Love, Marilyn, a one-hour special on HBO about Marilyn Monroe airs tonight, and at the risk of
seeming being insensitive, why are we still so obsessed with her? Sure, she was beautiful and talented and damaged and tragic, but a lot of people are those things, and we let their memories slowly fade over the years. She was mesmerizing in a lot of ways and for a lot of reasons, but I don’t think any of those reasons quite explain the cultural fixation; at least not in a way that’s satisfying to me.
Marilyn’s (undeniably tragic) death was in 1962, so as of August 5th of this year, she will have been gone for fifty-one years. In that time, she’s been portrayed in almost every aspect of the media more times than I can count. If you can’t think of a Halloween costume, throw on a dress and a shitty blonde wig and go as Marilyn. If you don’t have any art up on the walls of your new apartment, get a black and white shot of her, and suddenly you’re insta-chic…and supremely uninventive, but that goes without saying. If you need a name for your clothing line, Lindsay Lohan, why not name it 6126 after Marilyn’s birthdate? You’re a young girl facing your own struggles in the world, so why not idolize a woman who abused drugs and alcohol as a way to escape from her life instead of facing its challenges. As wonderful as I’m sure Marilyn was in a lot of ways, she undeniably refused to help herself, either because she was unwilling or unable, and it’s sad and weird to see people turning to her as an inspiration, when in reality she was a sad young woman ill-equipped to deal with her surroundings. (Much like LiLo, actually, but I don’t see anyone rushing to romanticize her.)
It’s gotten to the point where the Wikipedia page ‘Marilyn Monroe in pop culture‘ has more entries than the page ‘Marilyn Monroe‘ itself. It’s kind of creepy when you really think about it, for a society to be so consumed with the life of a woman who was so incapable of living that life in a happy, healthy way. People are fascinated with her, but even with as ubiquitous as her image has become, I’d bet good money that there are a lot of people out there who wouldn’t even recognize her in a photo if she didn’t have her hair dyed and her makeup on. She’s become the representative image of something she never resembled in real life, and I don’t understand it. If someone’s skirt blows up, they’re having a Marilyn Monroe moment.
Other people have died since, right? I’m not trying to imply that her life wasn’t tragic and driven by circumstances outside of her control, but worshiping her is like worshiping Amy Winehouse – they’re both immensely talented young people who threw their lives away on drugs and alcohol. Both women who wasted their talents instead of seeking out or accepting the help they required but for some reason we can tell the difference between them. You don’t see Mariah Carey naming her daughter ‘Wine’, you see her naming her ‘Monroe’. You don’t see Naomi Watts and Michelle Williams and Chloe Sevigny lining up to play her in a movie, and that was only two years ago. Aside from her music, which speaks for itself, do you think we’ll still be romanticizing Amy Winehouse in fifty-one years? I don’t. People will move past her death because death is what happens when you dedicate your life to substance abuse. It’s tragic, and she’s a victim, but more to her own actions than I think we let on.
People have died before her and they’ve died since, so I think it’s time to stop clinging to Marilyn Monroe as some sort of vanguard of troubled stardom. She was a star, yes, and she suffered. Why does it change anything that she was also beautiful? Everything she’ll ever do is already preserved on film or lost forever, so when will we stop dredging up her image and using it to mean something that it doesn’t? There’s nothing new to be found in her memory or an unofficial biography or a lipstick she used once that’s now selling at auction, and I’m concerned by the fact that we keep rooting through these things, and encouraging young girls to look to her as an inspiration. Sometimes the healthiest thing is just to move on.