There’s no working journalist who has not been asked to produce a “human interest” story in times of drought for hope. We all crave the milk of kindness.
It’s a typical and even pardonable sin for the media to provide a little warmth in the cold, cold shadow of, say, a fleet of F/A-18 Super Hornets. We cannot live on dread alone.
Nor can we afford to depend on the warm, gooey diet of hope routinely offered by programs like The Project.
Once, human interest was kind of a side dish—just a spoonful of sugar to help us swallow the hard drug of news. Now, hopeful stories are whipped into a froth of importance and served as a substantial main course.
And so, one brief appearance on television by a competition winner who happens to be transgender cannot remain, as it really is, a small, sweet moment. It must become, as Fairfax had it, a “commitment to diversity” or “TV history” or, as the subject of the news himself said, a “paradigm” broken.
What isn’t true, is that a brief television stint and a few days of the #SoBrave hashtag is any match for social policy.
But a few words on The Project this week by guest host Andrew Guy are now seen not just as words, but as an utterly transformative act. “This will save lives,” they say on social media and in traditional media well beyond The Project itself.
And viewers really believe it. This will save lives.
The plain fact is, of course, that people who are transgender do urgently need their lives saved. Transgender people, and all those significantly at social odds with the M or F diagnosed for them at birth, are at high risk for life’s lowest moments. Incidence of suicide, poverty, mental illness and abuse is much higher among transpeople than the general population and it is absolutely true that this is an absolutely vulnerable group of people.
What isn’t true, though, is that a brief television stint and a few days of the #SoBrave hashtag is any match for a program of social policy.
And, yes. Before you get all “social policy has to come from somewhere” and you tell me that this somewhere is a mediocre television program produced by persons who clearly think of BuzzFeed as a primary news source, allow me to dissuade you.
Let’s set aside the fact that Guy, who won his chance to be uncritically admired from FM breakfast radio hosts called Jonesy and Amanda, didn’t really say anything surprising or useful about the material needs of the transgender community. Let’s ignore anchor Carrie Bickmore’s repeated delight that Guy appeared happy. Heaven forbid we see an unhappy transperson on TV.
Jenner, a right-wing Christian, may be brave and #sobrave, but she is also achingly thick.
But, perhaps, let’s not forget the lavish and flattering mention that was made of Caitlyn Jenner both in the interview itself and in many congratulatory accounts in the press.
While Jenner spends much of her media time and in her soft-focus social documentary I am Cait making mention of the incidence of trans suicides, she is also very critical of social reform.
This woman, gifted of a wealth and fame sufficient to ease her transition, has out-and-out said that she is opposed to Obama. She is a Republican aghast by what the Americans call “socialised” medicine and what we would just think of as healthcare entitlements. She is a person who, like a growing number of persons, believes that all you need to improve the world is love and tolerance.
Jenner, a right-wing Christian, may be brave and #sobrave, but she is also achingly thick. She believes that the ONE thing standing between transpeople and death is compassion and understanding. Well, it’s not one thing, but it is many. And, even if we were to surgically remove transphobia from individuals, institutional prejudices, mechanical and not human in nature, would certainly remain.
Like the reporters and social media users who applauded Guy’s appearance, Jenner thinks that “visibility” alone is something. That Jenner, and to a lesser extent, Guy, have a privilege of acceptable visibility accorded to them by good healthcare, good grooming and network TV doesn’t seem to count.
This One Moment Will End Hate. This One Amazing Video Will Save Your Life. This one guarantee that the people on The Project have a “commitment to diversity” is somehow seen as the start of something.
It’s the start of nothing. Save for the completion of the lie that warm, gooey television changes anything at all.
Helen Razer is a writer and broadcaster.