60 Years Later: Why We’re Still Selling Marilyn Short

Sadly, the 60th anniversary of Marilyn’s death has been a frustrating time for many fans. After the Kim Kardashian fiasco, a gossipy Netflix documentary and the ongoing controversies over Blonde, it seems the ‘real’ Monroe is more distant than ever, as Emily Kirkpatrick writes for The Cut. (For my own part, I am less concerned with making Marilyn ‘relevant’ for today’s cultural palate than in remembering the artist and person she was, as that is where her true value lies – and I will continue to pursue this goal.)

“As in life, so in death Monroe continues to be wildly exploited by both those around her and the industries that profit off her public image. She has never been allowed to be a fully realised person, at least in the public eye. By her own admission, the woman she presented onscreen to the American public was just the façade … A persona that now, decades after her death, threatens to totally eclipse her actuality and erase any genuine human complexity that doesn’t align with her best-selling tragic paradigm. Monroe is no longer a person but a void that members of the public can fill with their own vague desires. She has been transformed into a shorthand for the impossible feminine ideal — America’s Madonna-whore complex played out at large. And as such, she has become the perfect marketing tool.

Enacted by other people such as Ana de Armas or Kim Kardashian, women who aren’t just dressing up as Monroe but are actually donning her entire identity as a costume and thus reaffirming this fictionalised version of her. And, in Kardashian’s case, reducing her to her most shallow beauty-queen attributes by making the narrative of wearing her dress entirely about the weight loss, the bleach-blonde-dye job, and her post-divorce fling. But at this point, perhaps it’s impossible to ever really get to the core of who Monroe was as a person. Even when a project revolving around her does attempt to move beyond this surface level to address her fraught inner life, it can’t help but come across as cliché, as the very idea of Monroe has become little more than a lazy trope, a metaphor for a particular type of woman. The real actress behind the omnipresent, corporatised version of her that now looms large in our daily lives as consumers has long since ceased to exist, if she ever did.

In her final interview with LIFE magazine before her death apparently by suicide, Monroe spoke openly about her fraught relationship to her own public image, acknowledging that she often felt used as ‘an ornament.’ If only she could see just how prescient that insight was … If anything, her life, by that point, had become about running from that very version of herself that the public had put up on such a high pedestal. In that light, it seems odd to honour a woman who wanted so desperately to escape that warped projection and be taken seriously for her craft by buying into the very media and consumerism that perpetuate those worst stereotypes for profit.

Which is why I ask again: What if we all just left Marilyn Monroe alone? At least for a little bit.”