Kyle Rittenhouse has recently entered the conservative celebrity circuit. He now should exit it and do his best to get on with a normal life. The benefits of his celebrity status for all parties involved are short-term, and the visuals presented to the public following his acquittal have been at times cringe-inducing.
Rittenhouse’s many admirers see a dragon slayer, a fairytale story of a young lad of humble origin who stepped up to defend his community from barbarian invaders in August 2020. In the process, he killed a wife beater and a pedophile—an improbable but real embodiment of chivalry in the age of vice. Next came his vilification by corporate media and the political establishment, including by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who used a picture of Rittenhouse in a campaign commercial while talking up a phantom rise of the KKK. The drama culminated in a politically motivated prosecution on trumped-up charges, which ended when his not-guilty verdict was announced and he broke down in tears.
Rittenhouse’s acquittal reaffirmed core American principles regarding the rule of law and the right to self-defense. But after his ordeals in the street and in the courtroom, one more ordeal remains, perhaps the worst of all: the ordeal by brass trumpets.
It’s understandable that a wrongfully accused young man would want to do an interview or two after his acquittal to give his side of the story. Rittenhouse’s conversation with Tucker Carlson was enormously informative. He came across as mature and well-reasoned—and more complex than expected. He claimed he was, and remains, a supporter of Black Lives Matter.
Rittenhouse should have stopped with the Carlson interview, but, unfortunately for him, his story sells. He has been interviewed on several podcasts and recently appeared onstage at a Turning Point USA event, amid flashing lights and chants of his name. The Kenosha Kid’s main claim to fame is successful self-defense; at just 18 years of age, he is running the risk of being defined by it.
His supporters all seem to know what he should do with his life—work as a gun rights advocate, run for political office, and so on. But the political capital that Rittenhouse amassed after his acquittal is ephemeral. Even if another conservative golden boy doesn’t emerge to steal the spotlight, Rittenhouse’s adoring crowds are far more likely to tire of him before he grows weary of them.
Rittenhouse may well become wealthy, and thus he would discover that money can’t buy happiness. He will likely acquire this wealth not by creating or excelling at something new but by suing those who have libeled or slandered him. His many fans will feel personally avenged. For a young man, becoming a conduit for other people’s revenge fantasies is not a good outcome, and Rittenhouse will have to fend off people attracted to his wealth and waning celebrity. All the while his thousands of detractors will watch his every step, waiting to seize on the tiniest error to destroy his life. He is young and will certainly make mistakes.
It’s difficult, but not impossible, for someone in Rittenhouse’s position to lead a normal life. He can develop relationships with people who will accept him as an equal, get an education—even if that requires him to move abroad—get married, raise a family, and accomplish something meaningful. All of this is achievable—but for an 18-year-old to do it it while remaining constantly in the public eye is almost impossible.
Some point to the example of Nicholas Sandmann, the teenager thrust into fame when the corporate media found his facial expression objectionable. Sandmann has settled with many outlets he accused of defaming him, but for the most part he has stayed out of the public eye, giving few interviews and writing only the occasional op-ed.
Adoring fans have their own emotional needs and agendas, as do ill-wishers. Neither group ever goes away for good. But if Kyle Rittenhouse can learn to navigate his new reality, he would have a better chance of living a fulfilling life.
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