Sunday, 24 May 2015

On the Marilyn Monroe myth

I've just come across this post:
Audrey Hepburn vs Marilyn Monroe
Annoys me a great deal.
Because Marilyn Monroe's known as a sex symbol, and for her dumb blond roles, to most people she must have been an idiot.
Oh yeah?
All over the internet you can find photos of Marilyn Monroe reading:
Here are 2 articles about her reading:
Open Culture has also published the list of the 430 books in her library:
Some of her most insightful quotes can be found here:
Or here:
(compare them to Audrey Hepburn's quotes, which, much as I love Audrey, are quite trite and banal).
Here are some of Marilyn's poems, or fragmentary, poem-like texts found in her notebooks:
Other sites have many other poems/ fragments:
Brain Pickings has also shared her resolutions, which show her wish for self-improvement:
About her, Arthur Miller, her 3rd husband, said: 
"To have survived she would have had to be either more cynical or even further from reality than she was. Instead she was a poet on a street corner trying to recite to a crowd pulling at her clothes."
This is an article about Marilyn Monroe and her monsters, with excerpts from Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe:
And I've found this story about Marilyn Monroe and Ella Fitzgerald:

According to what I've noticed in the internet, people generally perceive Marilyn Monroe in 2 ways. Those in the 1st group see her as a dumb blond like the characters she portrayed, a selfish bitch, a whore, a slut, a talentless and scandalous star known for nothing but her physical appearance (which, to many of them, isn't even remarkable). To them, she's nothing but a sex symbol. Shallow, brainless. Look again at the photo above. I haven't pointed out that Marilyn didn't die from a drug overdose- she committed suicide. As a child she lived in foster homes and was sexually abused. When discovered and encouraged to become a model, she was working in a factory, and throughout all of her life Marilyn struggled with insecurities and depression. Then a day came when she couldn't bear it any longer, and lost the fight, she terminated her own life. 
On my part, I do not think of Marilyn as a good actress, nor a good singer, nor a good poet, nor a good role model; and do not know how intelligent she really was, but methinks all the childhood trauma and hardships she went through made her a sensitive person. The scribblings in her notebooks, albeit unremarkable in terms of literary merit, do show that she's not as frivolous, shallow and superficial as some people think she was. She had sensitivity, depth of feeling and insight. The notes, too, show her determination to be better, as an actress, a singer and a person. 
Those in the 2nd group see Marilyn as a kindred spirit, a role model, a philosopher of sorts. But Marilyn's not Sylvia Plath. Quoting her everywhere, these people, mostly girls, exploit her name and her image not any less than those in the 1st group do. Abusing her quotes, especially the "If you can't handle me at my worst, you don't deserve me at my best", is their way of trying to justify their nasty, selfish, thoughtless behaviour and speak of themselves as vulnerable, insecure and scared even though they may very well be bullies in life, ready to take advantage of or trample on others when necessary. Very often, I believe these girls don't know much about Marilyn either and haven't seen her in anything except probably a few video clips on youtube. 
Marilyn Monroe, or perhaps I should say Norma Jeane, was too complex for all that, as human beings are. Those 2 ways of looking are her are too simplistic, reductive. And I find it unfortunate that even long after her death, she's still being exploited. 
Anyhow, to come back to the comparison at the beginning, I wonder: what's the point? Why denigrate Marilyn just to acclaim Audrey Hepburn? Audrey has her place, she's as much an icon as Marilyn, her face most people can recognise. Anywhere you can find pictures of Marilyn Monroe, you find, next to them, pictures of Audrey Hepburn. Why not mention the truly great actresses that are less known? Like Vivien Leigh? Katharine Hepburn? Bette Davis? Ingrid Bergman? etc. 


  1. Completely agree, on all points. There's no reason to pit women against each other like that.

  2. Someone made a kind of similar post on tumblr at one point--

    Also, what are your favorite female characters by male writers? :-D

    1. Now that is different.
      Whilst I wouldn't use words such as "slut", "whore", etc. I don't like Miley Cyrus and a whole bunch of them- Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj..., who are vulgar. Nudity, sensuality or sexiness doesn't necessarily mean vulgarity- in that picture Emma Watson isn't vulgar, and I've never seen her do anything that may be called vulgar, but lots of things Miley Cyrus does in her video clips and in her live shows are, like touching herself, feigning masturbation, etc. I don't see that as feminism, as female empowerment at all. I don't like men do such acts in the 1st place, take "I'm Sexy and I Know It", that's just bad taste.
      Prefer her like this:
      Perhaps when it comes to Marilyn, I can be a bit biased, because usually what I most care about is talent when speaking of an actor or a singer, but I've never found her vulgar.

    2. Oh I completely agree-- and I wouldn't ever compare Marilyn Monroe as an artist to Miley Cyrus-- no comparison at all. It just seems there's no reason to link them in the first place. Audrey Hepburn was a great actress, Marilyn Monroe was a great actress (regardless of whether Audrey was a better one)...Miley Cyrus is a singer who is not to my taste :-D

    3. Marilyn played someone she wasn't for nearly 16 years. Marilyn Monroe was one of the best actresses. No question.

    4. I see what you mean, but I always find it amusing when somebody states their own opinion and then says "no question".

  3. First of all Audrey Hepburn was a beautiful person inside and out... Just beautiful.She had outward beauty and elegance. True beauty