She's wonderful, but the tributes are getting a little maudlin
Call your grandparents and tell them you love them. But not every thirty seconds, because that will freak them out.
You have to wonder if Betty White is freaking out.
The 88-year-old actress was named the AP’s Entertainer of the Year Monday – beating out who? Kanye West? – to cap a year of being the go-to choice of everyone for everything.
Look, we get it: She's a cool, classy lady who's very funny. She deserves every accolade she's gotten. She was brilliant on "Saturday Night Live," lovely on "The Golden Girls," and is always the best part of whatever movie she's in. I love the good work she does for animals. I met her once and she was incredibly sweet. She makes other people feel good.
But the pile-on is cloying. Honoring her isn’t counterintuitive or inspired or bold. It’s obvious, because Betty White is great.
A lot of this is about being scared of death.
Michael Jackson taught us to appreciate the great artists among us while they’re alive, because we never know when they’ll die. Betty White is a special case: a beloved actress with a long and wonderful career, doing some of her best work at 88. Honoring her makes sense. It’s a way to celebrate her career and let her hear the things we say.
But we’re partly honoring ourselves. We want to be the kinds of people who respect age, and wisdom, because we want to be honored and respected when we’re old. We want to believe we can peak at 88. We want to be alive at 88. None of us want to die.
Wrote the AP: “Her unlikely, age-defying success resonated deeply with people who saw in her a spirited, hilarious aberration, a woman not dimmed by age but enhanced by it: The genuine article in a pop culture awash in imitators.”
When Betty White dies, hopefully in a very, very long time, people will call her the best comedienne who ever lived. I won’t argue. But Betty White is still alive. And while its important to say what you want to say to the living, it’s weird when they already know how you feel.
I have a friend who loves Bob Marley. He says his thoughts about Bob Marley and Jesus are the same: loves the man, not so fond of his followers. Remember in college, when everyone around you played “Legend” all the time? (Maybe you aren’t in the “Legend” demographic. Lucky you.)
I’ll bet you don’t listen to Bob Marley anymore. Not because he’s not great – he was – but because he reminds you of a time when so many people around you had an embarrassing need to define themselves by what they liked. (Liking Bob Marley, in college, meant you were laid back, and interested in different cultures, and at least open-minded about marijuana. All things that made you cool at college. Okay.)
But I’ll bet you still listen to Prince. And get excited flipping stations when you hear “Little Red Corvette.” Because at no time in your life did you walk around telling everyone how much you were into Prince. Because it would have been redundant. He’s been brilliant since he started, a shockingly long time ago, and he still puts on an amazing show. And no one finds it necessary to say so all the time because Prince’s brilliance is a given, an acknowledged fact.
And Prince is still out being Prince. And Betty White is still being Betty White. Bruce Springsteen said once that people don’t come to see you, they come to see themselves. It was a pretty modest thing to say for someone who’s Bruce Springsteen.
But maybe, when watching a Bruce Springsteen or Prince or Betty White, we can watch them instead of ourselves. Not making sure everyone can hear how loud we’re cheering, but cheering a little less so we can listen a little better, and appreciate a little more.
At least when they’re still on the stage.