The Kellers, those big name media people who punched down at a woman with cancer, are never going to live it down. I have been entertained by many take-downs on the internet (none of which will perturb the Kellers in their little bubble of arrogance), but one I particularly liked was Christie Aschwanden’s dissection of their errors. She hit on several major problems that I initially missed.
It’s Bill Keller’s complete failure to see the woman he saw fit to criticize that has ignited rage and charges of sexism. ("Whiny woman making a big fuss about cancer. Shush! Go pet your therapy dog!" tweeted Susan Orlean.) His grand (though by no means novel) ideas about death and dying blinded him to the human being he sought to exploit for his argument’s sake. He violated the journalists’ ethical obligation to treat the ill people they write about with respect and sensitivity. As a result, he didn’t open the discussion about dying that he’d intended, but instead provided the internet with one more example of female invisibility in the face of a powerful man with a big idea.
I wonder if we’ve been conditioned by that familiar Disney trope of the dead mother as a generic symbol of privation, with no specific consequences and no details about the individual. Women are supposed to die offstage so the hero can get on with his or her journey!
One thing I also found striking is that we talked about these same themes in my cancer class last semester — the problems with the ‘war’ model of cancer research, the ethics of dealing with death, etc. — and my students showed more awareness, sensitivity, and intelligence on these subjects than Bill Keller.