Joan Rivers made the world a stupider, shallower, more annoying place—so of course she has been celebrated widely since her death last week. But let’s get real for a minute. Joan Rivers wasn’t funny, she wasn’t a good person, and she wasn’t someone who ought to be revered or held up as an example. If anything, she should be held up as a counterexample for rising generations of citizens who hope to live noble, productive lives.
Some celebrities are half-way decent, even if they made their names doing something stupid, like starring in brain cell-killing comedy movies. But most, including Joan, have no redeeming qualities. She said so much nasty shit, not out of any apparent good-natured desire to spread joy and laughter, but out of an innate cruelty to which even her closest associates have attested.
The writers for Joan’s very own massively successful TV show, Fashion Police on the appalling E! network, went on strike in 2013, citing unbearable working conditions and crippling abuse inflicted by the obnoxious starlet. After months of anxiety and impoverishment, when the exasperated staff finally resolved to raise concerns about their compensation, Joan was reportedly so enraged that she threw a binder and had a violent hissy fit.
“Celebrity hosts hold serious bargaining power,” LA Weekly journalist Danielle Paquette noted recently. “In the past two years, two E! shows, Chelsea Lately and The Soup, became unionized after their respective stars, Chelsea Handler and Joel McHale, personally championed the cause. Rivers, by contrast, shied away.”
Joan’s malice extended to ordinary civilians. She habitually mocked the poor and despondent, a manifestation of her quasi-authoritarian political ideology that everyone incorrectly assumes must have been “progressive” simply because she tolerated gay people. “I think if I work very hard, I should be able to gather the fruits of my labor,” Joan once said, evidently dissatisfied with a net worth of merely several hundred million dollars. “And I think if you’re not about to work, you should get minimal and leave me alone. I think if you don’t wear a helmet and you fall off your bike, you pay for the doctor.” This crass viewpoint was described by Joan as “apolitical,” meaning she failed to recognize how removing the last of America’s social safety net would tangibly impact struggling Americans. No surprise, then, that conservative outfits like the Heritage Foundation expressed such grief at her death.
Since Joan croaked, many have heralded her as some kind of “trailblazer.” Let’s grant this as true, and acknowledge her to be among the forerunners of women’s entry into mainstream US comedy. (Most stand-up comedy is horrible, by the way, and most stand-up comedians are horrible people.) Still, even if you’re a trailblazer, if the trail you’ve blazed is one of depravity, meanness, and general social degradation, maybe that trail never should’ve been blazed in the first place.
Why are people who make their careers gossiping about celebrities, clothes, and related tedium treated as deserving of adulation? For Christ’s sake, the NYPD bagpipe squad were out in full force for Joan’s Manhattan funeral, as if the local Archbishop had just passed. What does the fact that Joan Rivers is seen as some exemplar of virtue say about American society? Think about that. Better yet, write an essay on it.
That this even needs to be said seems ridiculous, but it’s not honorable to make fun of women’s bodies for a living, as Joan did so constantly. (She thought calling Adele fat was super hilarious). It’s not honorable to insult Rihanna for the getting beaten up by Chris Brown. It’s not honorable to say the most noxious garbage, but insist that hey, it’s okay because you’re a “comedian,” man, and if you don’t like it, well—DON’T LISTEN. “Free speech, dude.”
(No respectable person is likely to have Howard Stern deliver the homily at his or her funeral.)
Joan’s final act was, fittingly, her most despicable. Asked to comment on the conflict in Gaza over the summer, Rivers launched an unhinged tirade, explicitly wishing death upon civilians. “They started it,” she screeched with that disgusting voice. “We now don’t count who’s dead. You’re dead, you deserve to be dead. Don’t you dare make me feel bad about that.”
Well now she’s dead, and frankly, I don’t feel too bad.