I know what you’re thinking: you see a picture of Joan Lunden in a post and think this is another celeb-with-cancer bashing piece. Not exactly. I’m certainly no fan of Lunden or any of these celebs sharing their “inspirational stories”–and in my opinion Lunden IS one of the worst of them. But this picture is only partly her fault. Let me explain.
You see, this is an ad for People magazine. That issue of the magazine, that cover, is old. Yet the ad containing the cover picture, with the little items around the magazine cover, yeah, it’s new. I tore it out of my most recent issue of Entertainment Weekly. I’ve been seeing the ad in a few other magazines this weekend–I was, um, sifting through a huge backlog of magazines to clear some out. Yes, I still read actual magazines, sometimes for recipes (glossy, colorful pictures motivate me better). And man, I’ve been behind in reading-‘n’-recipe-reviewing, so this weekend was all about reducing my backlog!
OK defensive digression over.
So in short, I saw this ad a few times and as I reached the last magazine in my pile I yanked out this page and took a good long look at it. As I did so, I understood why it turned my stomach more than the usual celebs-with-cancer stuff I see. Have you seen this ad? Have you really looked at it, thought about it? (I kinda hope you have seen this ad, since I am no picture/computer wiz–and this scanned copy of the ad is not very clear and probably too small, but if you click it, it should get bigger.)
The ad, which IS for People, chose this older issue to tug at heartstrings, to sell magazines (yes everyone seems to use certain kinds of cancer patients to sell product). People magazine is touting their attention to the details as one reason they are so good at telling stories about people worth being in their magazine (that last part about worth is questionable, but I’m going with it for now).
So these featured details are items I guess Lunden mentioned in her interview–honestly, this was a while ago and I probably just skimmed it, and I don’t remember much of it. So there are pictures with dramatic captions:
“The sport that kept her active”
“The razor that took her hair”
“The bandana that covered her head”
And others. The reverence in the tone of these little captions, like these items are holy relics or something, just strikes me so odd. It made me think of the inspiration porn the late Stella Young spoke of.
I’m sure I’m not the first person to point out the fetishizing of breast cancer–and I don’t mean just of women’s bodies and breasts. I mean the fetishizing of actual patients and by extension, these objects belonging to Lunden. Most of the dictionary definitions of fetish–before it gets to the sexual connotation, describe a fetish as objects regarded with reverence or extravagant trust and superstition. Yeah, the reverence part is what I sensed in those captions used by People magazine. Like these items were her weapons in her battle (because they love the metaphor), and if you fetishize some items, they can help you too.
Now, this post has been picking mostly on People magazine. Like I said in the first paragraph, I know a graphic of Lunden will pop up with this post, and readers will think it is another gripe-about-celebs post–and I tried to deny that, to explain I would be taking the magazine to task instead. But, I do acknowledge here at the end that yes, Lunden is certainly culpable. She has built a little industry around her cancer journey to be sure–I refuse to join her Alive website, ugh! Her cancer shtick isn’t particularly original–it is just the same old stuff I saw when I was first diagnosed, but now packaged with a fake-y morning show journalist’s pizzazz. She’s just sticking to the pre-approved cancer patient script. I don’t find her inspiring, and definitely not deserving of reverence.
But this is more than just Lunden and People magazine–it is this whole effed up cancer culture. This ad and yes, Lunden too, this whole thing is just a weird example of what I find so stomach churning in cancer culture. Like the old adage about only the positive stories getting to the podium, but magnified. I’ve griped about this before (here); how I hate this storification of cancer, this need to not only use battle language, but to mythologize the cancer story too, like some old knight going off to battle a dragon. Ugh, my cancer experience was just so NOT a fairy tale.
Ah, but here I am, a giant hypocrite. I’m sticking to my pre-approved cancer script too, because I ain’t saying anything new here–these are old gripes for me. It was just the presentation in this ad, the way those objects were laid out and captioned like religious relics that just exasperated me more than usual.
And as usual I offer no solutions. And I don’t believe in giving advice. But I will offer comfort. If you find these usual presentations of the cancer story–the sanitized, pretty-in-pink, I’m a warrior who kicked cancer’s ass stuff–as stomach turning as I find it, well, to expand on Alice Roosevelt’s saying, your place is here next to me.