS of the Jenner-owned brand is in the pipeline this season, potentially raising a question that has long surrounded the spirits company: Is it okay for a white woman to jump into the tequila game? In 2015, Chantal Martineau wrote a fantastic book considering the social history and context of the Agave trade, called How the Gringos Stole Tequila: The Modern Age of Mexico’s Most Traditional Spirit. Some of the research might surprise you.
Kim’s Variety Incident: Propaganda by Edward Bernays
It appears the family plans to lean into one of Kim’s more recent scandals: when she offended a nation still stabilizing after the pandemic by declaring to Variety, “It seems like nobody wants to work anymore.” In the trailer, Khloe tells Kim, “No one sympathizes with you,” and Edward Bernays, known as the “godfather of publicity,” might shed some light on Kim’s need for damage control. His seminal 1928 manifesto, Propaganda, discusses how important it is for a business to “have its finger continuously on the public pulse. It must understand the changes in the public mind and be prepared to interpret itself fairly and eloquently to changing opinion.” The historic text isn’t only applicable to the Kar-Jenners’ legacy of press snafus. Bernays’s essential point is that effective publicity engineers a social desire for the product before even announcing that the product is available. Think: Kylie’s lips in 2015, and the speculative buzz that surrounded their transformation before she finally announced her Kylie Cosmetics lip kits. In general, the book anticipates the Kar-Jenner rise to relevance—and their impact on the Influencer Economy.
Kravis’s Brand-Heavy Wedding: The Image: A Guide to Pseudo Events in America by Daniel Boorstin
The trailer also shows Kourtney Kardashian prepping for her May Portofino wedding to Travis Barker, which was “hosted” by Dolce & Gabbana. At the time, leaked paparazzi photos from the event showed Kravis and their guests dressed by the decadent Italian house—but it wasn’t until Ellen von Unwerth’s official shots of the nuptials were released that viewers could feel the full impact of the looks. Kravis have always performed their love story with an aesthetic flourish, and that social media-friendly sensibility reminds me of the 1962 media theory classic The Image by Daniel Boorstin. Boorstin breaks down the 19th-century Graphic Revolution, when images began permeating media, becoming as important as the news content they accompanied (if not more so). Boorstin believed that our mass fixation with images would eventually inspire public figures to curate their activities and life events with media endgames—headlines, photos—in mind. “Fact itself,” Boorstin wrote, “has become ‘nonfiction.’”
The Revived Jackie Kennedy vs. Marilyn Monroe Paradigm: Stars by Richard Dyer
It seems likely that much time will be devoted to Kim’s controversial appropriation of Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” dress for the 2022 Met Gala. In a shot from the trailer, Kim tells the camera, “Honey, I am the Jackie and the Marilyn.” Throughout her career, Kim has aligned herself with countless iconic femmes, and it’s always tempting to delve into their biographies to determine how the comparisons hold up. The common denominators in this case might simply be femininity, strength, and, most of all, a canny use of the media structures of the time to perpetuate relevance. As English academic Richard Dyer wrote in Stars, “a star is both ordinary and extraordinary.” Jackie, Marilyn, and Kim all knew how to make the most of the film, TV, news, or social media that mattered during their lifetimes, to self-mythologize in a way that reflected America’s values (or anxieties), and then to show up well on screen. Stars is a useful book in understanding Old Hollywood constructions of celebrity, and Dyer organizes his analysis into three parts: “Stars as a Social Phenomenon,” “Stars as Images,” and “Stars as Characters.” It’s interesting to notice, through Kim, which tenets of American stardom have lasted, and which have fallen away.