September 16, 2014

Joan Rivers

Joan Rivers

Source: Shutterstock

When I read about Joan Rivers”€™ death, my eyes welled up with stinging tears. Not because she”€™d died (come on: she was 81) but in anticipation of the mouthwatering multi-million-dollar malpractice suit that was sure to follow.

Her endoscopy clinic denies it, but reportedly, a doctor performed a highly irregular biopsy on the veteran comedian’s timeworn vocal cords. “€œCan we talk?”€ indeed.

So, yes, “€œJoan Rivers died doing what she loved. Having surgery.”€ But how ironic that for once, Rivers had gone under the knife not to tweak her Winchester House of a face, but presumably to repair her all-important voice box.

(Although there is a cosmetic surgery procedure called a “€œvoice lift”€ now, because of course there is. As the japes at explain, “€œThe idea is that if your voice has become old and scratchy with the years, this will have you sounding like a young man again! You”€™ll look 20 years younger! On the phone!”€)

“€œTo rail against the unfairness of it all, to labor in vain to overturn “€˜society’s standards of beauty,”€™ is to take gravity to court, boycott DNA, or “€˜raise awareness”€™ among salmon regarding the numerous hazards of swimming upstream.”€

How or why Joan Rivers (or anyone within earshot) figured her voice suddenly needed fixing, I couldn”€™t tell you. Since she wasn”€™t beautiful, Rivers”€™ voice was usually described as “€œraspy”€ or “€œgrating.”€ Had she looked like Kathleen Turner and sounded exactly the same, the word would”€™ve been “€œhusky”€ instead.

To state that Joan Rivers”€™ life would”€™ve been completely different if she”€™d been better looking is to say nothing”€””€œIf we had ham, we could make a ham and cheese sandwich if we had cheese”€”€”and, yet, everything.

Beauty is the female’s primary reserve currency. Some women inherit a pulchritude trust fund; others, like Joan Rivers, are the ones we hear about in stump speeches, those born already owing some five-figure debt to someone or other.

To rail against the unfairness of it all, to labor in vain to overturn “€œsociety’s standards of beauty,”€ is to take gravity to court, boycott DNA, or “€œraise awareness”€ among salmon regarding the numerous hazards of swimming upstream. Of course, this hasn”€™t prevented any number of modern women from doing so.

Now, when I was a punk, I wasn”€™t “€œchallenging”€ the “€œcorporate patriarchy”€ while secretly hoping to attract boys regardless; I was trying to look even uglier than I already was and be left alone. I liked feeling free and fierce“€”for a time. But it’s an exhausting way to live, and, yes, unnatural.

For most women”€”the ones born “€œin debt”€”€”it takes far more effort to try to look beautiful, but it’s also a more natural pursuit, which ameliorates the “€œexhausting”€ part. So while the ship-of-Theseus results were literally plastic and ultimately grotesque, Joan Rivers”€™ pursuit of beauty was, in fact, perfectly natural, normal, and sane”€”a sound female mind’s attempt to escape from an unsatisfactory body and unfair fate. In that, Rivers faintly resembles another tireless, pioneering Jewish entertainer”€”Houdini”€”right down to the dumb, ignoble death.

Rivers was more successful at paying down debt of a different kind. She awoke from the nightmare of her husband’s 1987 suicide to learn that he”€™d left her $37 million in the hole.

Astonishingly, instead of declaring bankruptcy, she paid off that debt little by little, the old-fashioned way, taking every job she could, then went on to leave a $150 million estate.


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