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Doing right by the Kardashians

July 15, 2010

The following is an unworthy thought, born of too much time spent in the supermarket checkout line. However, having had the thought, I think it'd be a shame to waste it. The thought is this: I propose that the Kardashian sisters of Los Angeles, California, move to the more nurturing environment of Melrose Park, Illinois.

The Kardashians — Kim, Kourtney and Khloé — need little introduction. They're the most famous people in America, and also the most miserable. I deduce these facts from the celebrity magazines, which account for the predominance of checkout line reading material. You understand that as a general matter I rarely read celebrity magazines, and when I do, it's with an appropriate sense of ironic detachment, lest you think I'm the sort who takes his Roller Derby straight. Just the same, when you're stuck behind someone resupplying an arctic village and the Economist is out of stock, becoming engrossed in the lives of the Kardashians is hard to avoid. You also find news about Jennifer, Lindsay, Kate, Oprah, various parties named Heidi, the bachelorette du jour, and other famous individuals, plus the occasional bulletin about Obama's birthplace. The Kardashians nonetheless remain the Mount Rainier of notoriety — occasionally obscured by more fleeting phenomena, but basically always there.

And why not? The sisters lead tempestuous lives, and were it not for weekly updates in the magazines plus their cable TV show Keeping Up with the Kardashians, no one could ever keep track. I won't attempt to recount their troubles, which would tax Tolstoy, and considered individually aren't all that remarkable — cheatin' hearts, suspicious minds, sibling rivalry, unworthy suitors, gold digging (I love this term, which in the celebrity magazines alone remains fresh), and similar matters. What makes the Kardashians unusual is parallel processing, so to speak. At any given moment multiple members of their extended family are sure to be up to something, and this gives the thing critical mass.

A particularly spectacular efflorescence arose several months ago. I have samples of the relevant magazines here on my desk, purchased not out of low motives but in the interest of research. Here are the headlines on the cover of the March 15, 2010 Star:

Kardashian Sisters: Tears Behind The Smiles
Inside Their Private Hell
The Cheating! The Fights! The Threats!
Khloé — Divorce?
Kim — Dumped!
Kourtney — Duped!

American journalism hasn't seen a layout like that since the sinking of the Lusitania. And that was just one magazine. In Touch that same week had an equally pyrotechnic cover, the centerpiece of which was:

Sisters in Crisis
Humiliated by Their Men

Sisters in crisis! I say this to you as a connoisseur and occasional author of piquant headlines: a copy editor doesn't get such an opportunity twice in his career, and whoever was on the desk when this tomato crossed the plate knocked it out of the park.

Still, appreciative though we may be of these specimens of the magazine editor's art, we must look at the matter from the viewpoint of the Kardashians. Browsing online, I see that the sisters found the above exposés a bit much, claiming the tales of betrayal and heartache were fabricated. This had no impact on the coverage. Just a few days ago I saw a story in which a former paramour describes Kim as " a plastic surgery-loving 'fame whore.'" I venture no opinion on the veracity of these allegations, but to me there are two possibilities: either (1) the sisters lead lives of unremitting treachery, avarice, and despair, or (2) they're surrounded by mendacious journalists claiming they do. Neither of these situations is healthy. Thus Melrose Park.

I need to say a word about Melrose Park, which is not to be confused with Melrose Avenue, the trendy street in Los Angeles. A working-class suburb west of Chicago, the village  isn't well known outside the metropolitan area and even among locals has fallen into obscurity. Some would contend that's because it's the most nondescript municipality in the United States, although I realize there's a lot of competition on that score. (This video captures the essence.)

That's to its advantage, in my opinion. When the Kardashians move there they'll leave behind the toxic glitter of Tinseltown, and will be able to enjoy the simple things, such as paying real estate taxes and cutting the grass.

You may object that moving to Melrose Park will disrupt the sisters' lives. That may be true for some people. Lindsay Lohan, for example, is another troubled soul who might benefit from a change of scenery, but as an actress she needs to remain in Los Angeles, the center of the film industry.

The Kardashians, however, aren't actresses in the usual sense — to be honest, I'm not sure what they do for a living. They don't act in their TV series; it's a reality show. Melrose Park has lots of reality — in fact, I venture to say that after a short time there, the sisters will have had enough reality to last them the rest of their lives.  

