American reality television star Kim Kardashian is making a visit to the West African nation of Ivory Coast, where her family’s shows have earned her a loyal following. While the family’s exploits might be seen as decadent and absurd by some Americans, fans in the commercial capital of Abidjan view the shows as heartfelt family dramas featuring girls familiar with struggle and hard work.
Its 9 o’clock on a recent weeknight, and throughout Abidjan young women with access to satellite television are tuning into the American reality show “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” - or, as it is known in French, “L’Incroyable Famille Kardashian.”
Popular TV show
Stars of the reality show "Keeping Up with the Kardashians", Khloe Kardashian, center, Kim Kardashian, left, and Kourtney Kardashian pose for a portrait in Los Angeles, March 26, 2009.
The show, which attracts more than 3 million viewers per episode in the United States, has become something of a surprise hit in Ivory Coast’s commercial capital as well. Although no viewership numbers are available, a version of the show dubbed into French can be viewed by more than 150,000 homes that pay for satellite access - not to mention the tens of thousands of homes that receive pirated services. And the city has no shortage of fans familiar with its characters and plot twists.
Carole Yokami, a 25-year-old employee at a clothing store in one of Abidjan’s high-end shopping plazas, says she likes that the show offers a behind-the-scenes look at one of America’s more famous families. The show and its various spinoffs center on three sisters from California who run a chain of upscale boutiques.
She says “We used to see them while they were working, but we didn’t know so much about the family and how they were living.” She says “Now we know about their problems, and their joy. It shows that celebrities are people like us and we’re not really different. I love the show and I watch it almost every day. Even yesterday I was watching it.”
Kim visits to Ivory Coast
This week, a local lifestyle magazine and the French telecom firm Orange have partnered to bring the family’s most famous member, 32-year-old sister Kim, to Abidjan.
While here, she will promote a new savings card that offers discounts at nightclubs, restaurants and shops. Organizers say she also is likely to visit either an orphanage or a hospital, and host a private party at a nightclub called Life Star.
While fans said they are excited about Kim Kardashian’s visit, there is some confusion about its purpose. Marie Pascale Kouadio, an avid watcher of the show, said she is unsure what kind of performance the reality TV star could put on to entertain her fans.
She says, “I don’t know why she’s coming to Ivory Coast. She’s not a singer, she’s not a performer. So I’d like to know why she’s coming, and what she’ll be able to do for us.”
Promoting - Be Yourself
But Guy Sahouegnon, a publicist who is helping organize the visit, said it is Kardashian’s lack of conventional talent that makes her an ideal promoter of the savings card, which carries the message “be yourself and don’t worry about what other people think.”
“Kim Kardashian is different from the generally known stars. She doesn’t sing. She doesn’t dance. But she’s still famous. She has her own talent to be herself and make people love her. She travels around the country, around the world, receiving thousands of fans. People even pay $1,500 to see her in the Middle East - that means something. She is free. She moves from one topic to another one without worrying or thinking about it. She’s a kind of role model. She’s different, but she’s a role model.”
Not every fan of the show is convinced of Kim’s role model status. Annick Djouka, a 20-year-old staffer at a boutique specializing in high-end perfume, said she would prefer it if one of the other Kardashian sisters came to Abidjan. She said she soured on Kim after her high-profile marriage to pro basketball star Kris Humphries last year, which ended after 72 days and was widely derided as a publicity stunt.
She says that “During Kardashian’s wedding with the basketball player, there were no lessons to take from this kind of behavior.” She says “We can’t learn anything from that. To sum up, she’s a capricious girl. Little girls may like her because they’re capricious too, but I don’t know what kind of influence she’s going to have. Some people may like her, but I don’t like her.”
It’s not only women who follow the show. Moise Agba, the 27-year old manager of a City Sport store, said he watches the Kardashians to learn more about America.
He says “It shows us the American spirit, and the American way of life. People struggle to earn their living every day and then when they succeed in life they get big cars, houses, luxurious things. It shows us how American people live.”