A Nation of Suckers: Jenner, Kardashians and a Commodity of Gossip

A Nation of Suckers: Jenner, Kardashians and a Commodity of Gossip June 5, 2015

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

Over the past few days, I have wondered if I was the only person in America completely disinterested in the Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner story, or — correct that — if I was the only contrarian refusing to become interested, simply because the voracious Jenner-Kardashian Machine, and their compliant media, so desperately wanted me to be interested, and so insistently needed me to approve, as well.

These ghastly modern Pavlovs ring their outsized bell, and the world obediently begins to bark and yip and howl, with a few outlets — quite predictably — engaging in ecstatic leg-humps.

I was not interested and remain uninterested in Jenner or any of the Kardashians. I wouldn’t be writing about this at all, except last night Damon Linker rang the better bell — the one I’d been listening for:

I hadn’t given in to the sanctimony that’s characterized so much of the commentary about Jenner and her transgender struggles, but I did try to explain why many liberals are inclined to refrain from judgment and even to celebrate this watershed moment in American culture.

And then it hit me: Like everyone who’s talked, written, posted, and tweeted about this event, I’ve been taken in by a publicity stunt.

The guy who enriched himself by bringing our culture the sordid spectacle of the Kardashians is now a gal who’s promoting a new reality show, and she’s trying to ensure that it gets the highest ratings in the history of trash TV.

With the magazine cover inspiring a national conversation, a slew of banner headlines, and millions of people to follow Jenner’s Twitter account in the first three days of its existence, I bet she succeeds.

But please, let’s be honest about what this means. For one thing, and despite what a number of people appear to believe, it’s not especially “brave.” Or at least no more so than any celebrity publicizing personal tribulations in order to make money. Is it courageous when an actress who has just emerged from rehab after nearly killing herself with drinking and drugs gives an exclusive interview to a TV news magazine in the hopes of generating buzz about an upcoming movie release? Nah, it’s just PR, ad copy in another form.

That’s exactly what Jenner is giving us — and she’s doing it masterfully, playing off America’s addiction to what Tocqueville called the “perpetual utterance of self-applause.” We love to feel good about ourselves.

Dingdingding! Give that man a see-gar; he’s caught the magician in the midst of misdirection!

This spectacle, and the competing voices of celebration and castigation announcing it, is partly America loving to congratulate itself, as Linker writes, and partly a manipulation of all-media, which dependably broke into loud, distracted barking in the never-ending quest to be the first voice opining, the first blog writing, the first righteous voice defending or defaming, all while the Jenner-Kardashian principles rake in the cash.

A couple of weeks ago, I dropped the first draft of my latest book off to the publisher. In writing Little Sins Mean a Lot (out next spring), I surprised myself by including some thoughts on Kim Kardashian in a chapter on Gossip. This is part of what I wrote:

[Kardashian] identified a market that is never glutted: people love to gossip, and that’s never not true. The potential market for gossip is infinite. Pop stars may have a two year shelf-life, and styles and trends tire, season-by-season, but gossip is always in demand. Knowing this, Kardashian tapped into and mined herself, offering to the public participation and shares in a rich vein of vamp and vanity that will take decades to deplete. She traded on herself like a commodity, and the public – and the advertisers and media products that hope to attract them –has bought it up.

In exploiting what she knows about human nature, Kardashian created a product, namely herself, and then marketed it relentlessly, and people responded because gossip is like the dessert table at an Italian wedding — people know they shouldn’t indulge, but it’s there, and it’s free, so they wolf it down. . .and [the whole Kardashian crew] serves it up on heaping platters.

[… Kim Kardashian] invites gossip into her own luxury car and then drives where she wants it to go; she completely controls the narrative, and because that’s true, it very likely touches her not-at-all. So yeah, our gossip, and our judgments – our pssts and flicks – don’t land anywhere near Ms. Kardashian.

That means, the poison is all on us, and in us. The gossip makes her richer, and more secure; it has precisely the opposite effect on us…

I’m pretty sure my editor wouldn’t want me to share more than that at this juncture, but it’s relevant to all of this. What is true for Kim Kardashian is true for the lot of them, and Caitlyn-Jenner-With-a-C-Not-a-K, is making a bid to be Queen of their Empty Accumulation in the most timeless manner possible: with a good old-fashioned chest-thrust. Humanity cannot resist it.

My recent retreat only confirmed it for me: the daily breathlessness and hype about whatever — Genderthis, PCthat, Transex, Transhumanism, DuggarSex, LenaNeurosis — is part of the necessary engine of distraction that is meant to confuse us; it is meant to make us think we’re in a “reality” with which we must engage with anxious and angsty energy, because if we don’t, the world might go badly.

Well, newsflash: The world is going to go badly, whether we engage in the barking or not, because of the unseen battle that has been raging since Eden, and continues all about us. The world is going to become more unhinged, and more unstable, with every illusory genie let out of the bottle, and to give over to it will only entrap us within this vast overlay of propaganda.

The material detritus of spiritual warfare comes at us in a cacophony of sound and fury — social blasts and legal cannonades bursting from all sides — and yet we don’t even recognize it for what it is. We just know that we must engage, so we lash out; we know we’re lashing out at something, but all we ever bite is the ephemeral air.

This is war that is frankly beyond our ken; the best thing we can do within it, is try to live lives of purpose within our own spheres of actual, not scripted and served, reality.

And how do we discern what is really real, and what is battle-bred illusion?

Make time, every day, to withdraw from it. You can see a battle, and get a much better grasp of what is real– and what is mere feint and strategy — if you look at it from a bit of a distance, rather than from its center.

Seeing the huffing fumes of the noisy Jenner-Kardashian machine from afar, for instance, one sees that its “reality” is sketchy and cartoonish, both ignoble and ignorable. It runs on a cheap, belching fuel, and it rides relentless circles around the battlefield, eating up the ground, grinding up the wounded fallen within its divots, and serving no purpose but its own.

Jonah Goldberg notes the irony: Jenner goes flagrantly female just as “gender” becomes so fluid as to “not exist” at all, in the current “reality.”

Rod Dreher: A harm to the body politic as Caitlyn requires us to lie about reality. That’s the new normal, though! Everywhere. Manipulation and over-selling are the new “normal.”

Marge Fenelon: Nestles and Caitlyn: Our Ironic Need for Pure Foods and Fake Boobs

Mark Shea: Transgender Newspeak

No, I am not judging Jenner’s transexualism; I have several transexual friends, and I believe Christians have a duty to simply see the people before them, and meet them where they are at, and trust God with the rest of it. I can certainly judge the Jenner-Kardashian machine, though.

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