‘I Am Cait’: Reacting to all the ways that reactions can be reacted to

25 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

I Am Cait: Caitlyn Jenner’s new show is a profound transition – for reality TV.

The only thing romantic about photographing the Olympian, formerly known as Bruce Jenner, 65, was her attire at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club’s opening day last Sunday.Just look at the careful choreography behind Bruce Jenner’s transformation in to Caitlyn, culminating in the launch of her E! reality series, “I Am Cait” (Sunday, 8 p.m.No matter how you feel about the Kardashians or their place in the celebrity firmament, the strangest thing about them is that their flagship show, Keeping up with the Kardashians, is really boring.

The reality star wore a gold “Caitlyn” necklace, a red-and-white silk wrap dress, a wide brim, floppy straw hat accented with white tulle, an oversized black purse, dangling three-tier pearl earrings and white T-strap pumps that sank sporadically in the dirt. The program is the thing that catapulted Kim Kardashian from sex tape notoriety to global phenomenon and selfie-taking mega-brand, but it’s always dull and full of overly controlled situations that never really show the truth. Aggressively, unapologetic, they raised their clipboards to block anyone from recording as they filmed her E! docu-series “I Am Cait,” debuting Sunday, July 26. “This is an exclusive! Caitlyn and Kylie had ‘met’ over FaceTime when Kylie surprised her dad after a trip to the dentist, but it was on Caitlyn’s shoot for Vanity Fair that Kylie got to physically meet Caitlyn’s new identity for the first time.

With the help of power publicist Alan Nierob, whom Variety dubbed “the secret mastermind” behind Jenner’s transformation, she has mounted a stunningly orchestrated media campaign. Then the Olympian posed in a corset for Annie Leibovitz as Vanity Fair’s July cover girl, and set a new record — four hours and three minutes — for reaching 1 million followers on Twitter, besting President Barack Obama ) and Robert Downey Jr. (She now has 2.68 million).

Even if you have no taste for reality TV, think the Kardashians are a blight upon the culture and only vaguely remember Bruce Jenner as an American Olympic athlete from long ago, the show is must-see television. Trailers for the series depict Jenner applying makeup in her Malibu home, speaking about gender identity and contemplating life outside her SUV’s tinted windows. “Isn’t it great that maybe someday you’ll be normal? Jenner, like other openly transgenders before her, will help further acceptance and reshape the boundaries of what’s viewed as “normal.” The production reminded me of how photographer Ansel Adams intentionally destroyed his negatives after printing a numbered few. Leading up to the show, Jenner’s revelations have been doled out Kardashians-style: slowly, and designed to dominate the celebrity news cycle week by week.

Caitlyn also has an audience with her daughter Kylie, who has never met her before but doesn’t miss a chance to fill her parent’s hair with extensions from her new line of hair accessories. Kylie doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with the new situation, but Jenner’s mother, Esther, is openly struggling with understanding. “I need to know more,” she says multiple times, and Jenner brings in a social worker who specializes in gender reassignment to answer the family’s questions. Perhaps, years from now when the circus has left town, Caitlyn can stroll solo through the streets, free from a clipboard-carrying entourage and receive acknowledgment. I love him so much.” It’s the love that wins out and by the end of the episode, as these things always do in reality television; she’s come around to a place of acceptance. And potential pitfalls await. “It’s very dangerous for people to take on the self appointed role of being the spokesperson for the transgender community,” he says. “Because a lot of those in the transgender community do not believe she is representative of their struggles.”

She still acknowledges that it’s going to be a process and one that she will find difficult, and that is an extreme amount of realism for reality television, especially a project involving this family that has mastered the fine art of the façade better than anyone in modern media. Caitlyn talks about how all of her children and stepchildren say how happy they are for her new life, but most of them haven’t been by to visit or meet Caitlyn. She still struggles with her transition, and as much as she enjoys exploring her newly expressed femininity and moving in her new body, it’s obvious to observers that she needs to get used to it a bit herself. It’s these flashes of revelation – quite profound for a show that aims to be as close to frothy as you can be while discussing the complications of gender expression – that make this one of the finer reality shows to come along in some time. The audience wants to see how Bruce is turning into Caitlyn and to gawk a little bit at a prominent family thrown into a tizzy by one of its formerly meekest members.

They’ll watch to see Kim Kardashian and her famous husband come by to critique all the free clothes Jenner is getting from the likes of Tom Ford and Diane von Furstenberg, a problem that most trans women certainly don’t have to deal with. But what no one will be expecting is that Jenner is genuinely using this platform to discuss transgender acceptance and the struggles that they face. “We don’t want people dying over this. And that, really, is the point of the series: explaining what transgender means, comforting those in need, reassuring those who fear it and gently confronting those who despise it. That’s what is most fascinating about this show: that it seems to be using its guaranteed blockbuster ratings to do more than augment the Kardashian’s multiple revenue streams.

And yet there is a moment when Caitlyn claims that most of the Kardashians – her family from Bruce’s marriage to Kris Kardashian – have not actually met her as Caitlyn. “They say, ‘It’s great, live your life.’ But they won’t come over.” There’s genuine pathos there.

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