But Not Too Real, OK?

I was trying to avoid all effort of any kind last weekend. I wanted to just sit on my butt and do nothing—well, maybe read or watch TV. I chose the latter, and landed on a “Brady Bunch” re-run.

I do not remember the episode from childhood, although I’m sure I saw it back then. In it, Mrs. Brady attempts to write a magazine article about her life with 6 kids, the blending of 2 households, all that jazz. Her submission is turned down by the head of the magazine for not being positive or uplifting. So she rewrites and sanitizes her piece, makes the kids seem like angels and their lives ideal. Of course the fairy tale version gets accepted, and an appointment with a group of magazine staff at her home is made to photograph her, do a little background on her family. Naturally everything goes wrong—miscommunicated time leads to her answering the door in hair rollers, the kids are arguing, one of them has poison oak—you get the idea. Normal life with kids (I guess). Mrs. Brady is mortified of course, but the magazine staff is delighted, and wonders aloud to her why she did not write THIS—real life with troubles and disappointments—challenges of a modern household. She does, it gets published: happy sitcom ending at last.

Despite my aim to not do ANYTHING as I vegged out in front of the tube last Sunday, I could not help but contemplate the meaning of “real life” in Brady Bunch Land, and compare it to our current cancer culture. Now, given that it is the weekend again as I write this, and it is the holiday season and I’m just exhausted, my thoughts aren’t going real deep or anything—more of a passing ponder. I’m sure some social/pop culture critic/anthropologist can take a better crack at this.

Things like poison oak, screaming and arguing kids, answering the door less than camera-ready are not disasters compared to cancer. (I know, I know, I HATE the comparison thing, and I know that just because someone’s struggle is minor compared to others I should not diminish said struggle—but indulge me here, OK?) In fact, as someone who once answered the front door wearing pajamas at 3:47 PM one December afternoon (hey I was ready for bed!)—I found Mrs. Brady’s hair-in-rollers-yet-makeup-perfect-and-cute-lounge-robe-at-the-door laughable.

This weekend, catching up on blog reading, I came across a gentle criticism of pictures used on social media when another metster dies—always an old photo from the time the deceased was still relatively healthy, or at least not in the final days of wasting away. The blogger prefers the VERY few times patients have posted those less than photogenic pictures of what those last days really look like.

I think about this blogger’s words. I think about Facebook constantly removing pictures of breasts in the process of reconstruction. I think about how bald heads are now considered “real”—think about that fracas in October 2014 when a morning TV program did not want to feature a Stage IV patient because she was not bald like a “real” cancer patient. Even society’s version of real is kind of fake! We have this language of “grit”—the warrior/soldier with a bald head—but otherwise looking hale and hearty—wearing boas and heels, or tastefully/professionally photographed mastectomy photos, the new breastless nude that is maybe just as fetishized as the bald beatific smiling warrior (see Random Thoughts On Baring the Scars for my worries on that subject). I think about that scene in the final “The Hunger Games” book, when Katniss is “too scarred/ugly” for the propaganda video to be filmed—no, they make her pretty then artfully use make-up to create new, less scary, more visually appealing and inspiring scars. (Just read a fascinating essay reminding me the books were inspired by our current reality TV shows, and all the implications of that.)

A fake real is what we want. Don’t make it too real. Or hopefully your reality is just Brady Bunch cute.

The debate about how much to “show”, about deathbed selfie culture/oversharing will rage on. I recently read a piece that took a jab at the country star and how the blog/pictures chronicling her final days are boosting record sales. A paragraph about Jolie’s publicized surgeries and how her essays allowed her to control her image while appearing to share “realness” for reasons of awareness-raising struck a chord for me. She was real—but only in a managed “I woke up like this” way, maybe? Is it annoying when celebrities do it because they might gain fame and success, but in cases of regular patients who are really trying to tell it like it is, it’s OK? I admit, I was reminded of the Keller’s attacks on Lisa Adams when I read the piece. Not the same, but the underlying sentiment made me wonder if the writer was even aware of that fracas a few Januarys ago. (And the near universal praise for the “real” surgery dancer, see here.)

What is real and when is it too much? I don’t share pictures of myself very much because I dislike the way I look. But I’ve not held back (too much) on exposing my ugly thoughts. Are they too real? Do you recoil?

I’m not sure many people are ready for REAL reality, despite the popularity of reality shows.

“I fake it so real I am beyond fake”

“Doll Parts” by Hole, Courtney Love knows a few things about real/fake I wager!!!

Author: Cancer Curmudgeon

Oct 2010 diagnosed with Stage 3, HER2+ Breast Cancer. Completed treatment Jan 2012. Waaaaaay over pink. Applying punk rock sensibility to how I do cancer.

8 thoughts on “But Not Too Real, OK?”

  1. Omg I love this post so much! And you quoted the exact title of the one I’ve been trying to finish for weeks & weeks!!! That was actually gonna be part of my comment till I got to the end of your post lol!!! But yeah, been pondering the exact same stuff lately. Just can’t seem to get a post out. So v glad that you so often say what needs to be said. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh no–great minds, right? I confess this post is not up to my satisfaction–not sure I explored this topic as thoroughly as I wanted. But I have this habit of starting posts and thinking I cannot explore them with thoroughness, then I just tuck them away and forget about them for months! So I thought it best to just put my musings out here, and do a sequel later. Hollywood’s way (eye roll)!
      Anyway, thanks and can’t wait to read your take on this!


  2. Great post! I think you are onto something: Truth is, our culture doesn’t really want reality. After all, reality TV is far from it. Seeing pictures of people in their final days would upset society, as it’s too real. We can only accept some parts of reality, not full reality.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Beth! I’m sure I’ll revisit this issue–not sure I fully explored it here.
      After I posted it I was thinking about your post about how much to you share on your blog. I certainly share, maybe over-share some things, and keep other stuff very private. I suppose all “reality” is managed.


  3. People don’t feel comfortable facing reality. For example, some of my family members have asked me not to speak about cancer in their homes, because their significant other doesn’t appreciate it. I am not sure they even like to hear about it. I’ve tried to tell them about my mutated gene so THEY can get tested and be monitored. Most people didn’t care to know. In fact, many of them don’t speak to me often. They want to avoid the fact that they can be at risk for developing breast cancer (or any other cancer!). I guess I am a reminder of that. Sigh.

    Our culture only wants to deal with some reality until they get hit with something that forces them to face the whole truth.


    1. It is funny our culture does not want to deal with “real” given how much we say stuff like “keep it real”. Puh-leez. I guess it all comes down to fear again, but it is all so frustrating!!
      Thanks as always!


  4. I don’t have a problem with remembering someone who died with photos of the way they looked when they were healthy. They’d probably prefer that, but we live in a society that thrives on anesthesizing itself with visions of happiness and resents getting its hands dirty. Then they lash out at people who are dying for reminding them that life can get ugly.


    1. You know, before I read that blog I didn’t give the healthy pics any thought and still don’t really have an opinion. But yeah, I can see the point that we do have a society that avoids the ugly. Given the latest Facebook removal of recon pics, I’m thinking about those issues more. Another post when I have time I guess!Thanks for stopping by!


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