Besides Monroe’s fictionally reprehensible biopic, “Blonde,” why can’t we just leave Marilyn alone?
After anointing herself with a gay icon, Lena Dunham is dragged to the coals again – this time for comparing herself to Marilyn Monroe.
In a recent essay for vogue, Lena Dunham explored her relationship with Marilyn Monroe. The piece titled, ‘What Marilyn Monroe means to me‘ begins with Dunham’s disconcerting admission that she didn’t understand Marilyn Monroe as a character until her 33rd birthday.
“Unlike the reluctant Marilyn – whose early thirties produced her own pile of 50 cars of public humiliation, but who rarely talked about it – I never shut up, and I certainly didn’t put on red lips to cover up the sad truth,” writes Dunham, seemingly unaware that Marilyn Monroe was as open about her health issues as a woman in her 50s could be allowed to be, that is, she was not.
Dunham dives deep into explaining the public humiliation attached to herself: her time in rehab, a breakup, and the loss of her fertility due to endometriosis. Then, on her 33rd birthday, she received a beautiful book about Monroe from a friend who wrote on the cover of the book: “For Lena — who, like Marilyn, has something for everyone.”
This inscription, it seems, was enough to prompt Dunham to finally consider Marilyn Monroe as a person, but only in relation to herself.
She writes, with extreme “unlike other girls” energy: “As a young woman, I didn’t care much about her. I was obsessed with those I perceived to be shifting the cultural landscape into something more like… weirdness – Gilda Radner, Grace Jones and, later, Tina Fey. I thought girls who cited Monroe as inspiration were mundane at best and boring at worst.
The essay continues in the presumptuous and condescending melancholy with which Dunham approaches Marilyn Monroe. Ironically, as Blond and a plethora of Monroe media that preceded this, Dunham compares his human experience to Monroe’s with little acknowledgment of Monroe’s own humanity.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the final paragraph: “I will discover the joys and fears that each of these years evokes, I will feel my youth losing its motto, replaced hopefully by love, respect , security – a big head of wild, gray Hair Marilyn never had any of this, but somehow she got it all, living infinitely in her proxies: as a story, as a pattern, as a doorbell alarm.
Dunham completely robs Monroe of her personality, rendering her as nothing more than a collection of concepts with which to bolster her own sense of self. In fact, aside from their struggles with endometriosis and being women in similar professions, Dunham and Monroe couldn’t be more incomparable.
For example, Monroe was an adopted child who married at 16 to escape the instability of poverty before World War II. At the same time in her life in the 90s, Lena Dunham attended a private school on New York’s Upper East Side, paid for entirely by her parents.
That’s not to say Dunham, or indeed anyone else, can’t understand Monroe’s life. However, the act of selecting elements of Monroe’s known life and death as if she were a work of art from which to extract individual inspiration and meaning must end.
Unfortunately, there is no end in sight. The rights to the image and life of Marilyn Monroe are owned by an advertising and brand management company, Authentic brand group. If you’ve ever wondered why Monroe never seems to be allowed a rest in the pop culture zeitgeist, Authentic Brands Group is to blame.
Between Dunham’s essay and Monroe’s fictionally reprehensible biopic, Blond — perhaps the fairest feeling about Marilyn Monroe’s legacy is that her humanity is entirely absent from it.