unimaginable heights

Scott Disick's Shining Path of Least Resistance

As a brief bit of background, I started watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians (KUWTK) in the year of 2017, on a plush velvet sofa in a Copacabana flat that was both too big and too expensive for me. What was an idle-thumbed accident became a key part of our morning routine. Talita would get up early, I would have breakfast with her. We would watch the first episode of KUWTK together and then she would have to leave for her job as a librarian at the British School three hours across the city in sweltering packed buses, and I would sit back and send her detailed updates and insights from the ensuing episodes. (“The life of a playwright is tough.”)

It became a mild obsession, albeit an obsession that died down after we moved out of the high-rise apartment and Talita’s engineer cousin moved in and installed fingerprint scanners on the doors (and our new, smaller apartment had only a basic cable package – i.e. no E!).

Then, earlier this year, just when we needed it, the first four seasons of KUWTK appeared on Netflix, with some guy called Bruce Jenner who I don’t remember at all from Season 12.

Those initial seasons are a bit of a museum piece now, seeing as how they aired from 2007-2010. They occupy that no-man’s land of early-Obama pre-Con-Lib-coalition pre-recessionary culture that has been cruelly tossed aside like an iPod touch. When smart people affected ignorance, not the other way around. This is the golden age of the dumb celebrity, the rehab era of Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan, Girls Gone Wild and Steve Irwin’s last splash. Doherty, David Blaine, Brangelina. Miley Cyrus was young, Amy Winehouse was still alive, Tiger Woods was PG and J Depp was everyone’s favourite family-friendly whack-job.

Part One: Rebellious Scott to Crush

Scott Disick is undoubtedly the most fascinating thing about the Kardashians. Early Bruce (in this essay I refer to Caitlyn Jenner as ‘Bruce’ because that is how the character was and is still credited) is good and later Kanye is also excellent, but I feel like Scott Disick is more interesting because he is a product of the same universe as the Kardashians and yet reflects back to them all the things they don’t like about that universe. He’s kind of like a Dorian Gray caricature or a court jester.

I picked this episode (Season 4, Episode 9 - Blame It on the Alcohol) to unravel because I think it’s the point where Scott Disick’s narrative arc explodes and can never really be put back together.

What do I mean by that? KUWTK is a so-called ‘reality’ show, which means it takes place in the ‘real world’ i.e. there are no fictional characters, and yet at the same time the production team both orchestrate events before they happen and edit them afterwards in order to present a cleaner story than real-life often gives us.

This means that the participants commonly get moulded into a more 2d version of themselves, and are given storylines that both fit and re-enforce that mould. For example, Bruce Jenner is a sort of avuncular Larry David figure who constantly wants to do ‘guy’ stuff but is surrounded by a world of female narcissists, so therefore he always ends up having to take some little fluffy Pomeranian to get their nails done or whatever. Khloe always loses her temper and cries every time her dead dad is brought up, so therefore the camera crew will be sure to follow her around at every conceivably emotional birthday, anniversary etc. and sometimes even elicit some emotion by producing a box of home video tapes or an Armenian themed whatever. Rob, as the only male heir, tries to complete business school as a ‘promise to his dad,’ but repeatedly vacillates in favour of less prestigious pursuits, such as being a model in Japan, getting bad tattoos, and pining over his ‘Cheetah Girl.’

Scott Disick is already Kourtney Kardashian’s boyfriend at the show’s very start, and straight away you can tell there’s some below-surface tension. It’s a tension that is both obvious and hidden, existing equally on-camera and in the production decisions. I don’t know how much influence Kris Jenner had on the shaping of the Kardashians’ narrative – being an executive producer and all – but she definitely comes across as the most anti-Scott in the show, and I wonder if that also affected the way he’s presented, or vice-versa.

My main argument is that Scott, for both Kris and the show, represents exactly the kind of person that they’re trying to disassociate themselves from. And yet he’s got this core power that just sustains him in a universe famous for driving heterosexual men mad (Kris Humphries, Corey Gamble, Lamar Odom, Kanye West).

