Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

The Jenner Moment

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

The Jenner Moment

Article excerpt

I wasn't going to write about the athlete formerly known as Bruce. I resent the assumption that everybody has to pay attention to him. I haven't followed the story, though one would have to have been in a deep coma over the past month not to know more than one wishes. The whole affair strikes me as tedious. An aging man wants to remake himself as a thirty-fiveyear-old woman. Yawn. And he wants the whole world to watch him strut his new stuff. No surprise there.

Commentators have assumed the huge public interest in Jenner-and lack of criticism-marks a turning point in our culture. I don't think so. The Jenner phenomenon is more of an exclamation mark than a turning point. The frenzy of interest reflects our culture's belief in the religion of Me. It also exposes the kind of hope we place in technology.

As Will Wilkinson observed in The Economist, we're a nation in search of the "Real Me," the divine spark within. Jenner is presently honored by popular culture because he is seen as heroically loyal to his "Real Me," which now wants to be a her. Far from horrifying us, "Ms. Jenner's medical transfiguration is a glorious example of the American faith in action. She has refashioned mere nature to better reflect the hard-won truth of the divinity within."

Jenner is on his way to being a self-made woman-in a very literal sense. It's a very American ambition and, in many ways, a conservative one, at least as conservatism is often defined in our country. Jenner himself is a Republican. This shocked Diane Sawyer, but it doesn't surprise me. It's easy to describe Jenner in Silicon Valley terms. He's an identity entrepreneur. He's committed to creative destruction, in this case of his male identity. "Let's break shit!" That's a "creative class" conceit that Jenner is carrying forward into the territory of Deuteronomy 23:1.

He also reflects a very American belief in the power of technology to solve our problems. Bill Gates often speaks of the world's ills as amenable to data-driven solutions. The same goes for popular assumptions about personal problems. Today's popular magazines pitched to the college-educated crowd are full of advice based on experimental psychology and brain science. And, of course, there's widespread use of medication for psychological problems and distress, as well as steroids for athletes. Jenner's recourse to hormone therapy and sex change surgery fits our dreams of a technological fix, supplement, and enhancement for everything. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.