Marilyn Monroe, the Misled
Few people have left such a prominent mark as Norma Jean Mortenson of Irish/Norwegian/Swedish descent. Surfing down history lane we may remember Zarathustra, Alexander the Great, Suleiman the Great, Maria Magdalena, Socrates, Ivan the Terrible, Da Vinci, Göthe, Marie Antoinette, Wagner and the Kennedy brothers. Still no one who has ears to hear and eyes to see seem to have missed out on the confused and fragile Monroe or the enigmatic, erratic James Dean when summing up last century.
To some it may be uncomfortable to mention them in the company of Marie Curie, Mother Teresa and Einstein, but it is inevitable. The impact of imagery and iconographic representation has been understood since the earliest descendents of Ardia, leaving traces in forms of paintings and imagery on cave walls in order to secure a permanent mark of their existence for posterity. The need for affirmation or confirmation and to communicate the current cosmology is paramount through man´s history.
The visual impact of the graphic representations of normative patterns and mindsets, projected in symbols, gods and spirits in forms of pottery, stone carvings, wooden art craft, sculpture, painting, architecture and photographing is paramount and leaves the viewer to react with adoration, affection, revulsion, wrath or indifference, no matter the intellectual set up or level of education or impairment of the senses.
The image as a stimulus remains void unless you explore and activate your unique repertoire of implicit and explicit meanings to interpret it. Without reading in your reaction to a picture or a piece of symbolic art craft it does not exist, from a philosophical angle, nor does a painting or any representation, manmade, at all.
Take a little time and look attentively at the picture of the chubby, apparently confused and anxiety ridden “Sex Goddess” caught in a moment unawares and you will find that she is a contemporary “Traviata”, misled by her inner destructive thoughts and split personality, potentiated by a dictatorial network of exploiters, callously using her genuine vulnerability and skillfully pairing it with sexually explicit outfits and racy movie score lines, which triggers off the potent attraction for “the Madonna and the Whore”, a provocative and stimulating contradiction which represents an ageless challeging combination to heterosexual males and partially to women.
Women accepted Marilyn, knowing she was lost from the very beginning. They would sympathize with her vulnerability, grieve with her when she miscarried and rejoice when she seemed to have found yet another promising life partner. Since they all knew she was going to her destruction she could be forgiven for being a glamorous slut. In the cinema theaters the wife could calmly watch her husband lust after the silver screen leggy blonde with her eyes half shut and displaying her throat in erotic submission in the tradition of the original vamp Theda Bara and Greta Garbo before her without causing an upset. The husbands were not likely to be the one to take the diva home and dying the hair an ultra blonde could easily be done by the less glamorous housewives in innumerable beauty parlors.
Propelled by the dollar generating movie moguls the young woman was continuously guaranteed and fed with every substance able kick her mind up or down without any scruples and making millions by broadcasting her downfall and misery without extending a hand. Screwing with her mind made her a better actress by dissociation once she was transferred from the stereotype blond bimbo by proving her comedienne talent in “Some like it hot” and her marrying the highbrow author and dramatist Arthur Miller. Her capriciousness held Hollywood captured. This was not just another Harlow or West. Monroe was the icon who, in the hands of a skilled film director and a good script, unexpectedly gave stunning performances by a combination of intuition and acting skills resting on her complex personality.
While our elder siblings mourned the untimely deaths of Monroe and Dean, we lost our childhood innocence when the Kennedys and Martin Luther King were assassinated. The optimism of the wholesome fifties´ and the explosive and innovative sixties´ did not herd us into Schlaraffenland, but to the misery of assassins, the ferocious Civil Rights´ battle, the Vietnam War and LSD, acids and mushrooms to escape it.
A new generation of icons was prepared to rush to their destruction generating big business and skyrocketing sales of their records as those of Joplin, Hendrix and Morrison, exploding in accordance to the mythological pattern precisely fulfilled since long before the Greek legends of youth and death making gods of the stricken. To die before “Best Before Date” is millennia old star potential, skillfully explored by those who never would reach the pinnacles of fame.