He’s introduced early on as a kind of rich, white, layabout Jewish playboy: the much younger, slightly arrogant, and a little bit Patrick Bateman-esque boyfriend of Kourtney Kardashian.

(Fun fact: not only does Scott Disick enjoy dressing up as Patrick Bateman in his spare time, he also starred as Patrick Bateman in a promo video for Kanye West’s Yeezus, where he can be seen axing to death the arch-villain and anti-Disick of the KUWTK universe, Jonathan Cheban. Further evidence for Kanye West’s almost omniscient insight into all things personal/political/cultural)

Kourtney is the oldest of the sisters, and I would say the least plot-friendly of all the Kardashian clan. Kim has her struggles with fame and work, Khloe has her bubbling psychological instability, Rob has his youth, fading good looks and lack of a father-figure, Bruce has his helicopters and Kris has the matriarchal overlord role to fulfil. Kourtney just kind of rolls her eyes, which is very cool, but must have been frustrating for the narrative-hungry producers.

Kourtney is on the far-right of this photo. The first few episodes I watched of KUWTK, I think Season 12, were unnerving because I could never tell who was who. Kind of a fun thing to get plunged into the deep end of, like Persona but actually interesting.

The producers regularly throw in a few relationship complications for Scott and Kourt, including his errant texts to other women, but nothing comes of it. Scott somehow refuses to play the game. He doesn’t really even have to beg Kourtney to take him back or debase himself in-front of the cameras. He’s okay, he pats her bum, tells her he loves her, and it’s all good. From very early on, it’s clear that Scott sees the whole Kardashian universe as a bit of a joke, phoney and constructed, and he’s fine to just roll in, get some juice from the fridge, fist-bump Bruce, and roll out again.

What’s unique about Scott in the early episodes is he’s the only character that is neither successful nor looking to be. With other male characters, such as Jonathan Cheban, you can almost smell the stickiness from all this hanging-on, hanging around, trying to somehow get a spin-off or product placement off the back of their appearances. Then with the successful athletic boyfriends and business partners, they see the cameras as both a confirmation of a certain prestige, and a bit of a nuisance: something that comes with the territory. But Scott has no arc, no ‘potential,’ no room for ‘growth,’ no dreams or ambitions. He’s obviously incredibly rich, so why would he?

A rare photo of matter (Scott Disick) and anti-matter (Jonathan Cheban) interacting.

This is the first way in which I think Scott really challenges one of the main messages of KUWTK: the message of hard-work and industriousness bringing deserved rewards.

Kris Jenner, and to a lesser extent Kim – favourite child and most obvious heir – never fail to drum home this message that you have to work hard for everything in life. Despite the fact that one owes her standard of living to marrying a celebrity lawyer, and the other owes her fame and notoriety to forty-odd minutes of grainy misbehaviour.

This deluded mantra is mirrored by the storylines, which more-or-less can be condensed into the following formula: Kardashian discovers problem, problem appears unsurmountable, Kardashian outsources problem to third party, third party solves problem, Kardashian takes credit for overcoming obstacle, learns nothing and then further rewards themselves through some outsourced leisure.

The show’s very title ‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians’ implies busyness, movement, dynamism; and yet very quickly it becomes apparent that most of their time is spent sitting around eating pre-prepared salads out of huge plastic tubs - then a cut to one of those beautiful insets that is all sped up traffic weaving through hive-like cities - then a cut to Khloe getting a colonoscopy.

However, as a sort of penitence, a self-justification for such an absurdly pampered and luxurious lifestyle, Kris/the show set out to demonstrate the value of ambition and persistence, and the consequent personal growth that such a journey – and only such a journey – can afford.

But how can all this Prosperity Theology ring true when Scott just cruises in, parks one of his various sports cars, and spends the day sunbathing and drinking beer while everyone else has to work their asses off?

Cue Season 4, Episode 9 - Blame It on The Alcohol. For the whole of season 4, Scott has been awkwardly ushered from his previous role of Bart-Simpson-at-the-Playboy-Mansion to one of surprisingly attentive expectant father. The lingering animosity from Kris still remains, but the news that Kourtney is expecting sets Scott up with an easy and season-long storyline of Kardashian-brand growth.

