As far as brands go, Halliburton probably elicits more empathy than the Kardashians. It’s not so much that they’re terrible people; they’re just in a terrible business. It’s hard not to court contempt when your product is your own vacuous self-importance.
That may explain, if not excuse, at least some of the callousness directed at Bruce Jenner. I don’t mean just in the press either; anyone surprised by the ridicule and catcalls from the paparazzi should have better managed his expectations. I mean in real-life conversations, with people who know better in places I’d have never expected.
Normally, I’m pretty good at zoning out of celebrity chatter. Any mention of which rapper dated which model and a switch is flipped; my mind’s searching out a melody, drafting an email, contemplating the universe’s first sound, anything, but hearing a word you’re saying. But, when I heard a well-trained, demonstrably skillful, educator “theorizing” that Jenner seemed to hate himself and may be “self-mutilating”, my instinct was to ask if he realized that he’d just said that out loud.
More to the point, I’m wondering why he thought he could.
After I had joined that conversation and said my piece, somebody raised the issue again. “I’m a very liberal person” she said, “but I just don’t get this…do you?” The truth is, I don’t know if I get it. But I know that it doesn’t matter, it can’t matter. Nobody has to sell me, or any of us, on the value of another person. You don’t have to get it.
Throughout history, people no worse than us, no less intelligent or conscientious watched terrible things happen to one another over differences we would barely notice today or transgressions we no longer recognize. I doubt they ever imagined how wrong it would seem in our time, any more how than we can imagine how it ever seemed right in theirs. I think, certainly hope, that when we exercise such unflinching judgment, history returns the favor.
So, it seems that Bruce Jenner is sort of a P.R. nightmare. “The worst possible choice,” says Zoey Tur in The Washington Post. CNN reports that activists are wary of the spectacle he’s causing. The Post also says that “the transgendered experience will be swept up in the ultimate symbol of abnormality and dysfunction,” apparently referring to Kardashians.
I don’t know when the right transgendered role model will come along or exactly how we’ll know them when we see them. Outside the Washington Post, at least, abnormality and dysfunction are still hard to quantify. But, that doesn’t mean it’s open season while we wait; you don’t get a pass to point and talk about the most disenfranchised like carnival attractions.
Just for the record, I have said my share of stupid and insensitive things in my time. I suppose it happens when I failed to make a connection or know enough history. It’s mostly because its so difficult to see beyond the prism of my own experience. Unless, someone tells me, I can’t see what it looks like from where they’re standing. But it is my responsibility to try.