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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


Joan Rivers death raises questions regarding respect

Though Joan Rivers was a controversial figure, one can not deny that she paved the way for comediennes in a male-dominated field. (PHOTO CREDIT: TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE)

Joan Rivers’ recent death has sparked an interesting conversation that gets brought up any time a public figure dies. Because celebrities are public figures, different people tend to have varying opinions of them that they are more than happy to share.

Some people focus on the positives of the deceased person’s life, talking about their accomplishments and contributions while offering their surviving loved ones some form of compassion.

Others use the death as a way to bring up the negative aspects of the person’s life, talking about their faults and using out-of-context personal stories to shine a bad light on the deceased while their body is still warm.

Joan Rivers was a controversial figure in the public’s eye. She has practiced comedy for more than 60 years, paving the way for comediennes in a field dominated by men. Some could argue that her humor style was crass and offensive, but that is what allowed her to become a permanent guest host on one of the most successful late night shows of all time, like “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”

Joan was one of many controversial figures who helped bring up the topic of respect for the deceased. Cultures around the world ask for the living to venerate their elders and ancestors, from the Latin phrase “De mortuis nil nisi bonum,” which asks for respect for the dead, to the ancient Shi ceremonies of China, which allow the living to appreciate their ancestors.

The question being raised now is this: why do we have to respect the dead? Why do we have to overlook the faults of a person just because they are not living anymore? Everyone knows what I am referring to. If you go to a funeral of a person you do not particularly like, it becomes an act of sorts. You have to put on a face, talk about the good things the person did and keep your rude thoughts to yourself. At least for a short time.

Freud has a good answer to the question of why we have to respect the dead. He says that we do it out of an obligation to the surviving relatives, who need time to grieve and heal. Sadly, every single one of us has had to experience the depression that comes with losing a loved one. This is a connection that every single human being shares, and most people can empathize with a grieving family because of this.

It is impossible to simply just ignore the faults that make up all of us. I am not asking for you to ignore the fact that Rivers may have been pushing too many boundaries, like making a joke about 9/11 a few days after the attack. She may have gone too far in comedy for some people, but until her family has had time to grieve and get over the death, isn’t the kind thing to do to keep silent about the faults?

When we treat the dead with dignity, it is not so much for the person who is being buried as it is the family members and close friends they have left behind.


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