Over the weekend camparigirl sent me an article from her beloved New Yorker about Joan Rivers. When Joan died, we marked her passing, as one should for any woman who forged her way through a male dominated profession – and noted that we both had some ambivalence in our feelings towards La Rivers. Claudia felt that Joan’s meaness “grated” and I just didn’t find her funny any more. The humour had become crass rather than sharp and incisive and her weird vendettas agains various famous people (Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna) played out awkwardly on Fashion Police.
As news of her death spread through the media we got to see different sides to her – loyal, kind, generous and incredibly supportive of other comic’s professional aspirations. If she liked you – she would help as much as she could. If she didn’t, she didn’t waste any time burying you. She wasn’t afraid to say what she thought. And take the pummelling she would get as a result. Looking out for herself caused her to be banned from Late Night TV – when Johnny Carson blackballed her after he heard she’d accepted a job at another network. A ban that two subsequent Late Nite hosts (Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien) upheld. And which Jimmy Fallon broke only six months before she died. Talk about a vicious boy’s club.
Joan never got to explain to Johnny that she had seen the list of his successors. And there were ten men ahead of her. She’d called, he hadn’t answered. And he never spoke to her again. Instead she leant in, go on with it and “took any gig” she could to pay her way
I loved the article. As much as it was about Joan, it was about all of us. About any woman who has been able to be what she wants to be because another woman went before her. The writer, Emily Nussbaum, is The New Yorker’s TV critic. She is spot on and acerbic and a great read. Her piece is beautifully written, well researched, and referentially flawless. And short enough to keep my attention (my one gripe with the NY). She also introduced a poem that resonated. In part because it is about the dynamic between sisters. Especially a younger sister’s response to her older sibling (something sofasister and I know only too well). But also because, in a general sense, any woman who has forged the first path through the jungle of male dominated professions has acted as a shield for the rest of us who followed:
“but now I
see I had her before me always
like a shield. I look at her wrinkles, her
jaws, her frown-lines—I see they are
the dents on my shield, the blows that did
not reach me.”
As I write this I am reminded of the picture of Cindy Crawford that was leaked to the press via a tweet by a British journalist. I can’t be sure what the journalist’s motivation was and, personally, I would like to give her a good smack for violating Crawford’s privacy. , In the image, we see the (then) 47 year old, mother-of-two-Supermodel pre-retouch. Crawford has five decades worth of living written on her body.
The feedback was mostly positive – big ups for Cindy by women who were thrilled to see what a supermodel nearing fifty really looks like. Although most of us couldn’t relate to Cindy’s beauty when she was younger, we could recognise the drape and swag that time had inflicted on her body. We’d been more similar than different all along.
Nussbaum closes her piece with these words: “Rivers came first—and if her view darkened, if she became an evangelist for the ideas that had hurt her the most, she also refused to give in, to disappear. That’s its own kind of inspiration. We can celebrate it without looking away.”