The previous episodes have gently see-sawed between Scott and Kourtney having difficulties to them overcoming their difficulties. Scott seems to be shaping up into a terrific dad and husband figure. Despite the show’s best efforts, what is evident is the genuine love and affection shared between the two. And yet one bugbear still remains: Scott’s lack of employment. Kris continues to hammer on about how she doubts that Scott, the father to her first grandchild, will be able to provide for his future family... sell one of his sports-cars, perhaps?

Part Two: Episode Break Down

Blame It on The Alcohol begins with a fairly garden-variety Kim-Kris plot. Kim ‘364 days of the year’ Kardashian now wants to work on her birthday: the one day off she gets from her rigorous schedule of posing with shoes and pretending to eat food. The work in question is throwing a birthday party event in Vegas open to the paying public, that in turn promotes a nightclub owned by a friend. She’s done it every year and doesn’t want to let anyone down. This is a classic Kardashian trope, the professionalisation of ‘fun.’

Kris even begins the episode saying “Vegas is always a lot of fun, but tonight we’re here to work.”

Four minutes in and the plot cuts to Kourtney and Scott shopping for healthy food. Kourtney reflects on how she’s seen a huge change in Scott. Cue montage of Scott deciding on a colour for the baby’s room and Kourtney adding how Scott now has a job with a vitamin company that uses Kim’s ass to sell milkshakes. “He’s been getting up everyday, going to work, getting up early.” What a transformation! Cut to Scott having what looks like a lunch date with an actress who expresses interest in endorsing the vitamins. “He’s definitely on the right track.” Kourtney concludes.

The show then jumps to the whole family trying to decide whether it’s a picture of Kim’s boobs or butt on the new ‘Quicktrim’ milkshake. Kris takes this as an opportunity to harangue Scott, “the new Quicktrim guy”.
“That’s Kim’s body all right,” he deadpans while sitting on the kitchen counter flicking through a magazine. Kris sets this up as such a high-stakes venture – getting Scott a job – when it so obviously isn’t.

The delectable irony of Kris Kardashian saying to Scott Disick “Thank god you finally have a real job, so you don’t just keep doing whatever it was you were doing,” is a lot, even for this show and all its false realisations and flimsy just-world fantasies. I think it could be the turning point in this show’s relationship to Scott and perhaps even in Scott’s relationship to himself. This is a guy who goes on to found a clothing line called ‘Talentless,’ buys himself a genuine Lordship (aristocracy are the original non-working debauchers) and essentially makes a large bulk of his money from getting shitfaced at various venues, exactly as he does later on in this episode. He essentially becomes the anti-Kardashian, promoting a lifestyle of unexplainable, kingly wealth directly opposed to the Kardashians’ supposedly hard-earned entrepreneurial dream.

Scott Disick’s current day job.

“I just want him to be successful.-” Kris laments.
“-He is, he’s great!-” Kourtney interjects.
“-And be motivated to do something great and I think this is a really good start for him, that’s all.” She’s sort of right, just in the opposite way intended.

After some more lecturing, the camera cuts to a talking-head of Scott: “I honestly feel like no matter what I do in this family, no matter what I achieve, I’ll never be what Kris wants.”
“Use your gift.” Kris almost goads him, “Show us that you have some initiative.”

I don’t know if Scott is smart enough to realise this at the time – that he can use his ‘gift’, i.e. his natural charisma and inherited wealth, to live a life of self-perpetuating excess – but this is what I think we see the beginning of in this episode.

Scott very clearly rejects the story line given to him and instead chooses to destroy it and carve out his own narrative. One which has no growth, no redemption, but is somehow much truer to our world and time.

The Kardashians’ business is based on enticing desire: they make their money by teasing the American public’s Id. They do it so puritanically that they expect not to be contaminated by it. They’ll do a nude photo-shoot for Playboy yet demand enough creative control over it to make sure it is ‘tasteful’. They’ll lend their name to an app where young girls can learn how to become made-up Machiavellis but I doubt their own children are playing it. And they’ll throw a birthday party in Vegas for a thousand dupes but they sure as hell won’t be nursing hangovers the following day.

