Last Sunday, Aug 5, was the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s death. I wanted to write something about her because when I was younger I was (and still am, to a lesser extent) fascinated with her life. When I was 15 or 16, I bought Anthony Summer’s book, Goddess, and – as so many people have – I became instantly fascinated with her. Truth be told, I hadn’t thought about Marilyn in years but I was so shocked to discover that it’s been 50 years since her death, I felt I should write something.
But what do you write about a woman who’s had so much written about her? And why the endless fascination? Somebody once said that every woman wanted to be her and every man wanted to save her. And maybe there’s an element of truth in that, but I don’t know if that’s the full story. I don’t think my 15-year-old self wanted to save her; I was just fascinated by her life. It was a terribly sad life. She always wanted to be famous and she became more famous than any human being on the planet. But had she lived, I don’t think she would have ever found happiness.
Therein lies the attraction and the fascination though, I think. Because she transcended something and became an icon. In this age of X-factor singers and reality TV stars, Marilyn is something more. She is an archetype, in Carl Jung’s sense of archetypes – “a universally understood symbol … a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated”. She has become the ultimate screen goddess, the ultimate blonde bombshell. And the drugs or suicide attempts don’t matter. And sadly, her attempts to better herself and become a better actress, those things don’t matter either. They are minor, worldly concerns and there is no place for minor, worldly concerns amongst archetypes.
In the same way that nothing around Elvis Presley’s death or his last years matter. Because he too is an archetype. Marilyn’s life is fascinating, her death is fascinating, but none of it really matters because all that remains – and all that will remain – is the image. She has outlived her critics and she will outlive us all. The image of Marilyn that stares out at us from Warhol’s screen prints is like the face of Lisa Gherardini staring out at us from the Mona Lisa. It may be a sad thing to say, but the human behind the façade is long gone now and only the image of the archetype remains. And like all enduring images, it fascinates us.
And that is why we still talk about her 50 years on.
(Image: Click the pic for credits)
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