We Should Actually Be Thankful For The Kardashians

If you've been to a comedy show, skipped across one on Comedy Central, or even tuned into the White House Correspondents' Dinner sometime in the past three years, you've heard a Kardashian joke. And it's understandable: The Kardashians (and the Jenners) are an easy target. Everyone knows their business, the family is huge and has members relevant to every demographic, and many of their fans watch Keeping Up With The Kardashians ironically. While there is a stalwart set who'd cry foul for someone making fun of Kim's now infamous crying face, the Internet and pop culture-loving Americans have largely agreed that the Kardashians are a perfectly acceptable target for ridicule. But with Bruce Jenner coming out as transgender on ABC in an interview Diane Sawyer, the family has proved a point that many detractors haven't wanted to except: The Kardashians aren't just influential — they're important — and in a way, I'm thankful they exist.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I have slung (and still sometimes sling) Kardashian barbs with the best of them — again, they're an easy comedic target — but if you look at the stories they are telling through their stranglehold on the media, this family is actually showcasing and giving a voice to some of the most sensitive struggles that families can go through. And even if you don't agree with their storytelling methods, or the decisions they make for their children, or even the clothes they wear or the things they say, the fact of the matter is that they're not going anywhere. Jenner's decision to come out not only highlights their staying power and their importance in a cultural sense, it cements it.

I can already hear the cries from the hyper-intellectuals all over the Internet: How dare you declare the Kardashians' relevance! Don't validate their vanity! They're vapid and ruining young minds everywhere! And while on one hand, they are churning out some young fans whose life goals are to grow up to be just like the Kardashians, it's not like youngsters haven't had wayward goals in the past. When I was 14, everyone wanted to grow up to be just like Britney Spears — most of us got over that. When my mother was 15, all of her friends wanted to be swimsuit supermodel Cheryl Tiegs — most of them have moved on. Knowing that young people might aspire to fame a la the most famous people of that generation doesn't discredit those famous people: They are still successful and no matter how many times we knock them down, what they say still matters because it's being said on such a huge platform and because it's reaching so many ears. In fact, that's why it's so important to call them out when they do mess up, like when Scott Disick wrongly tried to police Kourtney's body hair on a recent episode of KUWTK.

And besides, for all the times a Kardashian or Jenner has done something ill-advised, they've also shed light on quite a few important topics, even before Jenner came out. In 2014, we watched as Khloe Kardashian went through a messy, emotional break up and potential divorce from former Lakers star Lamar Odom. While we saw some unflattering coverage of Khloe play out in the media, when it came time to see Khloe's take on Keeping Up With The Kardashians, we got to her side of a very painful reality and even my cynical heart was affected: Divorce and break-ups are never black and white. Watching Khloe go through this on television was an incredibly effective way of showing just that — and through a medium that actually effectively speaks to many Americans.

Just recently, on April 24, Kim worked to bring awareness of the anniversary of Armenian Genocide, using her celebrity to put a spotlight on that nation's tragic history. She also tried to use her voice to speak out about the racism that still exists in this country last May and while her blog post was severely lacking, as Alanna Bennett wrote on Bustle, it still did "more good than harm." Add to this that on Keeping Up With The Kardashians, the family has also taken us through the long term effects of losing a parent (as all three Kardashian sisters did early on); the struggle of maintaining a non traditional family structure that's at odds with the rest of the family's expectations (Kourtney and Scott have come to blows with Kris on many occasions); the pressure fame puts on celebrities' bodies and images (Rob is still dealing with appearing in the spotlight to this day), and we've seen some truly warm moments — however weird — of a giant family made up of Bruce's children and Kris' children of various ages, proving that at the end of the day, a family is a family is a family.

Bruce's announcement is no different, but the attention the interview is receiving certainly helps to legitimize the fact that the Kardashians are, for better or worse, cultural conversation starters. Bruce has given millions of Americans a better understanding of what it means to come out as transgender at a time when that understanding is still alarming low — consider, for example, the plethora of missteps that have been documented since Jenner's interview was announced. This interview has generated so much discussion that otherwise could have taken years, from some advocacy groups' guides to covering a celebrity's decision to come out as transgender, to the outpouring of support from Jenner's fans and fellow celebrities:

We've reached a precipice of understanding, with stories coming out about the gym that revoked a woman's membership for complaining that a transgender woman was using the women's locker room and stores like H&M and Forever21 implementing pro-trans dressing room policies, and Jenner's interview can only help to further that conversation in a big way.

So sure, you can lament the way the Kardashians became famous. You can be upset that Kendall and Kylie spoke to their parents like spoiled brats for the majority of their celebrity reign. You can even be upset when they say and do things that they shouldn't and you can certainly be upset when they spend money on ridiculous things that no human ever needs. But one thing you cannot stop or deny is that the Kardashians have a loudspeaker that's larger than almost anyone else's in this country and when one of them speaks about an important issue, everyone hears it. The fact that we've got anyone in this country whose voice is loud enough to shed light on a topic that deserves our attention is something to be thankful for. Even if it all started with a vapid E! show produced by the host of of American Idol.

Editor's Note: Per Jenner's stated preference, Bustle will continue referring to Jenner using he/his pronouns for the time being. We will follow his lead and make any changes to this policy as needed in the future.

Image: Charley Gallay/Stringer/Getty Images; GONZALO/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images