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Coming clean with dirty laundry

Special to The Times

Kim Kardashian began the first season of the E! reality series “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” wanting to set the record straight. Her sex tape with her former boyfriend, the R&B; singer Ray J, had leaked, and Kim and her momager, Kris, felt the logical way to address it was to appear on Tyra Banks’ talk show.

Dressed in a high-necked, ruffled, wine-colored blouse that smacked positively Victorian, Kim pleaded her case: “I have little sisters who I had to explain myself to. I need to try and teach them what not to do.”

To which Banks deadpanned, “Not to have sex and tape it?”

Or maybe not to go on TV and talk about it. Or not feature yourself in a reality show when your very loose fame derives largely from starring in a widely discussed sex tape.

In tonight’s season finale (at 10:30), which follows a marathon of the first season, Kim hasn’t progressed far. Instead, she’s on the morning radio show of Ryan Seacrest (an executive producer of this series) to set the record straight about her love life.

Really, with so much misinformation out in the world, shouldn’t there be a premium on good ol’ information?

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Maybe not. After all, Kim Kardashian is made of the stuff of legend, of image, of collective fantasy. “The great face, the hair, the booty” -- so sayeth no less an expert on image-making than Hugh Hefner, in the episode in which Kim sticks to her values and doesn’t strip down for her Playboy cover pictorial -- “People are gonna say, ‘Oh, all she’s good for is taking her clothes off. Can she do anything else?’ ” -- and then, you know, gives in.

And Kim is much more an icon for our times than her longtime frenemy Paris Hilton, notable by her complete absence from this series, even as no fewer than five stars of other reality programs about Southern California’s young and beautiful -- Brittny Gastineau (“Gastineau Girls”), Brody Jenner (“The Princes of Malibu,” “The Hills” and Kim’s stepbrother), Frankie Delgado (“Twentyfourseven,” “The Hills”), and Holly Madison and Kendra Wilkinson (“The Girls Next Door”) -- make cameos. Paris comes from money and lineage; by comparison, Kim is a bootstrapper. Twenty-four months ago, she hardly registered a blip on the social radar; now, she is ubiquitous. And though the circumstances of her rise to notoriety are perhaps not the most desirable, or the most forgiving, she seems determined to turn them to her advantage, blowback be damned.

That pluck animates “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” even if it does not quite redeem it. Kim isn’t famous enough to have truly glorious adventures, and her family squabbles are, considering how often they’re at the nexus of sex and commerce, relatively benign. (Sometimes they’re gruesome, though, as when Kim’s sister Khloe takes in a homeless man and gets him new clothes and new dentures: “He looks stunning,” she says.)

Central to Kim’s drama is Kris, notable for craving her lost youth and for questionably managing Kim’s career, and sisters Khloe and Kourtney. All are striking. Kris’ husband, former champion Olympic decathlete Bruce Jenner, is portrayed as hapless and daffy, aware of his irrelevance but gamely fighting it. (Kris was formerly married to the late Robert Kardashian, one of O.J. Simpson’s defense attorneys; together they had Kim, Khloe and Kourtney.)

But this is a family with severe boundary issues -- it is Kris who encourages Kim to pose for Playboy and who cheerily does crisis management about Kim’s sex tape. She seems more interested in the cameras than Kim is.

Dishonesty is also a recurring motif -- Kris and the kids routinely try to keep difficult information out of Bruce’s ears, whether it’s the three sisters’ participation in a swimwear shoot or the family getting a new puppy. Truth is, he’d probably be less judgmental if he were treated a little more respectfully. And when Kris thinks Kourtney’s boyfriend cheated on her, she hems and haws about telling her. Perhaps all the deception is made for TV, but the payoff in drama doesn’t seem worth the accreted mistrust.

Besides, there’s more than one way to transmit information, as seen in the behavior of the family’s youngest children, Kendall Jenner, 11, and Kylie Jenner, 9, (the only children of Bruce and Kris). Watching them gives uncomfortable new meaning to the show’s title -- neither is a teenager, but they’re both well versed in the ways of the clan. In one episode, they’re shown mock bartending. When Kris and Kourtney come home a little tipsy, one declares, “I’m gonna go take care of ‘em.” In another, one of them works the stripper pole Kim bought for Kris and Bruce and drops references to “Girls Gone Wild.” (She is simultaneously being videotaped by a family friend, who jokes about putting the footage on YouTube.)

But when Kendall asks her mother why the FBI visits their house in tonight’s season finale, Kris prevaricates, telling her she can know when she’s older. Or maybe when she watches the show, which was recently picked up for a second season -- Kardashians, heal thyselves.


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