May 6, 2021

Caitlyn Jenner's campaign ad — complete with images of Bruce Jenner winning the Decathlon and the ancient voice-over "He wants the world record."

Here's how I ran into the ad: Here's a screen shot I made:

That's not a fleeting glimpse of the past. There are repeated images from the stellar 1976 Olympic performance and of Caitlyn today looking feelingly at the gold medal. 

We hear Jenner's voice: California needs "new leaders... who are unafraid to challenge"  —  pause — "and to change" — pause — "the status quo." At that first pause, right before "and to change" — we see 2 magazine covers, side by side, one with Bruce Jenner celebrating winning the gold and one showing Caitlyn Jenner. That is, Jenner is "unafraid to challenge and to change the status quo," as demonstrated by breaking the world record in the Decathlon and then — in a second bodily achievement — coming out as transgender. 

I wonder how hard it was to decide whether to elevate or obscure the Jenner of the 1970s.

How can this person be presented as accomplished enough to warrant serious consideration as a candidate for Governor of California? Jenner has one truly great accomplishment: How do you not use it? The thought might be just don't run for Governor if you're not going to use that. But it's possible that Jenner actively wanted to generate greater freedom and comfort for everyone. 

Remember how easily Jenner soothed Joy Behar, who'd repeatedly called Jenner "he"? At the time, I said:

Good move by Jenner. Someone who wants to win the support of the masses can't lean into self-based fussiness. It's fine to recommend compassion about pronouns for young people who are struggling with their identity, but when you want to present yourself as ready to take on everyone else's problems and govern, you need to make people feel that you are well grounded and fully supported from within. You need to make other people comfortable — not worried that in talking about you they could say something wrong and have their lives ruined.

So, I think Jenner's idea is to make people comfortable and to present the transgenderism as a courageous accomplishment, something positive to count in Jenner's favor, not something that makes other people feel burdened and endangered. As a candidate, Jenner has to offer to make people's lives easier, not to challenge them to talk and act with continual woke awareness.

FROM THE EMAIL: Tim writes:

It is a great ad, I agree with James Woods, but I have conflicting reactions to its significance. 

For sure, Caitlyn Jenner, having been a sports hero for GenXers' entire lives and for most of the adult lives of Boomers, is in the unique position of being able to embrace being a woman without having her manliness questioned. That doesn't quite capture it, but I'm sure you know what I'm going for with that strange phrase. And because she is running as a Republican and rejects some of the crazier elements of trans activism, she is also in the unique position of being able to pull together the not-crazy people on both sides of the political divide and maybe even craft a reasonable palatable version of "woke." 

But in watching it, I'm also reminded of Kimberly Klacik and her viral campaign for congress from Baltimore. Her ads were exciting, and people were excited. She seemed the perfect Republican to win over urban blacks and break the back of one of our country's most corrupt and incompetent political machines. And all that online excitement translated into approximately zero votes as she lost in a landslide.

There's only so much you can do with an ad, but Jenner also has big pre-existing fame. With Klacik, you couldn't tell who she was. And Baltimore is not California. California has had Republican governors in recent years.

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