2015 the year of... caitlyn jenner
If anyone had told us last year that Bruce Jenner would the make most serious pop cultural waves of anyone in 2015, we wouldn’t have believed them. But then, he didn’t. Caitlyn Jenner did.
Image via @caitlynjenner
In my weekend job as global Kardashian-Jenner correspondent for i-D over the years, I must have acquired psychic skills. This time last year, I wrote a story declaring 2014 "the year of the Jenners," predicting the future successes of Kendall, Kylie and Kris. "As for the rest of the Jenners, we obviously haven't forgotten about a certain fabulous Olympic gold medallist, who could easily outdo any of his female Jenner and Kardashian counterparts in luscious locks and personal grooming," I concluded. "2015 is yours, Bruce Jenner!" Had I known the weight of those words, I would have given less column space to Kendall's modeling career, Kylie's makeup, and Kris' front row appearances, because 2015 would become the year that the Kardashian-Jenners finally made some truly significant waves in the world. And of course, 2015 didn't belong to Bruce in the end. It was Caitlyn's.
I was in Paris when the Vanity Fair cover broke, and I nearly fell off my café chair at Le Sancerre. In early 2015, rumors of Bruce Jenner's transition suddenly got real as his family ceased denials and turned tellingly tight-lipped. "I think everyone goes through things in life, and I think that story and what Bruce is going through, I think he'll share whenever the time is right," Kim Kardashian told ET in January. "I feel like that's his journey to talk about." And there it was: the most far-fetched rumor had become fact and the tabloids had struck gold. As Jenner announced his interview with Diane Sawyer in April, it was clear this reality TV super fame phenomenon of a family had passed beyond the state of mere entertainment. This meant something. And just like that, Jenner was no longer merely the TV dad in the eyes of the media, but an American national hero whose transition would change the world.
For a family that's never tried to hide its hunger for fame and relevance, the irony was striking. Here, the most low-key of them all had changed the attention game in the course of a month but, more importantly Jenner's transition changed the meaning (or lack thereof) of their brand with the announcement of a Diane Sawyer special. Or rather, it was the double-episode special aired as part of their reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, that really cemented the family's newfound social significance. Gone were the jazzy graphics, the scripted scenes, and the mindlessness (all of which I fully enjoy, don't get me wrong). Instead, here was a family dealing with one of the most delicate events a family could go through — only this was the most famous family in the world, celebrated and vilified in equal amounts. Now they meant something.
But it wasn't until that Vanity Fair cover dropped that I understood the immense impact of Jenner's transition. Caitlyn was the transgender answer to those Kardashian-Jenner kids she'd brought up: glossy haired, immaculately made up, and clad in body-hugging dresses. With a glamorous, sexy, over-the-top millionairess vibe about her, she was dressed for power. I thought she looked like Cindy Crawford, and I think I felt the pillars of the earth move a little bit sitting there at Le Sancerre. Somehow it all made sense, and her timing was perfect. Jenner's transition followed recent years' growing exposure and normalization of transgender people in the media, from Lea T and Andreja Pejic in fashion to Laverne Cox and characters on Glee in entertainment. That the most famous person to transition should be 66 years old and Kanye West's parent-in-law was just pure magic.
With Jenner's transition came criticism from parts of the transgender community, who didn't feel it was right for a woman of her privilege to represent them. Rather than ignoring it, Jenner tackled the issue on her new reality show, I Am Cait, which premiered over the summer, balancing storylines exploring the tough issues in the community with the juicy family-related stuff her old fan base would expect. But even in that area, the Jenner effect changed the game. Suddenly scenes in which she bickered with her feisty daughter Khloé went from tawdry entertainment to an important glimpse into the struggles of a family experiencing a transgender transition, effectively re-appropriating the entire Kardashian-Jenner brand. If they had always been The Truman Show, they were now at the part when Truman escapes and no set or extra could affect the honesty of the story unfolding on screen.
Yet again it was the year of the Jenners, but the family's worst critics couldn't have imagined how pleased we'd all be about it. As Kendall and Kylie Jenner are still scrutinized for not using their incredible platforms for more important causes than making money, their dad — as they continue to call Caitlyn Jenner — is a kind of beacon of social significance in the money-making business machine that is the Kardashian-Jenner empire. And in that sense, perhaps we should all lay off the famous family with our demands for them to use their extraordinary platforms too prematurely. After all, it took Bruce Jenner an Olympic career and ten seasons of reality TV to use his, but when it finally happened, boy did it happen. 2016 is yours, Caitlyn Jenner! But your kids are welcome to join in, too.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Image via @caitlynjenner