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Friday, September 05, 2014

All Life Is--What?

I was going to let a lot of this go until I read this particularly idiotic piece on The New Yorker's website.  It concerns the death of Joan Rivers and seeks to justify all the hate-filled blather she vomited up over the course of her career, and it turned my stomach.

Mr Schulman's thesis is that Joan Rivers wasn't a cruel and heartless beast because her theme was "Life is shitty."  Life is shitty.  As Broadway Danny Rose might say, that's a philosophy of life?  That life is shitty?  This is not some Upper East Side equivalent of the Buddhist idea that all life is sorrowful.  In sorrow there is also beauty and a sense of the sublime.  But when something is shitty, all there is is shit.  There is no redemption, there is no solace, there is no hope.  It is a small-minded and solipsistic view, one void of subtlety and wit and judgment and insight.  It is the philosophy of a monster.

The joke I came up with about her death--and it is about the coldest and cruelest joke I've ever come up with, although Ms Rivers would have used it about someone else in a heartbeat--was "Plastic surgery's loss is Hell's gain."  That joke sums up the despair I've long felt at her jokes, her act, and her groveling and disgusting addiction to fame.  That anyone could think that could be a fitting obituary for anyone is sad statement; when it actually is a fitting obituary is even sadder.

Mr Schulman writes that "her surgically taut features . . . were symbols not of vanity but of pragmatism, the hallmark of a woman who knew that looks matter, money matters, and, in show business, status matters."  This statement is such a load of hogwash that one hardly knows where to begin with it.  Looks, money, and status are the aspects of life that "matter"?  Kindness, virtue, nobility, knowledge, and empathy are dross?  It is a foolish statement, the kind of drivel that a writer is driven to when he finds himself in the position of having to justify atrocity.

For that is what her "surgically taut features" were:  atrocious.  Her vanity drove her to destroy herself, to make of her face nothing more than a voodoo mask.  It makes me think that there might be a short story someone could write about a person who has plastic surgery so relentlessly that they eventual reveal what lurks inside them:  a monster.  She, in her relentless quest for beauty, became a grotesque object.  Did she get the looks that Mr Schulman would have us believe she pragmatically wanted?  She did if she wanted looks of horror.

He also vaunts how "truthful" she was, but was she?  And isn't that always the defense that bullies and other cruel people use?  "Hey, I was only telling the truth!"  That is the excuse that is supposed to cover for a person's lack of judgment, lack of tact, and lack of empathy.  They are the truth-tellers, and not just bloated egomaniacs who care not who they harm or what lies they tell.  That Elizabeth Taylor, in her later years, was overweight was factual, but what value came from Ms Rivers's relentless fat jokes concerning her?  What grand truth was exposed?  What deep torrent of wisdom was brought forth?  That Elizabeth Taylor--a woman of great beauty in all stages of her life--was fat?  That grand truth is true in only the paltriest sense of the word, the grossest and meanest sense.  To be hurtful, awful, miserable, and petty is not a good thing.  It is a terrible thing, more to be deplored than celebrated.

He also, as seemingly everyone who has written about her death has done, brings up the whole contretemps with Johnny Carson.  And, as so many have done, he gets it completely wrong.  Johnny did not cut her out of his life because "she became his competitor."  He cut her off because she had been disloyal.  In the American Masters episode concerning Johnny, she flat out said that she knowingly stabbed him in the back because "that's how this business works."  And that is how the business works.  If you are a venal and narcissistic creep.  Had she been smart, she would have talked to Johnny the minute that Fox approached her.  He would have given her wise and thoughtful advice, and she would have had something to head back to once the novelty of her signaling that she wanted to throw up inevitably got old.  Instead, she took the most craven and loathsome approach she could and burnt a bridge she very much needed for her retreat.

I am not glad that Joan Rivers is dead.  I wish no one ill.  And that's just one of the ways that I am different from Joan Rivers.