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Why Can't We Leave Marilyn Monroe Alone?


April 26, 2023

Norma Jeane Mortenson, more famously known to the world as Marilyn Monroe, was one of the biggest stars of the 60s. Marilyn, who was famous for playing the role of a "blonde bombshell," was an icon of the sexual revolution of her time. Even to this day, since her face is plastered almost everywhere from Coca-Cola to an oil company in California, this has led to a long, societal-wide fascination with her.

Marilyn And The Media

Monroe was not even left alone after her death, with speculations that her body was "missing" for 6 hours before her corpse reached the morgue. She was subject to incredibly harsh treatment by the media. Films about her life directed by men, for example, "Blonde" (2022), portray graphic sexual assaults that did not match Monroe's life, and portray her abortion in light to push 'pro-life' agendas.

Like this picture, the directors of these films take the actual traumas that Monroe endured and find a way to turn them seductive to fit their story or their ideal. They didn't view a woman's challenges as struggles, but rather as times when she is vulnerable and simple to control. As a result of their lack of regard for Marilyn as an artist, much of Hollywood has a negative opinion of her as a person and as an actress. She isn't seen as an artist by them but as a tragedy and a lesson in caution.

Marilyn, ever since her catapult to fame, has been defined by the relationships she's had with men. From her three marriages to her supposed affair with President John F Kennedy, Marilyn's journey with the media seemed to focus solely on the idea that men had of her. Photos she had taken long before her career's jumpstart were then published by Hugh Hefner in the inaugural Playboy magazine without her consent.

She or her estate never received any money from the success of the magazine. Hefner's obsession with Marilyn continued way after her death; he asked to be buried next to her. Richard Posner bought the space in the morgue above Marilyn and asked to be buried face down - so he could look at her. Even in death, Marilyn is not away from the prying male gaze.

Marilyn was never seen as more than the quintessential titles she presented in front of the camera. Monroe's life has been used as a starting point for searches into mid-century Americana, feminine sensuality and madness, and the harsh reality of the Hollywood daydream industry in the 61 years since her demise.

So Why Are We So Fascinated With Marilyn?

Her Early Death

Marilyn passed away in 1962, at the mere age of 36. One possible reason for the obsession she has seemed to garner could be stemming from her unfortunate early death. Hollywood has this mania for female youth and a proclivity to instantly throw away any women that age. But with Marilyn, since she passed before ever reaching that age, she was immortalised as this picture of feminine youthfulness and sexuality that Hollywood, the media and pop culture could grab onto.

Monroe's death was actually ruled a "probable suicide" or "accidental overdose," and to this day conspiracy theories are rampant about the true cause of her death. Most people believe it to be linked to the Kennedys--once again showing that Marilyn was always being linked back to her relationship with men.

The Result Of Her Estate

When Joe Strasberg, Monroe's acting mentor, passed away in 1982, his second wife, Anna Mizrahi, who had inherited his estate--also Marilyn's estate which she had left him--contacted CMG Worldwide, a firm that handles the estates of deceased celebrities, to licence Monroe's items. This is when Monroe started making serious money. "We did hundreds and hundreds of programmes with companies like Mercedes-Benz to Coca-Cola for fragrance, clothing, giftware, collectables, paper products, things like that," said CMG CEO Mark Roesler, as reported by StyleCaster.

According to Monroe's will, her belongings and clothing ought to have gone to her friends and coworkers, but Mizrahi hired Christie's to sell them off in 1999. Among the items was the well-known peach-and-rhinestone gown Monroe wore to sing "Happy Birthday, Mr President" to John F. Kennedy and Kim Kardashian infamously wore to (and also ripped at) the Met Gala in 2022.

The dress sold for more than $1 million. Monroe's treasured grand piano was bought by pop sensation Mariah Carey for $600,000. Carey added at the time, "I wish her things didn't have to be auctioned off." It's a shame--I wish somebody had the money to buy it all and put it in a museum.

This led to an insane rise in her star power and monetary worth--at almost a whopping $7.5 million. Monroe was one of the highest-paid dead celebrities in the world, according to Forbes.

Her Charisma And Talent

Marilyn Monroe possessed something distinctive that went past her beauty and her sexual physique, yet it is impossible to identify it, capture it, or commercially exploit it. There have been multiple, multiple efforts but to no avail. Call it magic or elegance, it was Marilyn Monroe's.