They try to bring Scott into their world, marketing Kim’s ass on a vitamin shake. And yet he rejects this. Scott instead chooses to embody the Id, he chooses to enact desire rather than tease it, and he invites the viewer to vicariously join him for the ride.

It’s fitting that this episode is set in Las Vegas, the perfect battleground for the Kardashian world-view vs. the Disick world-view. Everyone knows that Las Vegas is ‘Sin City,’ a place for excess, reckless consumption and extreme behaviour. But the Kardashians are going there to work. Kim doesn’t even drink. They are there to stand in a club with a bunch of boozy strangers, and to give those strangers the impression that they are partying with the Kardashians. They are there to pretend they’re having fun in order to make money off the back of people who desperately want fun.

A sober yet lucrative party in Las Vegas is the Kardashian way. Risking your job for the sake of a boozy blow-out in Las Vegas, a month before your first child is born, is the Disick way.

Kim arrives at her hotel and immediately requests a wake-up call so she can nap for two-and-a-half minutes. That’s the joke: Jonathan Cheban (who else?) asks a hotel employee to wake them up in two-and-a-half minutes – who politely, painfully replies with one of those American service-industry smiles, “Okay, sure!”

Scott and Rob hit the bar at 2pm.

Rob brings up Kris, “It’s almost like you’ve accepted the fact that she hates you.”

The drinking ensues.

Rob mentions that Scott’s bosses from his new bullshit vitamin job are going to be at Kim’s sober birthday dinner. Scott shrugs. “We’re in Vegas, dude. Relax! Nothing bad is going to happen.”

Kim goes off to shop for an hour before hair and makeup (5PM) then dinner (8:30pm). The one hour break she gets to herself. Kourtney, Kris, plus Jonathan Cheban and others, are shuffling around behind, phones in hand.

Cut back to Scott Disick and Rob in a hotel suite, now joined by Rob’s evergreen and astoundingly featureless pal, JJ. JJ asks for a “room situation” whatever that is – Scott throws some object at him shouting “Here’s your god-damn room situation!” and leaves the shot, tipping a chair as he goes.

Things are becoming unhinged. What’s lovely to watch is how kinetic the camerawork becomes as the team assigned to Rob and Scott struggle to keep everyone in shot and in focus. This is rarely seen in KUWTK, usually a little camera bob as they follow some fake pursuit or planned surprise. But all of a sudden it feels like someone’s spliced in a documentary about the Gombe Chimp War.

Scott wearing a bathrobe, lighting a cigarette with a beer in the other hand.

Rob goes off to meet a “female acquaintance” that Scott believes to be a “hooker.” Scott’s voice has changed from bucky Billy Rich to some kind of emphysemic backstreet sleuth.

“This is a good friend.” Rob says. “Of course she is. We all call them that."

Scott then comments on how she looks like Rob’s sister, not mentioning which one. Another little tickle of the dark underbelly that seethes beneath the Kardashians’ entire brand surface. He wants to watch them having sex. Scott is “possessed” as Rob puts it. He has become the audience, the audience who are teased along by all the family’s provocations.

The camera then cuts to Scott sleeping. He is out for the night in a drunken stupor, and yet still manages to say some choice words.

It takes a lot to try and go against the monumental forces of a hit show pedalled by a delusionally-driven family unit (like one of those stag-do circular bicycle bars), and Scott conks out from his efforts. Kourtney, the only person who understands and appreciates Scott, asks Rob to leave him alone so that they won’t have to deal with his antics anymore. But Rob continues to hump and wrestle the man until he returns to his rampaging.

Cut to Kim Kardashian, “I’m here for work, and this is serious. And they just think it’s some kind of joke.”

Kourtney goes to reprimand Scott and their exchange sounds like an encapsulation of their entire relationship/Scott’s relationship with the show.
“When you sober up.”
“That’ll never happen.”
“Okay, so then you can’t come to dinner.”
“I love you! Does it matter that I love you?”
“If you sober up, then, then, we can talk.”

“Not only is Scott going to ruin Kim’s birthday but his boss is here and he could totally lose his job.” Kourtney says without a hint of emotion.

