Sunday, 17 June 2012

Harlots and Satin Dresses: The Allure of Marilyn Monroe


Image courtesy of Flickr - quicheisinsane
Most women seem have to this need to inhabit a Norma Jean essence and a pinch of Old Hollywood classic glamour, an era which seems frivolous but in reality threw its own judgements and confinements of gender roles - in an era which regarded sex as shameful, Marilyn was a revolutionary image of sex in female form, with the conventions of a harlot in a beautiful blonde whirlwind suitable for family brunch. Monroe had her share of risque relationships and often endured the negative associations of her sexuality. She endured what could be considered as the 1950s version of slut shaming, as focus shifted to her private life. As we all experience our own little version of slut shaming in the age of social media where everything from the public and private sphere is shared with others, Marilyn becomes a poster girl for dealing with social misfortune.


2011 saw a Marilyn movie, onslaughts of Marilyn books, and 2012 welcomed a primetime tv show. Smash chronicles the development of a Broadway musical based on Marilyn Monroe. The role is fought for by the two female leads, Megan Hilty as Ivy Lynn, and Katherine McPhee as Karen Cartwright. Ivy is the living embodiment of the Marilyn spirit and a siren in her own right, difficult to work with and possessing a wall of insecurities and disasters that could easily rival Marilyn's own struggles. Add to that some inappropriate relationships and some tantrums and you've got yourself a Marilyn. The show is careful to concentrate on her vivacious sexual image but also her sadness.
"She was also a drug-addicted, suicidal sexual icon the likes of which the world cannot get enough. She is an insanely provocative and timeless figure, not some sweet little gay male fantasy.” - Smash, 1x08.

Representations of Marilyn are desperate to channel her unhappiness. Marilyn has been condemned to a historic image which insists on the resurrection of the  insecurities which savaged her, the men that used her and the life that ruined her. Its her allure that keeps the Monroe spirit alive, but it is her flaws and quiet vulnerability that made her an inspiration for women. The sadness in the Monroe appeal lies in her death, how her life was shaped and how she became defined by her image. Her identity became paralysed by a caricature of herself and by the studio system's control of her film roles. The studios clung to the dumb blonde stereotype, leading Marilyn to create her own production company in 1955.

One thing we can learn from Marilyn is that the faster you rise, the harder you'll fall. The cultural obsession with Marilyn Monroe lies behind the desire to redefine her, to lose the victim and remove the little girl lost fixture that attached itself to Marilyn's historic image. Without these cracks in the mirror, she becomes a less version of herself. Her legend lies in her downfall, and relies on the strife of her life to preserve her.  Her light dimmed and her sparkle faded, but that's how we relate to her. We're all a little selfish, and we're all a little impatient. The truth is, we all fall eventually. Enjoy the trip.
“I don't want to make money, I just want to be wonderful.” - Marilyn Monroe

Side Note: 'I wanna be loved by you.' Don't we all feel that sometimes? Marilyn struggled with the loves of her life, but is still loved by men and admired by women. Being loved decades after your death is a nice little cherry on top of the cake. Not that Marilyn would survive purely from the love of the public, or admiration of her fans. We all want to be loved, not by anyone and everyone but by you and nobody else but you.

In regards to Smash, I'm totally Team Ivy. 100%. I love a temptress, and a good tantrum.