Since this is a blog on “Life as Theater” as well as “the authenticity of self”….how can I not write a post on the ESPY award night during which Ms. Jenner took the stage to receive the Courage Award. Political correctness has prevented the mainstream press from assessing this moment with anything near clarity. Only in the blogosphere can one indulge in truth as one sees it.
Let’s look at the first part, Life as Theater. This was a consummate such moment. Here was a moment in one person’s life made into a gargantuan piece of theater! This was French Absurdist theater at its best. Stand back and let’s paint the picture:
Here is a vast hall of thousands of people, but in particular it is a vast hall of athletes….essentially locker room regular jocks for the most part. They are here to extoll the special moments in a year of athletics. Moments of physical prowess and excellence. Moments of extreme effort and mental discipline. For most of the evening, the videos and audience are rock and rolling with just such focus on events in the spectrum of sports. But then comes “The Entrance”. This is not an athletic moment. This is not an end zone catch or a buzzer beater. This is an abrupt turn from the night’s theme. A great athletic champion has decided to cut his dick off. And he is here to tell you about it.
Now, I am not here to question Bruce’s personal decision to become a woman. I can never know his internal processes. But in a vast room of jocks, when suddenly, one of their own, a former Decathlon champion, walks onto the stage dressed as a woman, it has to boggle the mind that times have changed so much that the room didn’t erupt into laughter and catcalls. It is a testament to the power of our current pc and inclusive atmosphere, that this high risk moment got carried off. The cameras panned the audience in close-ups. The slightest slip would have been found and replayed. There wasn’t a snicker, a smile, an aside, an askance glance in the house. This was the Supreme Test of liberalism and cultural diversity. Fill a vast house with locker room jocks and bring out one of their own, Bruce Jenner, in drag, and see what happens! There he is, alone, walking downstage center, complete with wig, lipstick, eye shadow, earrings, breasts, cinched waist and high heels. Every facial muscle in a thousand faces is under control. Not one person giggles. Instead, they give a standing ovation! A theatrical triumph! Jenner and the culture of diversity pull it off. The moment works! You cannot help but give it a look of wonderment. This is Life as Theater at its most extreme. I would be hard pressed two years ago to imagine this moment, and even if so, give it any chance of success. He did it! No matter your personal feelings about the matter, you have to give credit to the risk, the curtain call and this triumphal moment of……. Life as Theater.
Life has large moments of “theater” that often accompany great moments of change. I think of Nixon’s farewell wave from the steps of the helicopter. I think of the McCarthy trials when Special Counsel Welch asks Joe McCarthy, “Have you no shred of decency, sir? At long last, have you no shred of decency?” This Jenner moment may stand as symbol of one such sea change in a culture. One could very well call the Jenner moment, tawdry, silly, pretentious, hilarious, dismaying, sad. But you do so at your peril, and no one on that night betrayed any such thoughts passing across their mind or face. The theatrical risk worked! We have to take that fact into account.
Now a brief thought on the authenticity. Neither I nor anyone else can know what Ms. Jenner’s inner turmoil on gender is all about. We can only take her at her word or not. I think he/she is honestly seeking authenticity. Whether Bruce is now happier as Caitlyn dressed up in women’s clothes, I don’t know. If there are now new hormones flowing through his body, do they induce a greater authenticity? I don’t know. It seems like an effort against the stream, against the grain. Can it end in happiness for him, time will tell him. That a person will go through all this social and physical hardship to seek the feeling of authenticity goes to the heart of how important authenticity of self is these days.
Though the theatrical moment was successful. And that’s probably a good thing for inclusiveness and tolerance. I, and we, will never know whether is truly engenders an authenticity that wasn’t there before. That is for him or her to one day assess. In the meantime, I don’t need an ongoing tv series to follow. It will tell its audience nothing about the inner truth. Even he/she may never know. The tv series is only titillation, voyeurism and commerce. None of that will aid Bruce in his odyssey, his Search for the Authentic Self.