In my early twenties, when I was newly out of the closet, one of my new friends—with whom I was having lunch at the time—looked at me, and with utter disbelief in his eyes and his voice, said, “You seriously have never seen Mommy Dearest?” I had avoided the film, due to its campiness, but I apparently was failing as a gay, having never experienced Faye Dunaway’s portrayal of one of the ultimate gay icons: Joan Crawford.
I know little about what went into the making of the film, but I do know the filmmakers did not set out to create a camp classic. Rather, I imagine, they believed they were portraying a complicated woman who was seen as, well, a bitch—and not just by her children (specifically, because she wrote the book on which the film is based, her daughter Christina). When I watched the film with my friend, he prepped me for one of the several famous scenes (no, not the “no wire hangars’ scene): you’re gonna love this. Joan Crawford’s character has stepped in for her husband on the board of Pepsi and reassures the men who assume she will have nothing to contribute: “Don’t fuck with me, fellas.”
Lines like that cemented the performance as iconic for gays, in part because we appreciate how someone who has typically been underestimated steps up and lets people know she won’t be walked all over.
If Joan Crawford had lived during the time of 1 Kings, she’d have appreciated Jezebel, who could have taught Crawford a thing or two about handling power—and she’s dangerous.
Jezebel is perhaps the most dangerous female thus far in the Old Testament. She makes the scheming women of Dynasty look like nuns (19:2).
She’s married to King Ahab, and when Elijah tells her husband that he needs to change his tune or risk dying, she tells God’s prophet that she’s going to kill him. Wisely, Elijah flees.
She gets her comeuppance in 2Kings, and you don’t feel a moment sorry for her, nor she for herself (interestingly enough). She’s defiant to the end. When she learns that Jehu—who’s leading an uprising against the king—is coming for her, she gets herself together: hair done, outfit put together (9:30), and then goes to the window. And to Jehu on his horse, she asks if he’s come in peace and reminds him that he’s a murderer of the king—no trace of fear here. She’s smart enough to know she’s done, but she doesn’t beg or apologize, and, when the servants in the house respond to the Jehu’s order to throw her from her window, she doesn’t scream.
Give her respect for having a backbone in a clearly hostile environment for women. However, the real lesson to be taken from her life (and perhaps Crawford’s) is knowing what you’re doing with the power you have.