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On Joan Rivers, My Daughter’s Death, and the Politics of Survival

I have a complicated, problematic, and enduring love affair with Joan Rivers.

I suppose it began in the eighties or early nineties, when I sat with my grandmother Sylvia and watched her on television. To me, Rivers was the height of glamour. This may suggest something about the sort of person I’d become, but I found her social commentary astute, her Jewish accent familiar, her costumes beautiful, her presence comforting. But I was a very young girl, in those days, and really, what did I know about life, art, the nefarious workings of the media?

In retrospect, I see: Joan was arguably at a low point in her career when I first came to know her, and as I grew from child to adolescent to early adult, I developed a feminist critique of the caricature this public figure appeared to become over the course of my young life.

Her commentary is so sexist, I lamented to my grandmother Sylvia—who passed away herself last winter—as we’d sit together and watch Rivers’ excorciate Hollywood starlets for their dresses, their accessories, their very bodies. I just can’t believe how judgmental she is, and that we’re sitting here, watching it. 

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