The People v. O.J. Simpson: Here's why showing the Kardashian kids is crucial
Regarding one tiny footnote in The People v. O.J. Simpson, the television jury has rendered a unanimous verdict: They despise on sight the Kardashian kids, who have been shown (played by actors) for a total of 23 seconds in the first two episodes of FX’s acclaimed miniseries.
Twenty-three seconds is one third of one percent of the total show’s total running time. Tonight’s third episode brings with it the tribe’s longest exposure on the show thus far — and is guaranteed to inflame the Twitter flames even fiercer than before.
From the reaction that those 23 seconds have provoked, you would think this was the scene in Fight Club, where the disgruntled projectionist Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) splices flashes of pornography into animated movies for children, causing reactions like this:
The third episode begins with Robert Kardashian taking the whole clan (Kim, Khloé, Kourtney, and Rob; Kylie and Kendall hadn’t been born yet) to the restaurant Chin Chin for a Father’s Day breakfast. (You can read the full recap here.) “Oh my God,” exclaims the hostess. “You’re Richard Kardobian!”
After being escorted past the long line and seated at their table, Papa Kardashian offers his kin some Polonius-esque wisdom. “In this family, being a good person and a loyal friend is more important than being famous,” he intones. “Fame is fleeting. It’s hollow. It means nothing without a virtuous heart.”
This is classic satire. Defined as the use of humor or ridicule to expose societal stupidity. This scene, of course, never actually happened. According to Jeffrey Toobin’s book The Run of His Life, on which the miniseries is based, there is scant evidence to suggest that Robert Kardashian, who died in 2003, was honorable or altruistic about anything. “His devotion to Simpson had a desperate, frantic quality,” Toobin writes, portraying him as lowbred sycophant, whose bonkers fidelity to O.J. might actually have been motivated by a vainglorious craving for the spotlight, especially after his ex-wife Kris was becoming famous for Thighmaster commercials with new husband Bruce Jenner.
Vainglorious craving for the spotlight — does that sound like anyone you know? The bright red rage that audiences are seeing about the Kardashians overall is blinding them to the fact that these kids are being mocked for their overall rudeness (incivility at Nicole Brown’s funeral in episode 1), narcissism (spelling out their surname when their dad appears on TV in episode 2) and obvious lack of self-respect (the aforementioned fame speech in episode 3).
We’ve already established that the O.J. Simpson saga — replete with ugly opportunism and cameras everywhere and celebrity disgrace — whet America’s appetite for the empty calories of melodrama. If modern reality TV was a gruesome monster created from the stew of O.J. coverage, then Keeping Up With the Kardashians was obviously an egg laid from that monster.
Kim Kardashian is someone who became famous in 2007 thanks to a sex tape, which was followed a few months later by the premiere of her family’s E! show. Even if you’ve never seen a full episode of that program (as I haven’t), you know what the family stands for. Namely, self-promotion. When Caitlin Jenner accepted the ESPY Arthur Ashe Courage Award last year, she said, “If you want to…doubt my intentions, go ahead.” Why would she say that if not for the mental recoil that we all perform when confronted by anything Kardashian?
And granted, that wincing is exactly what so many experience while watching The People v. O.J. Simpson. And it’s understandable. But audiences are confusing the Kardashian kids’ inclusion in the narrative with some kind of a moral endorsement. Some have even accused Ryan Murphy of cutting to the children simply to boost the show’s ratings. That’s an absurd accusation, made mainly by people who never heard the name Kardashian before 2007 and for that reason feel like the show is twisting itself into knots in order to include the family. When, in fact, they are a peripheral — but ineradicable — crumb of the O.J. cake.
Remember, in fact, in 2011, when Kim Kardashian tweeted after the Casey Anthony verdict, “WHAT!!!!???!!!! CASEY ANTHONY FOUND NOT GUILTY!!!! I am speechless!!!” — and the internet blew up with heckling responses? She received thousands of ridiculing jabs, all on the subject of “REMINDS ME OF THAT TIME YOUR DAD HELPED O.J. GET AWAY WITH MURDER.” It was completely fair to slam her then. And it is also legitimate — even virtuous, to borrow a word from Robert Kardashian — for Murphy and company to takes swipes at the family here.
Just so long as you realize that’s what the show is doing. This one satiric element has backfired for The People v. O.J. Simpson because the Kardashians appall too many people. But if you’re sickened by the show’s use of them, here’s one final cure for your pain: Stop believing, right now, that anyone involved with the O.J. Simpson story crawled out of those two years with any integrity intact. Yes, the attorneys on both sides were doing their jobs, but the case developed into one of the most bloated zits in American culture. And when that zit burst, it looked something like this: