From New York Times op-eds to SNL parodies, the fierce criticism threatens the multi-million dollar brand and the hit E! shows
An over-the-top wedding followed by a whipsaw divorce is leading to what can only be called Kardashian backlash.
The family that captivated reality television and built the house of E! is coping with a vertiginous reversal of fortune.
“She thought she was teflon and she’s being proved wrong,” publicist Richard Laermer of RLMpr told TheWrap. “She’s the new Kate Gosselin.”
Rushdie was the first to take up the mantle, tweeting this irreverent limerick:“1. The marriage of poor kim #kardashian was krushed like a kar in a krashian” “2. her kris kried, not fair! why kan’t I keep my share?” “3. But kardashian fell klean outa fashian.”
Funny stuff, but nothing could compete with last weekend's acid “Saturday Night Live” parody that portrayed the Kardashians as airheads who prattle on about anal bleaching.
In the sketch, mom Kris Jenner is played by Kristin Wiig as an attention-seeking, plastic-surgery addict and soon to be ex-husband Kris Humphries is lampooned as a monosyllabic simpleton.
Also read: Kim Kardashian Gets 'SNL's' Treatment: 'Whoopsies, I Got Divorced': (Video)
“The only way people are going to stop hating her is if she goes away for awhile,” Laermer told TheWrap. “But I doubt this woman will ever do that. She’d go nuts to be away for even five minutes.”
The backlash not only threatens the ratings smash “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” but also imperils three E! spin-off series and brand placements for everything from weight-loss supplements to perfumes.
There’s a lot of money at stake. Last year the television show built on conspicuous consumption and botoxed family values reportedly netted the Kardashians an estimated $65 million. With a wedding watched by 4.4 million people, that reportedly brought in millions to the family, 2011 was shaping up to be an even bigger year for the clan.
But that might have gone up in the air along with the bouquet.
“People still want to believe that there’s still some sanctity to marriage,” Jessica Wakeman, a writer for TheFrisky.com, told TheWrap. “People can deal with the wedding being over the top, but to do that and get divorced 72 days later, that is hard to swallow in this economy. When people are struggling to pay bills and rent, it doesn’t make average people feel much compassion.”
Indeed, public relations experts and media critics told TheWrap that the damage to the Kardashian brand might be irreversible, due to widespread speculation that the wedding was a highly profitable sham.
“There’s a real danger that people will be angry because they feel that they have been taken for fools,” Glenn Selig, a crisis management expert with the Publicity Agency, told TheWrap. “It’s one thing for reality stars to exaggerate something for an episode, it’s another thing to go through with the marriage just to concoct a TV special. This could be the time when the line gets crossed.”
Reached by TheWrap, an E! spokesperson denied that the Kardashian and Humphries nuptials were artificial.
“The Kardashians have authentically lived their lives on camera for a long time, and Kim’s wedding is one of the many real-life events that the family has shared with viewers, from Mason’s birth to coping with their father’s death to Khloe and Lamar’s wedding,” the spokesperson told TheWrap.
E! believes that the show has been a success in part because it airs the family’s issues “warts and all,” and the divorce is no exception. To that end, the couple’s troubles will play a prominent role in the upcoming season of “Kourtney and Kim Take New York.”
So far, all of Kardashian's corporate partners from are standing by her. The reality star is also plunging forward with a role in an upcoming Tyler Perry movie and an upcoming book from HarperCollins entitled "Dollhouse."
Bruno Schiavi, president of the family's life-style brand, the Kardashian Kollection, says sales have actually improved since the divorce was announced.
"These girls have grown up in front of a camera and Kim's fans are loyal fans," Schiavi told TheWrap. "From a brand perspective, I think this will only reiterate to fans that they are human."
To be sure, Kim Kardashian is no stranger to controversy. This is, after all, a woman who launched her career thanks in part to a sex tape and rolled around suggestively with a salad in ads for Carl’s Jr. But it took the family several days to get the divorce story right. Instead of facing the cameras, Kardashian issued a short statement to E!, her network home, and took off for an endorsement tour in Australia.
Nonetheless, some public relations experts believe that the family is finally making positive steps.
More than a week after word that Kardashian was filing for divorce, it seems like the family has finally received the message and gone into full on crisis mode.
Kris Jenner has been particularly busy carrying the water for her daughter, popping up on everything from “The Today Show” to “Extra” to deny that the marriage was a sham and downplay the financial windfall the family reportedly received from the knot-tying.
Khloe and Kourtney Kardashian have also spoken out while taking pains to maintain a sense of humor. Both girls tweeted that they found the “Saturday Night Live” sketch amusing.
Public relations experts say it finally seems as though Kardashian understood that she had to at least make an effort to seem as if the divorce had real emotional consequences.
Howard Bragman, a veteran crisis consultant and the vice chairman of reputation.com, says Kardashian is doing the right thing.
“She has to show some sincerity and be authentic and the Minnesota trip did that,” Bragman said. “I would have preferred she sit down for an interview and show some tears, but she’s doing the right thing. I would tell her, ‘Don’t focus on the haters, focus on the fans.’”
Bragman said that he believes that the Kardashian got caught up in the excitement of the wedding and maintains that the romance with Humphries was genuine.
“She’s a good person who went in search of love and got hurt,” Bragman said.
If she can tell that story, then the three Vera Wang gowns, the Wolfgang Puck catering, the 20.5-carat diamond engagement ring and the rest of Kim and Kris’ carnivalesque wedding could be forgiven.
Instead it will just be a tale of a broken heart and the perfect arc for the next season of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”