Yet Another Caitlyn Jenner Analysis
I’m not sure how many times I can wash my hands of saying anything else about Caitlyn Jenner and the reaction to her and then get drawn back in. As in most previous cases, the current series of stories has less to do with Jenner herself as about the reactions her words and deeds provoke.
As you surly have heard by now, the advent of the new season of “I Am Cait” has brought with it the expected series of promotional videos featuring Cait saying ….less than sensible things. This was touched off by an interview conducted with Dawn Ennis of The Advocate in which she gave the world a sneak peak of the brouhaha that was about to ensue. In this interview she maintained that not only was she still a conservative Republican, but that in fact Ted Cruz was a pretty swell guy who had all the best intentions – and that she’d be happy to be an ambassador for the Trans community to persuade Ol’ Ted where he’d gone wrong in his zealous intent to demonize trans people and serve the interests of our sworn political enemies. Yeah, Caity, good luck with that, right?
Following on from that we got clips of the show in which she built on the theme, holding forth that conservatives were all about everyone’s equal rights and other out-of-touch comments that rightly infuriated both the cast-mates and the trans community at large. Jenner had once again created a firestorm with what comes out of her mouth more reliably than Godzilla. While it’s true there are Republican trans people, even conservative Republicans, who share Jenner’s claim that it’s valid to support the GOP because other issues of concern trump (no pun intended) the concern over anti-trans politicking, I know of no other so firmly convinced that the Republicans are not anti-trans at all. It’s a truly bizarre claim.
Here’s the thing, though, while the trans population rightly takes exception to the inanity of these comments, they continue to miss the point in terms of wanting her to “go away.” For all her multitude of flawed views, Jenner set out to use her program as a vehicle to do good for the trans community. She has notoriety that cannot be escaped, and so she – in a rare moment of good sense – decided to use that visibility to give the uninitiated viewer a look not just at her life, but the life of trans people less privileged than herself. She assembled a fine supporting cast, including the invaluable Jenny Boylan, and spent the majority of her airtime in the first season turning the spotlight on others. All very commendable. Yet the trans “community” largely hated her and seized on every opportunity, some justified some not so much, to find fault with every word out of her mouth. Again, she did bring a lot of justified criticism on herself, but she took a lot that was less justified, and praise for the execution of the show itself was very hard to find.
Now, thanks to the insane Cruz comments, she’s increased her perceived villainy by an order of magnitude. In so doing she’s completely overshadowed the reality that the program itself is still serving a valuable purpose. The format for this season, if you’ve not seen any of it (and to confess, I despise so-called “unscripted” shows and can’t sit through even the ones of which I approve, though I dragged myself through the first episode this season) has “the girls” on a Tour Bus, criss-crossing the nation getting in touch with local trans life in flyover country. Along the way, a lot of airtime is devoted to the often heated exchange of ideas between conservative Cait and the 5-6 liberal women traveling with her. What this has done is set up a situation that can best be described as “watch Cait say something stupid and get called on it by the sensible women.” This is further magnified by the reality that Jenner can’t really debate at all, she just declares an opinion as if it’s perfectly obvious and then offers no logical reasoning or evidence when called on it. This is a great format because Jenner is basically the voice of the uninitiated audience, saying what they might be saying on the sofa at home, and thereby setting up the opportunity for Boylan and the others to explain why that view is in error. If we were sensible, we shouldn’t let our (well earned) disdain for Jenner’s views blind us to how effective thee technique can be.
The latest twist is that rumors are again afield that the show’s ratings are in near collapse and it might get canceled, and again vocal trans people are mostly reading it wrong. They say “Oh look, Jenner’s big mouth has alienated all trans people and we’ve quit watching her dumb show and that’s why the ratings are down.” No! That’s exactly backwards. Remember, trans people make up less than 1% of the population. If every one of us watched one episode, and then every one of us boycotted the ext episode, E! would never even notice a difference in the ratings. The reason her viewership is down, if indeed the claim is true, is because her show is NOT dumb. Even if she says dumb things the show isn’t. And THAT is why it isn’t a ratings giant. Have we forgotten who watches this kind of show? Have we forgotten that it’s the folks that made vapid tripe like “Keeping Up With the Kardasians” successful in the first place? Dumb is exactly what they want in a show. Shallow obsessions with gowns and make-up and hairstyles, tacky family drama and class-less backbiting. That’s what KUWtK fans wanted to see on Jenner’s show and it, almost entirely, was NOT there. So they got bored and bailed out.
I’m not disappointed in IAC, and none of us should be, no matter how many goofy things she says. But I am quite disappointed at how poor “the community” has been at actually understanding what was going on with Jenner’s side-show world. We really ought to be, collectively, much more savvy than this and less prone to let our emotions cloud our vision.
Image via I Am Cait