Tuesday, September 9, 2014

What Joan Rivers Should Mean to My Daughters

Dear Daughters,

Joan Rivers died. She was a comedienne. She was often funny. She helped blaze an important trail for female comedians. For this she should be recognized and, at least on some level, appreciated.

If you're wondering why I expressed such sorrow at the death of Robin Williams but struggle to mourn the loss of a female in his line of work, you need to understand that it's not entirely sexist. Perhaps it is a little; I'm not the best one to judge it, I guess.

Unfortunately, the Joan Rivers you knew from cable channels was the Joan Rivers who spent most of her time insulting how other people looked. Her insults were aggressively insensitive and often flat-out cruel. The core of her humor was, as one of the mothers who used to carpool me to school would say, "hateful." Many comedians are vulgar and say cruel things, but few of them spend such a huge portion of their time and make their name by demeaning others as Ms. Rivers did.

Ms. Rivers was as critical of her own appearance as she was of others', as the reported 700+ plastic surgery procedures she underwent in her life attest. Others will claim that this excuses her cruelty. I, on the other hand, don't believe "scorched earth" is a good excuse for much of anything. Burning the town because you torched your own home still makes you an arsonist. Insulting everyone else's appearance because you believe you are ugly makes you pitiful, but it doesn't excuse you. It wasn't a good philosophy in "War Games," and if Dabney Coleman can learn it, so can you.

You are growing up in a culture that cannot seem to reduce its love affair with fame. Fame no longer even requires talent so much as being in the right place at the right time on the right social media outlet. You are also growing up in a time when the Selfie has become the single most common form of creative expression for girls and young women.

With the Selfie comes a culture as obsessed with appearance as any in my lifetime, probably ever. Nauseatingly misguided concepts like "thigh gap" have been injected into your lexicon. The siren song desire to simply be known, for anything, for whatever it takes to get attention, is almost impossible to ignore.

What I need you to see is that Joan Rivers, like so many celebrities and stars, was a tragic figure. She sold her soul, at some point somehow, for the chance to continue beaming her increasingly-altered facade into our living room. None of the stuff she chased made her any happier with the way she looked.

One day in the next few years, I hope you'll read a novel by Oscar Wilde called "The Picture of Dorian Gray." In short, it's a fable about vanity and how much of ourselves we are willing to sacrifice to maintain our surface allure.

As a father who loves you very much and who knows that my gender has done more harm than good in matters of women, self-esteem and obsession with superficial notions of beauty, I promise you few things -- maybe nothing -- worries me quite as much as how easy it can be for a teenage girl to be paralyzed by, drugged by, a reflection.

If the fable of Joan Rivers teaches you anything, know that hers is the story of someone who could never find happiness in her reflection because she never knew what she should have been looking for.

You are beautiful to me, daughters, but I’d love you if you were the color of a baboon’s ass. I'd love you even if you deformed your appearance over 700 times because you could never manage to see what I can see. I'll love you no matter what, but I cannot control how you think of yourself, or how you treat others.



Sara said...

Brilliant, friend.

Tockstar said...

Good stuff. I have the first two lines of "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong" stuck in my head AGAIN, but it was worth it just to read this.

Daisy said...

I love this post. It definitely ranks in the BOTG top 10. Probably top 5.

Thomas Dillow said...

Way to go Billy. Have you ever seen Miss Representation?

Billy said...

Thank you TD, and I haven't, but it's now on my Amazon Prime watchlist!