Big Game

04.23.15 9:20 AM ET

The Hunting of Bruce Jenner: Why It’s Time for the Media to ‘Transition’

Paparazzi photos of Jenner allegedly wearing a dress mark a new low in the media's treatment of the reality star. Don’t expect the lurid headlines to end with his Diane Sawyer confessional.

The pictures, which ran in the New York Daily News, were apparently taken from a hillside near Bruce Jenner’s Malibu home; photographers huddled over their telephoto lenses waiting for the money shot.

Now the cops are hunting for the paparazzi; Jenner could reportedly sue them for invading his privacy.

Well they got their money shot, this time anyway: a figure in a striped dress. (The pictures, tacky in intent as they might be, reminded me of the female figure in David Hockney’s painting “Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy.”

What do these photographers’ editors want?

I’d love to say something insightful, celebratory, and affirming, but no. These photographers--and all the other photographers pursuing Jenner these last few weeks—want, let’s be blunt, a picture of someone thought of as a man dressed and looking like a woman.

They want “Bruce Jenner: The Freak Show.”

They want to capture a person’s alleged gender transition as luridly as possible.

They want to contrast how Jenner looks now to how he did when he was a handsome male-identified Olympic athlete. (We are using the “he” honorific until it is clarified otherwise by Jenner.)

The paparazzi stalking of Bruce Jenner is disgusting and is making me feel oddly, and in a first, sympathetic to a member of the Kardashian family.

I wonder if these photographers go home and excitedly tell their loved ones: “I got it, darling, I got this amazing picture of his hair in a ponytail. A ponytail. And I think he might have his hair colored. Seriously.” Hopefully these boasts are greeted by the biggest eye roll the photographers have ever received.

A man becoming a woman in front of their eyes, that’s what these editors want. They want physical, tangible signs of the change in gender Jenner is set to announce to Diane Sawyer in a special ABC interview this Friday night.

The photographers and editors want feminine signifiers like lipstick and tapered nails, blouses and necklaces, but they also want discordant “old Bruce Jenner” male notes too: basically, someone looking weird—“weird” by their narrow standards, anyway.

ABC, as the Associated Press put it Wednesday, is “keeping a tight lid” on what the two-hour interview contains.

In one trailer Jenner is shot from the back, and in shadow, putting me immediately in mind of the no-faces, shadowy 1960s footage of the “twilight world of the homosexual” kind, which emanated, “Who are these mysterious, unclassifiable creatures who are not like us?”

Another trailer shows what the photographers are so ravenously keen on snapping: Jenner, wearing a blue shirt, hair long, ponytailed, walking and talking with Sawyer. He looks utterly innocuous, and not weird at all by any definition.

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Still, we are promised “the truth.” There is ocean, sunsets, Sawyer in major, “sympathetic head-tilt” mode. Buy extra Doritos, America. This will be the Super Bowl of coming out.

“My whole life has been getting me ready for this,” Jenner says. As for his family, “Those are the ones I am concerned with. I can’t let myself hurt them.”

“The journey, the decisions,” the announcer breathes heavily.

Until he takes some PR control back, Jenner remains under siege. The Wednesday pictures of a person in a striped dress also show the person holding a cigarette, not facing the camera. Yet, as if possessing a second sight none of us possess, the editors and captioners decree that this person is Bruce Jenner.

And their fashion analysis mixed with a perverse shot of armchair shrinkery, these weirdo stalkers, is second to none.

Having decided the figure is Jenner, some serious perving gets underway: “While walking around his property, Bruce’s striped dress was blown up by the wind, giving a glimpse of his shoes, which appear to be black flats.”

This detail evokes picture editors with magnifying glasses poring over pictures of a person whose face they can’t see, salivating. “Amazing. He’s wearing flats. Black flats. There's our exclusive.”

Another caption of a faceless figure reads: “A new woman! Bruce Jenner steps outside his Malibu home for a smoke while donning a striped dress.”

Again, how do they know this figure is Jenner? And if it is, and he is in transition, “a new woman” means what? How do they know what he defines himself as, or how long he has done so?

And then, the slightly aggrieved: “After perhaps spotting the camera, Bruce appeared to be hiding from the paparazzi as he turned away.”

That seems to be a surprise to the editors: Why wouldn’t whoever-this-person-is want to be photographed surreptitiously, without their consent, from a long distance? Who do they think they are, not consenting to have their privacy invaded?

Might it be that Jenner is feeling slightly under siege, what with the helicopters circling above his home to get those kinds of pictures too?

The Daily News has been tireless in following Jenner’s sartorial choices, and what they could mean. Longer hair, close inspection of nails…the atomizing of Jenner’s body as he goes about his daily business has been relentless.

The other day, Jenner dared to ride a motorcycle, and was photographed wearing what the Daily News surmised to be a “sports bra beneath his jacket.”

Meanwhile, his high school sweetheart is surprised, because he liked to kiss her, as if—what?—people who are transgender don’t like to kiss people they were once attracted to at a completely different moment of their lives?

While thinking “Leave him the hell alone,” one must acknowledge that Jenner, on his own decreed terms, is no publicity shrinking violet as his two-hour interview on ABC proves. But he is in control of that; he is not in control of the paparazzi stalking.

Jenner is married to (though separated from) Kris Jenner, the perma-tanned Kardashian mama grizzly, who quite clearly never took heed of Noel Coward’s maxim, “Don’t Put Your Daughter On The Stage, Mrs. Worthington.”

The family has parlayed a fortune from playing out their lives in front of the cameras. They are not camera-shy, they are camera-dependent.

For as long as he is part of the Keeping Up With The Kardashians circus, Jenner willingly courts publicity. On Friday night, he will be willingly courting publicity when he gives his much-vaunted interview to Sawyer. He will be willingly courting publicity if and when he appears in the alleged reality show that captures his alleged gender transition. He did not willingly consent to being “papped” from a great distance.

The latest reports suggest Jenner has put the reality series on hold, both wanting to shepherd his sons through whatever process he is going through, while also being shaken up by the car crash he was involved in that left a woman dead.

Jenner wants to do as most would like to do—to control his or her coming out, and especially in his case because of the ridiculous gyre of publicity around him. This poses a challenge to the media, and to Jenner.

Friday night’s tell-all is a marker in the sand. Jenner may well become the first major celebrity to disclose they are in gender transition; what kind of public life and privacy he desires after such a disclosure remains unclear.

When it photographs and pursues him now—he remains a Kardashian, so this is as much a given as night follows day—will the media respect Jenner’s space, and how he wishes to be addressed? Or will Jenner play what happens next as publicly as the Kardashians traditionally do?

If Jenner is transitioning, then will the media, particularly tabloid, report it appropriately and respectfully—two words that to date don’t partner easily with “Kardashian”?

Jenner must hope that his ABC interview and gestating reality show satisfy the media’s freakification of him. 

Sadly, whatever words Jenner says—and whatever prosecution occurs or not around these latest pictures—will unlikely neutralize or discourage other photographers crouching in the dust with their telephoto lenses, or appetite for pictures and stories about Jenner. And, to date in this strange dance, the Kardashians have fed the media beast, rather than retreated from it.

One can only hope that whoever is in that striped dress next time turns around and gives the photographers on the hill opposite the middle finger—or “a perfectly manicured middle finger,” as I’m sure the captioners will describe it.