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21 March 2017

Keeping Up With the Kardashians: the one where Kim got robbed

The episode covering Kim Kardashian being robbed in Paris asked: how do you turn an almost unspeakable personal trauma into reality television? 

By Anna Leszkiewicz

“That’s it. I can’t talk about it anymore,” Kris Jenner says to camera, wiping her eyes.

“She couldn’t even talk,” Kourtney Kardashian says of her sister Kim.

“We won’t talk about it in front of the kids,” Kanye West agrees to his wife.

In last night’s episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, “Paris”, the family struggled to find words to discuss Kim Kardashian’s assault in October last year, when she was robbed at gunpoint in a French apartment.

When an event is so traumatic that it can be difficult to talk about with your closest friends and family, how do you turn it into public consumption? That’s one of the conundrums the Kardashian family have faced since the  incident occurred last year. “I have always shared so much, and I’m not going to hold back when this was probably one of the most life changing experiences for me,” Kim explained. “I thought it was important to share this story through my eyes and not in an interview where my own words could be twisted.”

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As a TV show, Keeping Up With the Kardashians faces a unique challenge because it lags six months behind the Kardashian family’s social media channels. Its stars are engaging in a constant balancing act between updating their lives just enough in real time to remain relevant, and holding enough back to make their reality show worth watching. But since the robbery, Kim’s social media presence has changed dramatically: she was silent for months, before moving to a nostalgic strategy that focused on timeless domestic shots – lacking the immediacy and glamour of her usual updates. There’s a noticeable shift between pre- and post-robbery Kim which this episode consciously grapples with.

So the episode begins with pre-robbery Kardashian life in full gear. It’s Paris Fashion Week, and Kim and Kourtney are in back-to-back fittings and runway shows. It’s a life focused on external and public appearances in the extreme: much is made of Kanye West flying to Paris for one day online, in a short gap between tour shows, in order to help Kim with her “looks” (he was so shocked by some of the outfit choices he had seen her in online, he felt she needed his urgent support). We watch debates over high ponies, beige leggings and lace collars. We see Kim Snapchatting effusively, cutting between shots of her filming on her phone, and the footage from the phone itself. There are meta nods to who is behind the professional cameras (Steph, Kim’s assistant, filmed most of the footage we see in these points). There are light-hearted conversations about the “prankster” who tries to assault Kim:  “It’s a stupid prank but it really does get into your personal space, and it’s not funny.”

These shots are interspersed with “confessionals” (talking head shots to camera) which we know are filmed much later: Kardashians pre- and post-robbery are in dialogue with one another, all speaking in the present tense. This is also all layered with the increased use of Kanye West’s personal footage (a filmmaker shoots grainy VHS tapes of the rapper’s every move). The result is an odd dramatic irony – the “before” shots feel strangely inaccessible and almost prelapsarian in their naïvety. Is it just the harsher light, or do the Kardashian women seem older in their confessionals?

It’s not until halfway through the episode that we start to hear about the actual robbery, and when we do, it’s glossed over with shots of ambulances and montages of articles, before the show begins to dissect the aftermath immediately, with sisters Kendall and Kourtney explaining the days afterwards from their own perspective. It’s as though we’re following Kim’s psychological journey – the night itself is a blur, and she only pieces it together in retrospect.  “I know that Kim is so shaken up,” Kris says half an hour in, “it’s gonna take her a really long time to process what even happened.”

When we do reach the events themselves, having had our time to reflect, we hear about them in great detail. Kim explains in her confessional, “What I think happened now, after like thinking about it so much, is that there was probably a group of guys that were following us the entire trip,” before launching in to a blow-by-blow account. Kim tells the story twice – once directly to camera, and once to Kourtney and Khloe at her house, and we hear these two accounts layered together. The explicit violence of this story feels even more jarring at the end of an episode full of euphemism and avoidance. Here’s a short segment:

I remember looking at the concierge, who was sitting down on this, like, desk, and I just said like, “Are we gonna die? What’s happening to us? Like, I have babies, please tell them, please, they can’t understand me, but tell them I have babies at home, like, please, like I have a family, like, let me live.” And then, um… then he duct-tapes my face – I mean, like, my mouth, to get me to not yell or anything. And then he like grabs my legs, and I wasn’t, you know, I had no clothes on under – so, he pulled me towards him at the front of the bed, and I thought like, “OK, this is the moment, they’re gonna rape me.” And I fully, like mentally prepped myself. And then he didn’t. And he, like, duct-taped my legs together. And, um, then, you know, they had the gun up to me, and I just knew that was the moment, they’re just gonna totally shoot me in the head. I just prayed that Kourtney was going to have a normal life after she sees my dead body on the bed.

No detail is shied away from. Words like “rape” and “gun” seem stark in comparison to the vagueness of familial comments – “I’m just glad you’re safe”, “If anything had really happened to you”. “Our life is just going to have to change,” Kim says to Kris on the plane out of Paris. “Like 150%,” she replies. “And everybody has to be armed.”

Nothing about this episode feels entertaining, but of course, that’s exactly what it is. It’s easy to feel uncomfortable about the way that a personal trauma has been turned into public consumption. But this is also one woman’s attempt to process what happened to her in the form she is most familiar and comfortable with, in a public arena she has a surprising amount of personal control over. As Kim herself explained today, “I took a tragic horrific experience and did not let it diminish me, rather grew and evolved and allowed the experience to teach me. I can say I’ve become so much better because of it.”

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