Stop while ahead

Jen­ner should leave spotlight.

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - vmenon@thes­tar.ca

Is Cait­lyn Jen­ner a hero and role model? Or is she just another dim celebrity?

The short an­swer: it’s get­ting tough to say. But with each pass­ing week, as Jen­ner stiletto-steps into a self-con­trolled spotlight via a re­al­ity show, news sto­ries, so­cial media, in­ter­views, PR blasts, mag­a­zine pic­to­ri­als and more public ap­pear­ances than Madonna made in the ’80s, the ev­i­dence grows for “dim celebrity.”

Con­sider her re­cent in­ter­view with Ellen DeGeneres.

“At first, I was not for it,” replied Jen­ner, when asked about gay mar­riage. “I mean, I thought, ‘I’m a tra­di­tion­al­ist.’ I’m older than most peo­ple in the au­di­ence, you know? I mean, I kind of like tra­di­tion. It’s al­ways been a man and a woman. And I’m think­ing, ‘I don’t quite get it.’ ”

Judg­ing by the sud­den hush, the au­di­ence also didn’t quite get it.

Did Jen­ner, who put pop­u­lar cul­ture in a choke­hold this sum­mer with her tran­si­tion, just say she was a tra­di­tion­al­ist? Is she aware there are other tra­di­tion­al­ists out there who, on bal­ance, don’t be­lieve it’s pos­si­ble for a man to be­come a woman?

Has the long­time Repub­li­can sup­porter ever scru­ti­nized the so­cial po­si­tions of many party politi­cians, past and present, and won­dered if these val­ues are at odds with her own strug­gle to be her “au­then­tic self”?

If the world ended right at that sec­ond, a blank stare would be etched on Ellen’s face for all eter­nity. Not since Jes­sica Simp­son pon­dered the con­tents of her din­ner bowl — “Is this chicken, what I have, or is this fish? I know it’s tuna, but it says ‘Chicken of The Sea’ ” — has a celebrity looked this baf­fled on TV.

It was as if DeGeneres was in­ter­view­ing a mal­func­tion­ing Talk­ing Elmo doll that kept recit­ing lines from Fin­negans Wake in Korean. As she later told Howard Stern: “(Jen­ner) still has a judg­ment about gay mar­riage . . . And I said, ‘You’re want­ing peo­ple to un­der­stand and ac­cept you. This is re­ally con­fus­ing to peo­ple. You still have a judg­ment about gay peo­ple and mar­riage.’ ”

It is con­fus­ing. In fact, the only way to ex­pe­ri­ence greater cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance would be if Barack Obama wan­dered out on the White House lawn and said, “Upon re­flec­tion, I don’t be­lieve black peo­ple are qual­i­fied to be pres­i­dent.”

Sens­ing the back­lash, Jen­ner clar­i­fied her po­si­tion this week.

“Like many peo­ple, there was a time when I didn’t re­al­ize how im­por­tant it is for gay cou­ples to have the right to get mar­ried,” she wrote on her blog.

“But af­ter hear­ing from my gay friends and learn­ing more about the hard­ships they faced be­cause of dis­crim­i­na­tion, it be­came clear to me that ev­ery­one should be able to marry the per­son they love. I can only hope that by shar­ing my story, there’s some­one out there whose mind has been changed about trans peo­ple.”

This is a noble hope. But this is no longer about gay mar­riage or trans peo­ple. It’s about the dan­ger of cre­at­ing false idols, of con­vert­ing oth­er­wise flawed hu­man be­ings into demigods overnight and ex­pect­ing them to be­come in­fal­li­ble spokes­peo­ple for causes and equal­ity bat­tles they do not fully un­der­stand.

It’s also about the dan­ger of over­ex­po­sure. When Jen­ner first went public with her tran­si­tion, I won­dered if she might one day re­gret do­ing so in­side a five-ring cir­cus. Now I’m con­vinced she will. From the in­ter­view with Diane Sawyer to the Van­ity Fair cover, from the I Am Cait show to the pres­sure she put on her adult chil­dren to par­tic­i­pate for the sake of rat­ings, there is a nag­ging per­cep­tion that Cait­lyn Jen­ner’s big­gest con­cern now is keep­ing Cait­lyn Jen­ner in the spotlight.

This makes her no dif­fer­ent than any­one else in­side the Jen­ner-Kar­dashian com­plex: ma­te­ri­al­is­tic, vain­glo­ri­ous and re­mark­ably self­in­volved. But if Jen­ner cares about her own fu­ture, if she has any grasp about how she’s in­creas­ingly grat­ing on our nerves, she’ll step away from the cam­eras for a while. She’ll re- al­ize her quest to find her au­then­tic self is start­ing to come across as an ad­dic­tion to fame.

And the more she talks, the dim­mer she seems. vmenon@thes­tar.ca

Cait­lyn Jen­ner should step away from the cam­eras for a bit, Vi­nay Menon says.

AL­BERTO E. RO­DRIGUEZ/GETTY IM­AGES FILE PHOTO

As a man, Cait­lyn Jen­ner was mar­ried to three women, in­clud­ing Kris Jen­ner, third from right. They are shown here in 2007 with Cait­lyn’s stepchil­dren.

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