It’s been two years since Caitlyn Jenner sat down with Diane Sawyer on 20/20 and came out as a transgender woman. Her interview was arguably the biggest reveal, both in pop culture and within the LGBT community, since Ellen Degeneres’s 1997 “Yup, I’m gay” Time magazine cover. Sawyer’s compelling interview broke records with 17 million people tuning in—the show’s largest audience in 15 years. Jenner’s second 20/20 interview with Sawyer on Friday, however, only drew four million viewers, an 85 percent decrease. More people watched a rerun of Tom Selleck’s cop drama Blue Bloods that night. What happened?
Earlier this week, on Monday, Jenner stopped by Tucker Carlson Tonight. Her episode marked Carlson’s debut in Bill O’Reilly’s highly coveted, highly watched 8 p.m. timeslot on Fox News. For those living under a rock, O’Reilly was fired from Fox News last week following news that he was facing a slew of sexual assault allegations and has even paid some $13 million to women to keep things hush-hush. So the show was a big deal.
Yet, Monday’s program only garnered 3.2 million viewers. Comparatively, O’Reilly’s final broadcast on April 11, which wasn’t even billed as such, drew 3.6 million viewers. Jenner, currently making the rounds hawking her new book The Secrets of My Life, has apparently lost her once-brilliant lure.
Perhaps much of our neutrality on Jenner is borne from the consensus that her groundbreaking docu-reality series I Am Cait was boring AF. Deemed “an unwatchable mess” by the New York Post, Jenner’s show was cancelled after two seasons due to steady drops in ratings. While the premise of the show was uncharted territory for E!, Jenner—whose transition was controversially celebrated by Glamour with its Woman of the Year award and by ESPN with its Arthur Ashe Courage Award—is hardly a whip-smart, provocative headlining act. Her true self or not, I Am Cait ultimately proved that Jenner, like Bruce in Keeping Up with the Kardashians, best serves as an occasional presence. Kim’s walk-in closet has stolen more scenes that Jenner.
Admittedly, blaming a waning public interest on her tragically lame show might be too easy, given that the show was obviously opportunistic and underdeveloped. Perhaps we need to focus on her problematic politics instead. Those who read the news know Jenner is not only an outspoken Republican, but also a Donald Trump voter. Trump himself even told her she could use any bathroom she wants at Trump Tower at the height of North Carolina’s bathroom bill debate.
Her conservative leanings have no doubt put Jenner at odds with the Kardashians’ young viewership—and all of Hollywood, for that matter. Because Hollywood isn’t welcoming to Republicans, openly conservative celebrities tend to reside on the D-list or below. That’s why Jenner’s positions were put on blast during last year’s election campaign. She wasn’t a whackadoodle D-lister like Stephen Baldwin and Scott Baio; in fact, many people found her charming, both as Bruce and as Caitlyn. As a result, the press catapulted her with a voice and place in politics she perhaps wasn’t ready to have—or never wanted in the first place.
She suffered from it. Jenner was deemed a walking contradiction, a poster child for the “dark side.” In her book, Jenner laments how discussing her views on Ellen ostracized her from the gay community. “This discussion further alienated me from members of the LGBTQ community,” she writes. “Ellen’s appearance on The Howard Stern Show, where in my mind she even more emphatically took what I said out of context, made it go viral.”
On Carlson’s program Monday, Jenner did express disappointment in Trump’s first 100 days in office and criticized the administration for revoking Obama-era protections for public school students to freely use restrooms that correspond to their gender identity.
Dear @Caitlyn_Jenner. I wish you success in this world, but please, do not speak for the community. Speak only for yourself.— Gwendolyn Ann Smith (@gwenners) April 26, 2017
On 20/20, Jenner even threatened the president, saying, “The deal breaker is, you mess with my community…you don’t give us equality and a fair shot, I’m coming after you.” But as of late—and by this I mean before she became contractually obligated to make headlines to promote her book—the only political activism Jenner has played is boasting about turning down an invite to golf with the president. Yeah, that’ll show ‘em.
Jenner writes about undergoing sexual reassignment surgery in her book and recalls earlier years of sneaking out to the movies dressed as a woman. In an attempt to win over fans, Jenner is finally, albeit strategically, blowing off the doors of her once-boarded up closet. On KUWTK, for example, of which Jenner remains a cast member, sordid stories from her transition have become central episodic themes.
Jenner’s ex-wife Kris decries in one episode how the only nice thing Jenner wrote about her is that she was social at parties. Kris adds that the book asserts she always knew her husband was transgender, which Kris denounces as false, cameras rolling. Jenner then defended the scene on Good Morning America, not for its veracity, but for its production, saying, “Hey, it’s a reality show. It is drama.”
And that’s where Jenner loses the attention—and empathy—of the American people. As inadvertent experts in reality TV and celebrity personas, we know that when it comes to Jenner, it’s all just drama. It’s all an act. None of it feels real or authentic. After all, Jenner jumped at the chance to get her own spin-off reality show instead of taking time off to focus on her transition as many transgender people and therapists advised. (Even Kim knew to go into hiding after being robbed.) Now, in her memoir, she’s trashing her children’s mother while opportunistically revealing that she thinks Robert Kardashian knew O.J. was guilty the whole time he defended him—in 2017. It would seem that Jenner is making another attempt to break free from the bejeweled clutches of the Kardashians, and sensationalism is her strategy. She might very well aspire to supersede them, but how can she when Americans don’t know who she really is?
If you ever need a quick refresher on white privilege and what it means, just listen to Caitlyn Jenner speak about equality— stephen ossola (@stephenossola) April 22, 2017
Perhaps this is the reason why the world has stopped caring about Cait. Simply put, we’re exhausted. While she attempts to rewrite her past, the world is realizing she might just be the most calculated and conniving Kardashian of all. The worst part is, and what makes her different from every Kardashian, is that she’s not very good at hiding it.