“It’s Vegas! Have some fun, lighten up!”

At risk of this turning into a simple episode summary, let me just say that the situation escalates when Kris comes to see how the boys are doing. The boys pretend to scrap and then, another engineered crisis: Scott’s bosses are heading up to the hotel room.

What becomes interesting is the contrast between the show/Kris’s contrived concern for Scott’s job and his very real drunkenness and unhinged behaviour. He starts to get that particular brand of dog-eyed sadness that very drunk men get. You know when they’re laughing or doing something stupid but in their eyes they look utterly lost. As my friend Hugo once said (slightly spruced up by yours truly) “Real drunkenness is a state of chemically-induced distress; it herds together all of the normally competing extreme emotions - joy, sadness and anger – and releases them as one.”

Another interesting point to make about the Kris Jenner v Scott Disick dynamic is that it is often hinted throughout the show that Kris is a problem drinker.

But for some reason this is celebrated as her getting ‘mum tipsy’ or occasionally being referred to as a ‘lush’ by one of her children. Though to be fair, she does get drunk in a much more controlled and telegenic fashion.

There are some beautiful moments of drunken improv, like when Scott’s bosses come up to his room and he responds by bolting upright and pacing into the next room. “It’s the police, isn’t it? Don’t look them directly in the eyes.” He gets persuaded to have a shower and whips off his towel revealing an airbrushed-out butt and proclaiming “You like that, boys?” His bosses seem extremely unbothered by the whole affair and are probably drunk/high themselves, with some female acquaintances of their own waiting for them later.

In a neat moment of narrative shuffleboard, the episode continues on with the beginning of Kim Kardashian’s birthday dinner.

Kim having ‘fun’ at her birthday meal, with a fuzzy faced stranger and what looks like a single egg-yolk on a plate.

Everyone is toasting with water while way upstairs Scott Disick settles down under the heavy golden covers of his hotel bed.

Only wait a second, who is this?

Drunken Scott Disick stumbles into shot like he’s cosplaying Paul Allen!

Scott Disick has a kind of non-working/lazy person’s idea of what busy people (busy-ness-men) ought to wear, so he’s consistently overdressed while also working the least. All the other men, his bosses included, are very much in the late noughts business-casual of untucked shirts and v-neck sweaters, and SD rolls in looking like he should be chatting loudly on a Motorola DynaTAC about “those bastards at OPEC.”

His cerebral chat reaches new levels, referring to his boss (overweight) as a “f***ing planet” and going off about how he doesn’t want to go bald (around his bald overweight boss). The show/Kris still keep hammering on about how he’s going to lose his job that he’s had for a matter of days, like that’s the most disruptive part of this whole fiasco.

He’s literally hazing his bosses, which they seem to kind of respect – one of those counter-intuitive business psychology tips about how you’re supposed to start asking your interviewer questions or dressing for the job you want.

The bit that cracks me up is when SD just starts peppering the conversation with these business lunch catchphrases like “How are we?” “Who’s ordering what?” “Kris, good to see ya.” He’s making a mockery of this so-called important business deal and his phoney job. The truth is he’s not potentially sabotaging anything apart from his one real connection to this world, which is Kourtney, and their unborn son. Though Kourtney continues to be unfazed by the whole circus act.

He orders a “ketel one and tonic and a couple of wines.” Kris makes a prayer that Scott loses his voice, which seems to finally rattle him. The jester turns sullen drunk.

Kris looks close to tears. “I’m in a nightmare.” She says.
“I’m in a f***ing nightmare.” Scott calls back.

So, whose nightmare is it? Is Scott the nightmare of KUWTK or is KUWTK Scott’s nightmare? Scott sips another ketel one, face flush like a crooked croupier, and what does Kris do? She outsources the problem in typical Kardashian style. She orders the waiter to serve Scott only water from now on.