Although they can be mimicked, they are always parodies. She is unmatchable and unequalled, and this quality originates from within her. Her appeal and ability to use the camera better for herself leave us all with a sense of attraction to her.

Even Marilyn's most avid critics concede that she had a remarkable grasp of the camera. With tiny gestures to a lens, such as a raised chin or a parting of her lips ever so slightly before a line, she could evoke an air of proximity and likeness. Marilyn Monroe, essentially, knew her angles.

She was adept at interacting with cameras. She approached comedy with subtlety and flawless timing, but also a hard-earned refusal to be cut off from her audience and reduced to a punchline.

Her acting career bloomed due to a mix of incredibly distinctive acting skills, an equally unique singing voice, and a raw sensuality that drew crowds to see her on the big screen. Even films that don't deliberately accentuate her physical traits (if any such films genuinely exist) can't help but explore her physicality as a result of how she appears on camera. Any actress, no matter how great, faces immense difficulty while playing Marilyn Monroe, since they are not only portraying the real Marilyn Monroe but also a version of her that has been perverted and twisted over time.

The Sexualised Dumb Blonde Image And The Male Gaze

Marilyn, through every movie and even in real life, was given the image of the "Dumb Blonde." Almost all of Marilyn's roles follow the ditzy, dumb blonde character. It was hard for her to stray from that image in reality too. She was forced into this narrative because of the roles she was in and this, in a way, enraptured anyone who watched her. "It takes a smart brunette to play a dumb blonde," said Marilyn once, which rings so true.

She was aware of the public's infatuation with this sexy "dumb blonde" image, but to her, it was all acting. She, in a way, used her sensuality and power over the public to capture the world and keep them enamoured at all times. Marilyn started to be considered as the embodiment of a certain primitive femininity, as if she had greater access to a mentality that other women had forgotten [from The Take]. This perspective on Marilyn contributed to her success as a superstar. However, these claims that Marilyn was "not really acting" and was only embodying also served to downplay her skill and effort as an actress. She was never truly appreciated for her works of art. Although Marilyn was always so pushed into this almost one-dimensional character, she made it her own.

Despite the fact that she rose to fame and fortune as a public sex symbol, men who dated her developed possessive feelings, demanding that she stop performing the same things that had caught their interest. People developed a possessive attitude towards her, which added to the perception of Marilyn Monroe as a woman who existed just for men.

Even though Marilyn was seen as a strong representation of femininity, the typical view of womanhood is still that she exists exclusively to satisfy the male gaze. Even more humanising depictions of her, such as My Week With Marilyn, which focuses on her messier side, nonetheless frequently show her from a man's perspective.

The Respect Marilyn Deserves

She was described by most of her female and gay male friends as a girl with an acidic sense of humor, something that most people overlook when it comes to Marilyn. Truman Capote described her as a person defined by luminosity and a flickering intelligence. Marilyn was also a shrewd businesswoman The second woman in American history to own a production firm was Monroe. "She broke the mould and challenged the Hollywood studios' authoritarian structure, which dictated what films their stars would make." from Crowdstaffing.

She was an outspoken supporter of talent and equality. Due to racial segregation, Ella Fitzgerald was prohibited from playing at clubs in 1955, a time where racism was actively practiced. Monroe offered to personally attend performances and sit in the front row of the club if management let Fitzgerald perform, since she understood how talented she was and the damaging repercussions of legally permitted discrimination. Today, Fitzgerald is remembered as "The First Lady of Song."

Marilyn Monroe's contribution to American popculture, the sexual revolution, cinema and feminism were so crucial and trail blazing. She set the tone for cinema for the years to come, leaving a permanent mark on the American film industry. She was a woman who was far more than just her body and her roles, though she was never appreciated for more.

To this day, Marilyn's struggles with mental health are mocked and criticised and she is looked at as just a sensual blonde to be used. Marilyn, just like any of us, was human. She was riddled with constant mistreatment by the media, something that is still done today.

Aarohi Godha
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Writer since Feb, 2023 · 4 published articles

Aarohi is an 11th grade IBDP student from India. She enjoys ballet, reading, writing and is a cat lover. Aarohi is intrigued by anything about high fashion, academia, books, pop culture, music and love.