Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Few Brief Thoughts About Marilyn Monroe

Lots of big to-do is being made in the media about the fact that tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of Marilyn's death, and hot on the heels of last year's film "My Week With Marilyn" are several new books about her life.
I find the whole thing so interesting...both the continued fascination we seem to have, culturally, with this long-dead actress, and also how the fascination with her seems to ebb and wane with regularity. Why is this?

I'm *ahem* old enough to remember the last big Marilyn resurgence, in the 80's. The nation's economy was really booming at that time, and on the surface it seems that things couldn't have been more different than they are right now, but I think we were yearning, culturally, for more innocent times. Right now this is also the case...we long for simpler and happier times, as a culture, when our lives feel too complex and fraught with problems of a very un-innocent nature.

The thing that I find so ironic is that Marilyn's life was rarely simple or happy, so obviously was it filled with difficulty and complexity. The image that she crafted and sent out into the world was the epitome of simplicity and innocence, and yet it was such a shallow facade. Although I admire her enormous beauty and talent, I honestly look at images of her and feel mostly sadness. In her face, I see pain flickering under that child-like smile. Such tragedy. Perhaps that's the real root of our fascination: she presents the ultimate irony in the most lovely-to-look-at wrapping...blessed with incomparable beauty, charisma, brains (yes) and talent, she was also cursed with insecurity, a horrible early childhood, a long string of failed relationships, and the drug addiction that ultimately killed her.

If Marilyn had lived, we can only wonder at what her life's trajectory might have been, but it seems a reasonable guess that she may have lived a later life similar to that of her contemporaries. Perhaps she would have ended up in an institution, and then a life of quiet religious contemplation in obscurity, like Bettie Page. What if she had evolved as an actress and continued to do more interesting, deeper films into her older age? We may have been treated to an aged Marilyn, a la Bette Davis on the "Tonight Show", giving us hilarious one-liners in a creaky old cigarette-cured voice. The one sure thing, if she had lived, is that we wouldn't be quite as obsessed with her as a culture as we are now. It's her untimely and sordid death, and her frozen-in-time images that feed the obsession. There is something more than a little creepy and morbid going on here (and I'm a fan of creepy and morbid, usually!) that may not be the healthiest thing...obsessions rarely are.

Perhaps it's time to let poor Marilyn rest in the peace she most assuredly deserved.


  1. I was young at the time of her death, like early teens, so it didn't hit me. However, a few years later, I began to understand the complexity of how human sadness, depression and oppression effects us. Those old ghosts haunt and never leave ones' psyche. That impact, no matter how much we choose to just "not go there", will deliver horrible results if left unchecked, rearing an ugly head to torture at times least expected, nor needed. I have read news reports, biographies, etc. about her and yes, it does sadden me and moves my heart for her loss of a life she could have enjoyed had she had better help. JF

  2. I find it fascinating how society at various times shines a spotlight on one aspect of Marilyn, then another. She certainly had many facets to obsess over, but you may be right Dina, turning Marilyn over and over again isn't necessarily giving us new insights into her, without her further input. I certainly wish she could have quipped with Johnny Carson in her middle and old age!

  3. Great post.You can definatley see sadness in her photos especially the ones where she is just doing her own thing and doesn't seem to know the photo is being taken.and not only do they look sad she looks deep in thought in those natural photos.I do hope that if she was alive today she would be what you described.xx