The 24-hour news media has been all over Diane Sawyer’s April 24th Bruce Jenner interview on 20/20 which revealed what has long been suspected; Bruce Jenner is transitioning into a woman. While that revelation is intriguing what was more interesting was how much of Jenner’s personality came off as petty. It may be seen as rude to link Jenner’s behavior to that of a middle-school age uppity girl, but at that age a pre-teen (whatever the gender) can be forgiven for treating others with disregard due to their limited life experience, however a sixty-five-year-old doesn’t have the same excuse. Ironically it seems you can take Bruce Jenner out of the Kardashian klan, but apparently you can’t take the Kardashian out of Bruce…or whatever he will soon call herself.
For Americans who watched the 1976 Summer Olympics Bruce Jenner is iconic. He was the ultimate American athlete who made the country proud in Montreal winning gold in the decathlon event. The stage was set for athletic stardom – the Vietnam War/Conflict officially ended the year before and America was celebrating its Bicentennial. We were ready for a hero and here was 26-year-old Jenner who was the definition of male beauty with muscles and flowing locks obtaining the title of “World’s Greatest Athlete.” Post Olympics his picture greeted the public on cereal boxes while he became rich hawking assorted products in commercials and making sporadic stabs at acting including roles as an Erik Estrada replacement on CHiPs and the 1980’s cult classic film Can’t Stop the Music (co-starring the Village People).
It was during the earlier part of the interview when Sawyer was highlighting Jenner’s athletic accomplishments there was a mention of Mykola Avilov. He was the winner of the 1972 gold medal in the decathlon which made him the favorite for the ’76 gold. Avilov was a Soviet Union athlete thus his training was sponsored by the state and therefore was his job. In comparison Jenner trained during the day and sold insurance at night in a tiny apartment he shared with a wife and loyal dog. What was not made clear in the interview was that Avilov earned the bronze medal thus not even in second place in the competition, but oh well…drama. Jenner, indicates he consented to the interview because he wants the American public to keep an open mind and show compassion for his situation seemed fine with fat shaming his old competitor. “I run into him and I ran into him last year at a convention (laughs) I love that guy but he was terrible overweight and terrible out of shape. (Laughs again) And I’m thinking to myself, Diane, I won that battle too!” Two beats later Jenner observes, as he watching a tape of himself having a moment on the Olympic stand, “So sad, that part of my life was over and I had so many issues to deal with, you know, in my life. Oh my God, where’s was my beard; literally.” Oh my God indeed Bruce Jenner…at least you are thin.
Part of the problem with these types of interviews is that the news they reveal isn’t actual news. Of course it is “news” that Jenner has “officially” come out as transgendered, but even the most casual pop culture observer could tell something was going on in Bruce’s world. It isn’t a break out the smelling salts shock Jenner is transitioning. A while back he admitted in the press he had his Adam ’s apple shaved down; a procedure that seems to be a thing one would do only if it was part of a larger picture. He states he wants to be an inspiration and change the world which is great but saying that and appearing swallow in other aspects isn’t very inspiring. Further it is as if he wants acclaim for forging a path that others have already built. Let’s hear it for Chaz Bono, Laverne Cox, Chelsea Manning, and Candis Cayne to name but a few; especially Bono who was out in the public sphere as Chastity since infancy and then had to endure jokes starting with being Cher’s daughter, then a lesbian, then becoming a man while being overweight at different times in her life (which we all know is an issue for Jenner). Jenner’s revelation could very well save lives, but the fact that he can live what he deems his inner truth has been because of the efforts of others and it would have been nice for him to mention that fact.
Throughout the Sawyer interview it feels as if Jenner is competing and hoping to win the type of attention he once had forty years before. He lights up when talking about his athletic career and seems to delight in all of the 70’s era merchandise Sawyer pulls out for him to fondle. When asked about his sexual inclinations he asserts that he has never been into men and has spent his life being “married and raising kids” of which he has six biological and four step (the step all have the last name Kardashian in case you do not know). Although he seemed sincere about not wanting to overly embarrass his children there was also a sense he was skimming over his track record as a parent – particularly in terms of his four eldest.
As far as his career rejuvenation due to, as Sawyer kept putting it, “that show,” Jenner looked gleeful reporting that the real story wasn’t what was shown in front of the cameras but the one he hid from view. It is a dramatic sentiment but it throws the storylines of his Keeping Up with the Kardashians cast mates/family under the proverbial bus. “I had the story!” he proclaims with a smile that stretches across his face. Of course part of the appeal of “that show,” even for a casual viewer, was because Kris Jenner seemed to have kept Bruce Jenner’s genitalia in a water glass on the nightstand. It now makes sense on a different level how in the first season Jenner seemed to revel in getting pedicures with his two young daughters. The assumption back then was if he was the Kardashian punchline he might as well get a foot massage in the deal…and in some ways that attitude still prevails, if Jenner is always going to be linked forever with the Kardashian krowd he might as well get a prime time interview and an E reality show of his own.
It’s surprising how many gender suppositions come to light over Jenner’s identity issues. Even though he “feels” like a woman at his core he has lived his outer life with male privilege. For instance, it sounds as if male privilege allowed him an easier out of his first marriage when he felt “restless” in the marriage. Chrystie Crownover was the first person he told about his gender issues and their marriage fell apart while she was pregnant with their second child. Jenner said after he told her about his cross dressing she reportedly treated the situation “lovingly.” Bruce stated, “Like most women they think, oh I can fix that, you know, it’s going to be okay. I can fix that most women think that – nurturing.” Sawyer neglected to ask the follow up question which was, do you think women by nature are more nurturing and if so is part of the reason you feel you are a woman? As it stands Jenner sounds as if some of his assumptions about womanhood are stuck in a mid-50’s fantasy land where women allegedly did housework in heels.
Speaking of stereotypes, in true Kardashian fashion, Jenner allowed Sawyer access to his closet where he showed off a little black dress he was proud to own. He joked that stepdaughter Kim told him if he was transitioning he was going to have to dress to represent yet during the whole interview he wore white socks with the type of shoes old men wear to mow the front yard. Did he deem crocs too fancy for national television? If Jenner is going to hold up the Kardashian brand he might want to up his fashion game.
Lastly, although the interview is fresh in the minds of the American public we should not forget due involvement in a car wreck that resulted in one fatality, Jenner has a lot on his plate which may postpone his transitioning for a while. It seems gender is a fluid concept at best and if the media blitz over Jenner’s transitioning/transformation inspires compassion for the transgendered community, as well as encourage conversations about gender overall, than I’ll give credit to Bruce Jenner for being a beacon for change. Despite all of his flaws it very well could be his/her greatest accomplishment…well that and being thinner than Mykola Avilov (Oh my God, Becky!).