Friday, June 19, 2015

Vanity Fair Grants Caitlyn Jenner the Title of Woman

Did Apple help pay for this Photo Shoot? 

At this point most everyone is aware of Bruce Jenner’s transition into Caitlyn Jenner. It’s old news.
But it’s worth asking, why do you know about it? Why does everyone know about it, and why was everyone talking about it?

Transexual people have been making gender transitions for decades, why the fuss over a former track star whose fame peaked before all millennials were born? (Yes, his gold medal was in 1976. For anyone under the age of 40 who doesn’t know what that’s about, Bruce Jenner was an Olympic Track athlete before he married a Kardashian.)

So, why Bruce Jenner? Simple reason, he hired a really skilled Hollywood PR Firm.  This piece at Vulture about the PR Firm and the media plan of the transition is worth reading.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with hiring a PR firm, and I’m not criticizing Jenner for doing so. As she said herself, “If I can make a dollar, I certainly am not stupid.” - can’t fault that. But the success of this PR Firm lends some insights into American culture that are worth exploring.

PR firm Rogers & Cowan built a very specific narrative in regard to the Bruce to Caitlyn transition. And it used some very specific media to do it.  Remember, often, themedium is the message.

Jenner’s transition to Caitlyn had been obvious to tabloid/gossip readers for some time. And obvious to Family guy as far back as 2009. 

So why was it new/news in 2015?

In the internet social media age, Bruce Jenner could have officially declared his desire to become Caitlyn at any point. He could have done it himself, without the help of a PR Firm. He could have taken his iPhone, sent a text message to Twitter, and boom, done. But he didn’t.
And the reason he didn’t says more about the American public than it does about him.

Jenner and Rogers & Cowan understood that the American public holds one medium above all others. Despite having the sum total of human knowledge contained on a small piece of glass we keep in our pockets, - Americans think that REAL mainstream information comes from Television; particularly network television.

A tweet? Someone could have stolen his phone. A tweet can be deleted.  A blog post? Who reads those? A press release? Those can be faked. No. Jenner and Rogers & Cowan knew that Americans are most likely to accept things they see on ABC, which incidentally is owned by Disney. So the official announcement had to come there.

It also couldn’t just be an announcement; it had to be 2 hours of excessive emotion. And it had to have advertising support. If advertisers (real ones, not click-bait internet shenanigans) support it, then it’s definitely something everyone should accept and talk about. Thanks Coca-Cola, I’m unable to interpret information on my own, so I defer to you! (Note to future propagandists, if you want a group to believe a message, get a big brand to sponsor the message. That lends credibility.)

Once Bruce Jenner declared his trans-sexuality on Television, on ABC, then it was officially a thing that could be discussed by everyone. And Jenner did so in that medium, because he, and his PR Firm, knew that was the medium Americans rely on as an arbiter of what is mainstream/important. It’s not that Network TV is more trustworthy, (though it is to some people) it's that it is the decider of the mainstream nationwide zeitgeist.   

Example: a meme like ‘Alex from Target’ can be shared millions of times online but he’s only ‘arrived’ when he shows up on Ellen.    

Bruce Jenner’s transsexuality can be discussed/seen by millions on TMZ, Perez Hilton, etc. for years - but it’s only officially part of mainstream culture when it’s on Network TV. Jenner and his firm knew this about the American public and acted accordingly.

And yet, Bruce didn’t become Caitlyn during the ABC special. He could have put on some woman’s clothing and declared his Caitlyn-ness to the world. But he didn’t. He didn’t become a she officially until a bit later, and in a different medium. Why?

She needed a medium that was the undisputed expert on what it takes to be a woman in America.
And despite years of feminism and changing gender roles, the key determinant of Womanhood in America is….. looks. You achieve womanhood in mainstream America by your style of dress, your looks, your make-up, etc. And what medium decides what looks ‘good’ to WOMEN (not to men) in America?
Print Magazines.

Bruce Jenner had to officially become Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair. Because the American public accepts Vanity Fair (or women’s print magazines in general) as the arbiter of what a woman should look like. If Vanity Fair says Caitlyn Jenner is a woman, it is now a fact that, indisputably, Caitlyn Jenner is a woman.

While I accept that Caitlyn Jenner should be able to declare her gender identity on her own, note carefully that Caitlyn Jenner also knew that the best way to get the American public to agree to that gender identity was to use a print magazine.

Despite the fact that no-one under the age of 30 has ever read a print magazine, they are accepted as the universal outside entity that gets to decide what a woman should look like. (The under 30 crowd were probably taught this by their parents.) For proof, there are still constant discussions about magazines that photoshop/airbrush their photos and how this is ‘bad’. The people doing that talking, saying the magazines should not photoshop/airbrush, are giving the magazines power. If the magazines had no power, they could be ignored, who cares if they photoshop? But no, the offended parties accept that the magazines are the arbiter of ‘beauty’ and ‘looks’ and therefore want the magazines to change adopt the ‘no-photoshop’ rule so they can feel better about themselves. Note carefully that since they’re still relying on the magazine for their self-esteem/self-image they, therefore, don’t have self-esteem. Win for the make-up and weight-loss industry!
Further reading: 1 and 2

Caitlyn Jenner and Rogers & Cowan knew this about the American public; which is why the full reveal was in Vanity Fair and not the upcoming Caitlyn reality show.

The American public grants these mediums this power. The American public does this intentionally, because it cannot handle the existential dread of not having a final outside arbiter of things like beauty and identity. Caitlyn Jenner can see behind the curtain of the system, why can’t you?

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