How Will The Kardashian Legacy Change Now That Bruce Jenner Has Spoken Out Publicly About His Gender Identity?
As someone obsessed with pop culture, it's easy to explain why the Kardashian family is my favorite topic: Their whole situation is just so wonderfully bizarre. The family of O.J. Simpson's defense attorney, more than ten years after the landmark case, comes to fame when one family member's sex tape is released and they land a reality show that elevates them to international fame. That scenario alone is enough to write a book about, but, of course, even more has been added to the family's history since then. The most recent addition is Bruce Jenner explaining that "for all intents and purposes, I am a woman" during an interview with Diane Sawyer. With this, the Kardashian family legacy has added a significant new chapter — perhaps the most significant of all.
My fascination with the Kardashian family started the only way it could: when I began watching Keeping Up With the Kardashians. I liked their crazy show, for one, because it was entertaining and oddly relatable at times, and two, because the idea of fame has always been intriguing to me and this family has really taken the idea and run with it.
To explain their unique situation a bit more: Gold medal Olympian and hero of 1976, Bruce Jenner, married the ex-wife of Robert Kardashian (of O.J. trial fame), Kris Jenner. They expanded their already large families by having two children together. One of Kris' children, Kim Kardashian, gained fame when her sex tape with then-boyfriend Ray J (Brandy's brother!) was released, and the rest is reality TV history. Kim and her sisters, Kourtney and Khloe, began getting paid for things like public appearances and clothing and beauty lines; Kim married one of the most famous rappers ever, Kanye West; Bruce and Kris' daughters, Kylie and Kendall, gained notoriety on their own as a makeup genius and runway model, respectively. In short, this entire family has been killing it from every angle for years at this point.
And that's not even everything! There are magazine covers, numerous relationships with other famous people, Kris and Bruce's divorce, a child named North West, a national obsession with butts propelled by Kim Kardashian herself. I could go on and on, but the point is this is a truly odd (and, for me, endlessly intriguing) situation and these people were already going to be remembered years into the future.
So what is — or perhaps now, was — that legacy going to be? Before this latest development with Bruce Jenner, I would've said that the Kardashians would be remembered as a novelty. People either find them entertaining or find them irritating, but even the people who fit the former category wouldn't describe their entertainment value the same way they'd describe that of an Oscar-winning drama. Instead, we watch their shows and follow them on social media because they're funny, or have cool clothes, or give us a taste of a life we'll never have (or that we want to convince ourselves we could someday achieve).
The Kardashians are totally of the moment and the fact that they've managed to make their moment quite a long one, doesn't mean that everything about them isn't totally immersed in what's going on in the time period in which they exist. (I mean, Kim Kardashian is releasing a book of selfies for crying out loud. You can't get more Kardashian or more 2015 than that.) Love 'em or hate 'em, they define novelty and they give in to this definition with every ounce of their being. Perhaps this is why they've managed to be the longest lasting novelty of all time.
But now, with Jenner explaining that he's views himself as a woman, the Kardashian family legacy has taken on a new, more serious chapter. And Jenner realizes the irony of a family who has become known for their "reality" show, holding back their truest and most emotional story. As he told Sawyer,
I had the story. We'd done 425 episodes, I think, over almost eight years now. And the entire run, I kept thinking to myself: Oh my god, this whole thing, the one real true story and the family was the one I was hiding and nobody knew about it. The one thing that could really make a difference in people's lives was right here in my soul, and I could not tell that story.
Becoming, arguably, the most well-known person in the world to speak publicly about gender identity in this way undeniably has lasting value. Before I started watching KUWTK, I couldn't have told you who Bruce Jenner was. But my parents' generation definitely knew Jenner as a famed Olympian. Going from being known widely as an athlete to being known widely as a reality TV star is quite the jump, and now, Jenner will also be known for speaking out about his journey. As for whether the athlete turned reality star will end up cementing this even more by becoming an outspoken advocate and icon for gender identity issues has yet to be seen. But if there's one thing we've seen Jenner be good at, it's being encouraging and outspoken, so while identifying as a woman doesn't obligate him to take up advocacy, being who he is as a person certainly makes him qualified to kick ass at it if that's his choice.
While the Kardashian family as a whole may still be remembered as a ridiculous cultural phenomenon — and, to those of us who like to find deeper meaning in this stuff: a representation of early 20th century culture — with Jenner sharing his truth, an addendum will always be added on. "Hey, remember the Kardashians?" "Yeah, they were crazy, but remember Bruce's big interview?" Or, "Hey, remember the Kardashians?" "Yeah, Kim was the one with the huge butt, right? And remember when Bruce spoke out about his complex gender and sexual identity and kicked that whole conversation to the forefront of American consciousness and it improved the people's awareness of the realities of being transgender or gender variant, thus reducing ignorance and fear-driven violence against transgender people, furthering the creation of a social and cultural environment that makes trans youth who feel bullied, more accepted, and less likely to experience depression or suicide? Yeah, Bruce was great!"
Whatever way people choose to look at Jenner's story, whether it's with a sense of respect or not, Jenner's story comes at a time when the world feels primed to become more accepting and talking more about the transgender and gender variant community, so it would be impossible for coming out to not become a part of Jenner's legacy and that of the entire family. The way people look back at the Kardashians will without a doubt be different going forward — and this isn't even the end of their story.
Editor's Note: Per Jenner’s stated preference, Bustle will continue referring to Jenner using he/his pronouns for the time being. We will follow his lead and make any changes to this policy as needed in the future.
Images: Getty Images