“I think this is one of the strongest things that have happened in our existence as human beings….” That’s how Kim Kardashian’s celebrity husband, rapper Kanye West, described Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner’s gender transition from manhood to womanhood during West’s brief appearance on the premiere of the new reality show I Am Cait on Sunday night.
While legitimately claiming the title of one of the best-selling musical artists of all time, West’s claim that Jenner’s public journey into transgenderism is somehow a seminal event in the history of man(?)kind seems to be a rather exaggerated, if not demonstrably preposterous, statement. Of course, this is “reality” TV.
In the minds of many sympathetic and supportive liberals, Jenner is a cultural hero of sorts — a courageous trailblazer leading the way to a more inclusive and accepting society. Paradigm-busting progressives celebrate the new series on the E! cable network as a breakthrough opportunity to shine a favorable light on the challenges and issues facing trans folk.
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But not all the reviews of the first episode of I Am Cait were kind to the reality show — sometimes referred to as an eight-part documentary series that shows an angst-riddled but hopeful Jenner in a wide variety of settings and situations.
In his assessment of the show, The New York Times‘ Mike Hale offered a comment in his first paragraph that set the tone for his review: “Once again [Jenner is] a polished, effective pitchwoman, selling acceptance and transgender pride as capably as she once sold breakfast cereal.”
The Times piece goes on to observe: “The main thing that’s new is the opportunity to see Ms. Jenner at length in full female hair, makeup and dress, and bounteous commentary is sure to ensue on her wardrobe choices — what do we think of the leopard number, the white pantsuit, the dark floral wrap?”
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Hair, makeup, and wardrobe choices — those are some of the big challenges for a transgender in modern society? The newspaper’s critic adds that the staginess of the emotion in the show tends to lessen its impact:
There’s no reason to doubt Ms. Jenner’s sincerity when she cites statistics about suicide among transgender teenagers or consoles a grieving parent, but you also can’t help noticing how she seems to be reading from a script.
Typically liberal in its approach to life, politics, and culture, The Atlantic calls I Am Cait “unbelievable” and “distractingly manipulative.” Their review suggests the slick, highly-polished show that purports to deal with raw emotions could possibly be hurting the cause of transgender acceptance:
In its editing and with its seemingly pre-rehearsed speeches for the camera, I Am Cait mimics typical reality TV by trying to force dramatic narratives onto day-to-day life. And while spotting the fakeness was part of the fun of the Kardashians, here it verges on counterproductive.
The reviewer for Slate seems truly torn up by having to admit that the E! effort to capitalize on Jenner’s gender bender is a “terrible reality show” whose defining feature is “dullness.”
The show biz industry publication Variety notes that the I Am Cait premiere was “mucked up” by the Kardashian factor — the appearance of Jenner’s famous daughters and stepdaughters:
…there’s a pandering quality to shoehorning the couple and daughter Kylie into the premiere, as if E! and the producers needed a security blanket to make sure they catered to that audience too.
As for audience ratings, they are generally not rushed out when it comes to cable shows. Looking at the initial episode’s reception in its local market, the Orlando Sentinal characterized I Am Cait as showing “strong ratings in Central Florida.”
However, when you look at the numbers for Sunday night, here’s what you find with regard to the meaning of “strong”:
In total viewers, CBS’ “60 Minutes” was tops with 115,708 viewers. ABC’s “Celebrity Family Feud” was second as its season finale drew 101,706. And “Big Brother” was third with 90,471. The big news there was that identical twins Liz and Julia, who have been switching off in the game, are close to starting to play separately.
The next four series in the rankings were TNT’s “The Last Ship” with 60,593 viewers, ABC’s “Save My Life: Boston Trauma” with 59,598, CBS’ “Madam Secretary” with 57,745 and “I Am Cait” with 50,002.
Western Journalism will update this post when national audience ratings become available.
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UPDATE: Though details of the ratings for Jenner’s reality romp won’t be known for a day or so, Variety reports that early indications are that the launch of I Am Cait drew a pretty decent audience.
In Nielsen’s metered-markets, “I Am Cait” averaged a 2.1 household rating to tie with TNT’s “The Last Ship” as the top cable program of the night. Other top cable shows were HBO’s “True Detective” (1.5), TNT’s “Falling Skies” (1.5) and HBO’s “Ballers” (1.2).
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