Consider, among many possible illustrations, the matter of clothes. If we judge from the photos, the Kardashians' current wardrobes, setting aside the odd pair of jeans, consist mainly of bikinis and evening wear. I grant you this week in Melrose Park a bikini would be a useful item of apparel. (As I write, at 7 in the morning, it's 81 degrees.) Evening wear, not so much, and let's face it, bikini season anywhere in the midwest is exceedingly brief. That's less a problem than an opportunity. The sisters will have many excuses to shop for items such as parkas, galoshes, and Bears paraphernalia. With rare exceptions, none of these will show off their attractive figures. However, in January in Melrose Park, showing off your figure won't be the uppermost thing on your mind. 

Melrose Park will give the Kardashians time to relax, which you have to think they could use. Here's a recent lineup of episodes from the website for their show:

  • 3:00 p.m. Learning Self Defense — Break ins at the store [the Kardashians operate a clothing store near their California home] encourage the girls to learn self defense while Rob drops out of college to become a model.

  • 3:30 p.m. Kardashian Civil War — Kim, Khloé, and Kourtney get into a huge fight that threatens to tear their relationships apart. Meanwhile, Bruce [Jenner, the sisters' stepfather] is starting to feel out of touch with today's generation.

  • 4:00 p.m. Kardashian Family Vacation — Kris forces her family to go on a vacation in Breckenridge to mend their recent arguments, but their fighting only seems to escalate.

  • 4:30 p.m. Kim's Calendar for Reggie — Kim freaks out when a calendar that she shot for her boyfriend, Reggie Bush, is released to the general public. Meanwhile, Bruce seeks to inspire Khloé and Kourtney.

  • 5:00 p.m. A New Perspective in New Orleans — The Kardashian sisters head to New Orleans for Reggie Bush's All Star Pool Tournament and tour devastated parts of the city with a family affected by Hurricane Katrina.

That's a busy two and a half hours. Naturally one recognizes, or at least assumes, that these are reruns, and that the underlying events transpired in less frenetic doses. However, drag them out over five weeks and we're still talking a pretty heavy schedule of drama. Even if you're a sex goddess, surely you'd appreciate the opportunity to stay home some nights making s'mores in your bunny slippers, without a video crew constantly in your face. In Melrose Park the sisters will have that luxury. Indeed, from what I know of the west suburban entertainment scene, they'll want to stay home almost every night.

Melrose Park offers the Kardashians a more wholesome social environment. Many of the sisters' troubles stem from bad companions, such as professional athletes, debutantes, and other pampered individuals, with which Los Angeles is overrun. In Melrose Park, in contrast, celebrity density is extremely low. The musician John Prine used to deliver the mail there, but he's been gone for years. The shallow will say the village has a lot of Italians. You got a problem with that?

Melrose Park is known for its affordable housing. Here's a home for $115,000 — that kind of money in L.A. will barely buy you a lawn gnome. Pop for $249,900 and you get a driveway and what I take to be a porte-cochère — good luck trying to find the equal of that in California. If the Kardashians trade in the pricey mansions they currently occupy, they'll be able to buy the entire town.

Some will object that, compared to the west coast, Melrose Park lacks cultural and recreational attractions, having no Napa Valley, Big Sur, ocean, mountains, etc. However, consider these points of interest:

  • Skip's Fiesta Drive-in, the legendary teen hangout, on North near First Avenue. Skip's closed in the early 1970s. However, you can still see the spot where it stood.

  • Kiddieland, also at North and First, an old-school amusement park complete with miniature train and wooden roller coaster, where your columnist took his kids on rides he himself had experienced as a child. Alas, Kiddieland closed last year. The go-kart track, batting cages, and burlap-sack slide that once did a brisk business in the vicinity have likewise ceased to exist.

  • Maywood Park, the harness racing track, also at North and First. (North and First was once a global entertainment hub.) Maywood Park is, as far as I know, still in operation. However, if I were the Kardashians, I'd get out there quick.

What more needs to be said? A sojourn in Melrose Park will bring the Kardashians well, tranquility might be pushing it. But certainly a break in the action. For just that reason I expect the celebrity industry, thinking only of its profits, to oppose it. But what's more important — money, excitement, and constant attention, or the chance to breathe free? Meanwhile, in the checkout line, we'll get a chance to read about someone else.

Ed Zotti

Previous Paulina Street Journal Columns  

Urban explorers, part 2
Urban explorers, part 1
One in a trillion
Working for Barack
Digital psychosis

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