Just like in WW1, when royal cousins get into a spat, the workers of the world feel the brunt. While Scott turns his verbal and physical ire onto the waiter, Kris’s floating head (I never know how much in retrospect they film these talking head insets, because they still seem to be really bothered by everything that’s going on, but they clearly aren’t filmed at the same time as they need to see the edited footage and obviously it would be logistically impossible – but it’s a funny subgenre of reality TV, because the show kind of gets them to psycho-dramatize their thoughts from the time as if they were thinking them right at that moment, very interesting) posits that the scariest thing about the encounter isn’t the possibility of violence or the dignity of the waiter whom she drafted into this trench battle – no, the scariest thing is that what Scott’s doing to the waiter is what he really wants to be doing to her.

This is another interesting aspect to note about KUWTK. The main characters often lend the mic out to some civvie, but the non-famous people are always a prop, an anti-Kantian means to an end that ultimately reflect all the light and attention back onto the Kard in question. For instance, there’s a noteworthy episode where Khloe Kardashian (soothingly absent from Blame It on the Alcohol) finds a homeless man sleeping behind their clothing store. She gets to know him and, after a few awkwardly long hugs on his part, takes him for a makeover, which involves a grotesque set of new pearly veneers and a country club outfit of fresh garms.

Khloe reflects how this whole experience has made her think more about helping others, something Kris reinforces enthusiastically, only for them to bump into Shorty (the homeless fella) a couple episodes down the line, with him looking even more fucked up, but still with his insanely white veneers, like when Santa’s Little Helper grabs Grampa Simpson’s dentures.

But back to the episode in question. Scott isn’t using the waiter in the typical Kardashian style, instead he’s almost doing the opposite. The waiter appears to be very uncomfortable with the abuse, but Scott is unrelenting, with the camera having to constantly veer back to the confrontation, away from Kris and Kim and the others. He won’t let it go, his attention is fully focused on another person in a way that is almost never seen in this programme. Scott shoves a $100 bill into the waiter’s mouth like the episode just got rewritten by Vince McMahon.

“No, it’s just humiliating in front of the head of GNC and the owner of Quicktrim.” is Kim’s reaction.

And then comes the finale of the episode. Kris wants 8-month-pregnant Kourtney to confront the father of her baby over his drunken crumplegate, but she refuses. So Kim, surrounded by bodyguards, goes to tell Scott what’s what.

“That wasn’t funny! My mum is screaming.”
“Your mum is always screaming!”
Kim states Kourtney is in tears in the next room, to which Scott replies, “You know what, Kourtney knew exactly the person she was with when she met me. I will never take back the things that I do or the need to do them…” Kim asks him to go back to his room, but he refuses, “I’m not going to the room. I’m going to celebrate this birthday the way I should. Because you don’t drink, I have to for you.”

Scott laughing in the face of both Kim Kardashian and the show.

While his behaviour is obviously unreasonable, his reasoning is sound. No matter what Scott Disick does in the show, aside from debasing himself entirely to its phoney logic, he will always be looked on unfavourably. Kourtney and Scott first met at a house party in Mexico thrown by Joe Francis, the founder of Girls Gone Wild (also from Wikipedia: Francis has, at various times, been convicted of tax evasion, bribery, false imprisonment, assault causing great bodily injury, dissuading a witness, and record-keeping violations; and has pleaded no contest to child abuse and prostitution) so his ‘she knew who I was when she met me’ line is also built on solid, sordid ground.

Scott disappears into the night, and Kim is left having to host her birthday party.

“The last thing I want to do is host this party but... I have to.”

Cut to Kim looking disapprovingly from her VIP area over a pit of party-goers who have paid to see her inscrutable mien.

Then comes the fallout. Kris takes the first flight back to Vegas, declaring to Bruce that it was “one of the worst nights of my life because Scott was so out of control,” while holding a copy of Cosmopolitan magazine with Kim on the front cover. I love this Kardashian obsession with control. Almost second to how they use ‘rude’ as the ultimate insult. Well, Scott was both out of control and rude.

The episode is almost at an end, and then comes my favourite sequence. Kim says, “what kind of man leaves his pregnant girlfriend in Las Vegas all by herself?”

Cut to one of those awful looking American nightclubs.

Out of the shadows emerges the figure of Scott Disick, drinking and quietly nodding to himself.

The episode wraps up nicely with Kim doing some “huge career move” photo shoot which seems to involve her eating a hundred strawberries in a row.