Kim Kardashian stretches toward the ceiling with everything she has. Her arms and fingers extend up, her chest rises, and her voice moves into an upper register. “I do, I do!” she cries. She’s in the living room of her mother’s house in an L.A. suburb called Hidden Hills; she’s 27, but her body language and intonation are those of a child who’s been asked “Who wants ice cream?” The actual question, as posed by her mother, was “Who wants to watch it again?”

There are four Kardashians in the room—Kim, her sisters Khloe and Kourtney, and their mother, Kris—and one Jenner, Bruce. To be accurate, Kris has been a Jenner since 1991, but she’s as tawny and kohl-eyed as her daughters, and her fishnets and stiletto heels suggest that she wouldn’t mind being mistaken for one of them. The quintet have just finished taping a segment for the morning show Good Day LA, to promote their new E! Network reality show, Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Kris cues up the TiVo, and we all stand around and watch the clip. The show’s cohost Jillian Barberie is a longtime friend of the family, so the segment revolves largely around a few gambits: It’s about time the Kardashian family had a reality show! Kris looks sooooo young! Bruce Jenner lives in a house full of craaaaazy women! You’re probably asking yourself a few questions at this point. Who are these Kardashians we’re supposed to be keeping up with? Didn’t one of them make that sex tape? What’s Bruce Jenner doing here? But if you really wanted to get to the bottom of things, you’d hang out with Kim while there were cameras around—which is pretty much all the time.

The past year in entertainment was notable for many reasons, not the least of which was Kim Kardashian’s rise to prominence as the sublime embodiment of L.A.’s pseudo-celebrity cottage industry. She’s known Paris Hilton since childhood, and counts among her closest friends reality starlet Nicole Richie. Kim’s sister Kourtney has appeared on a small-screen, L.A.-scion version of City Slickers called Filthy Rich: Cattle Drive; her stepbrothers Brody and Brandon Jenner were lovingly documented on another rarefied-heirs show, The Princes of Malibu (Brody has since elevated parasitism to heights Kato Kaelin never dreamed of, insinuating himself into every MTV soap opera imaginable). Until the release of a certain film last spring, the closest Kim had come to visibility was briefly dating Nick Lachey.

But about a year ago, people started asking, “Who is that hot-ass girl who’s always standing near Paris Hilton?” And then a sex tape of Kim with an ex-boyfriend—R&B singer, aspiring cinematographer, and Brandy’s brother Ray J—surfaced. It was at this point that the gossip blogs became transfixed by a woman whose distinguishing features seemed to be that (1) her father, Robert, was one of O.J. Simpson’s defense attorneys and (2) she was so curvy that bloggers could not be convinced that her ass wasn’t fake.