Imagine Narcissus or Antinous as elderly, arthritis dysfunctional, incontinent elderly men or a coughing, myopic, demented and COL piping James Dean in his late eighties and the attraction wanes off.
Mae West, appearing in her eighties, in the vulgar “Myra Breckinridge” adaptation of Vidal´s infamous novel, goes to prove that no matter the amount of hair extensions, facelifts, wigs, fake nails, fake bosoms, and a ninety nine teeth upper Hollywood bridge, the props do not create a legend and the posters of the witty and intelligent West are instinct.
The succession of the deaths of Nathalie Wood, Montgomery Clift, Sal Mineo, Ricky Nelson and the repeated suicidal attempts of Pier Angeli (succeeding) and Brigitte Bardot began to make us increasingly indifferent. The drug dimmed seventies´ lost grip on most everything. Death was just another form of experimenting with an ordinary and boring life. The everlasting subcultures involved with death, dark forces, the occult or Satanism have a life of their own and can be traced back to the earliest tokens of human ritual expressions. In the aftermath of the hippie culture these forces may have waned but has made a strong comeback in Punk and Goth movements vividly recognizable anywhere in countries which exploit ideologies or creeds in fashion concepts for sale.
Death and resurrection is the strongest dramatic agent in mythology: young Greek gods and goddesses are willing to become mere mortals because of their infatuation in the less divine. In addition, by dying young, mere mortals become deified such as Alexander the Great and the clever Queen Cleopatra but the mythological pattern goes further back than so and are found in the oldest elements of Aition traditions from the Indus Valley Harappan culture and onwards.
Christ death at the cross in His early thirties may be the epitome of sacrificing life for the reason of love (in this case Agape) and is a hard phenomenon to over triumph once martyrdom became ordinary.
We stopped to care.. Somewhere in the Cannabis dimension we lost track of proportions and death did not really exist in a chemical influenced world unless you had to pick up your lifeless parent or lover at your feet. We seemed to fare fairly well while a generation pined away in the AIDS epidemic with all the previously fashionable Mother Teresa agape and prominent Indian gurus left behind in our zest for spectacular experiences and escapism. Some of us started to mimic the lifestyles of the current celebrities by experimenting with drugs and indiscriminate sexuality and even dreaming of becoming known by dying young and fed up with society..To the Accompaniment of Alphaville´s “For ever young” , we lived as fast as our condition would allow us, copying the Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac, Ginsberg and others we had no even a notion about. “On the Road” by Kerouac made us travel as uncomfortably as possible to all corners of the world seeking enlightenment, diversion and as manipulated by the imagery and fashion industries as everybody else, but silly enough to believe us to be independent.
Independence was a skillfully orchestrated movement at the hands of people who had their yachts waiting in Monaco. The old European aristocratic hegemony was temporarily put in quarantine while the newly rich invented themselves as a breed of aristocrats with origins in the British lower middle class or blue collar suburbs of Philadelphia. The new heroes, however, had no intention of dying young and so they lost their magic and were sent into exile on the stages of Las Vegas or the San Remo Festivals where they still earn their daily bread with Botox rigid faces and implants and no legendary status at all.
Now, take another good look at the plumb, insecure Hollywood star, somewhere on a California beach, in her impeccable white swimsuit, the wind messing with her hair and look into her eyes. Something has already gone very wrong.
If they would have lived to mature age, would we still love them unconditionally? Would we have loved Alexander the Great becoming an old grumpy tyrant over an elephantine Empire and a fat, submissive Cleopatra, jumping at every command of the Romans? If la Traviata had recovered from her TB, would we adore her as a Brothel Madame, no matter the tacky gilded interior decorations of her establishment?
Do our heroes have to die young?
No. Nelson Mandela, Dalai Lama and Mother Theresa prove otherwise…