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Joan Rivers and the Spectacle of Defacement: Comedy, Plastic Surgery, and the Red Carpet Freakshow

Pinsky, Paulina

This thesis analyzes Joan Rivers through a feminist disability lens. In the first chapter of this thesis, I examine Rivers’s comedy. I claim that through disability drag, Rivers was able to create a comedic persona that is incongruent with her own. In the second chapter I analyze Rivers’s relationship with cosmetic surgery. Although Rivers used cosmetic surgery as an empowering form of identity-crafting to achieve cosmetic beauty, it proved to be an unsustainable project that turned her into a freak of sorts. And finally in the third chapter, I view the red carpet as the modern day freak show, with Rivers as its carnival barker. In the same way that she verbally de-faced herself through disability drag, then physically de-faced herself through cosmetic surgery, she de-faced celebrities in Hollywood on the red carpet. In this spectacle of de-facement, Rivers democratized disability in order to make her highly-artificial face normal.Joan Rivers created red carpet culture. Her impact on 21st century popular culture was pervasive: no matter the status of the celebrity, they were subjected to Rivers’s gaze. It is important to analyze Rivers through a disability lens because ultimately, through her acidic commentary she was able to disable celebrities in Hollywood with her words. And through my analysis, I prove that Rivers first used verbal de-facement on herself, before she used it on others. Rivers started her career by first verbally de-facing herself in her comedy, then she literally de-faced herself through her use of cosmetic surgery, and finally, she turned her verbal knife outward to de-face celebrities on the red carpet: Joan Rivers created and perpetuated a spectacle of de- facement.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
American Studies (Barnard College)
Thesis Advisors
Kassanoff, Jennie A.
B.A., Barnard College
Published Here
May 19, 2015
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