Seeing Marilyn in various films one cannot help but to recognize that she had star quality. This was perhaps one of her problems. It is almost impossible to see a character that Monroe was communicating, rather one actually just sees the caricature she created of her own self-image. With her trademark blonde hairdo, vivid make-up with fire-engine red lips, and tight clothes fitted to accentuate her curves you see "sex" personified, not a person. Added to the visual image, Monroe also played up the dumb blonde act with a baby-girl voice and vacant look that she could call up on cue. Despite her lack of variety in terms of acting, she managed nevertheless to often steal the show on screen. Watch "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and you cannot help but think, "well, yes, who wouldn't prefer Marilyn to Jane Russell?" Watch "How to Marry A Millionaire" and you'll discover that Marilyn's comic performance, as a young woman who forgoes the thick eyeglasses she needs in the interest of vanity, is the one bright spot in an otherwise dreadful film. In "Some Like It Hot" you cannot help but root for 'Sugar Kane' (who nips from a whiskey flask whenever life gets to be too much) to end up happily-ever-after: the character's sad state and reliance on the numbing effects of alcohol too closely mirror Marilyn's own life for you not to feel for her. She comes on screen and whether you want to like her or not she wins you over with her softness. She's one of those people you may want to hate (out of jealousy because of her beauty) and yet can't because she's just too vulnerable, and ultimately, likable.
Marilyn's personal life reads as a tragedy in which there are almost no bright spots. She grew up in foster homes because her mother was mentally ill and unable to care for her. She never knew her father. She happened to be 'discovered' while working in a munitions factory when a journalist came to photograph women aiding the war effort. Afterwards, she became a successful model who tried to transition into acting. She lit up the screen but never seemed satisfied with her craft, and indeed, she seemed to struggle with professional aspects of acting such as memorizing lines and getting on the set on time. She married three times--twice to famous men who seemed to take more than they could give (Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller). She dated, or had affairs, with famous men who were flagrant users (Frank Sinatra, John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy). And, she was continuously hounded by the paparazzi in the most obnoxious of ways. They accosted her when she battled mental illness in hospital stays, when she had a whole host of physical ailments, and when she was in mourning for the loss of friends and colleagues such as Clark Gable. Her life was lived on screen and in movie magazines and it was nearly impossible for her to be a real person because everyone was so enthralled with the image she'd created.
Throughout her adult life, Marilyn used alcohol and sleeping pills as coping mechanisms, and of course, this was a dangerous combination that would eventually be her undoing. One has to think that if she were alive today, she'd have been prescribed much more appropriate anti-depressants and would have had support groups and people that could help her build a healthy sense of self-worth. Watching the films of her day, it is almost shocking to see how readily people used alcohol, cigarettes and pills on screen as ways of managing day-to-day living. In other words, it appears that such abuse was ordinary and perhaps this is why she continued to have access to pharmaceuticals that were deadly. She had close calls with pill overuse several times throughout her career and so it was perhaps not surprising when she finally took so much narcotic that she overdosed. From the various accounts I have read, it is not even clear that she wanted to commit suicide. Rather, she may have simply taken too many sleeping pills because her brain was muddied enough that she couldn't recall what she'd taken and just wanted to get herself unconscious. Various conspiracy theories have been floating about since her death, but it strikes me that this is just fantastical (perhaps even wishful) thinking. Marilyn was a mess and her life's end, in retrospect, seems inevitable given how she was hunted by her own demons and held captive by the voracious grip of both those who managed her and her adoring (or leering) public.
Thinking about Marilyn's life I cannot help but make comparisons to our modern obsession with celebrity. Far too many people live their lives, and all its messiness, in public--either by accident or by design. With the explosion of reality television we even have "celebrities" who are famous not because they have any talent, but simply because they are willing (even eager) to display themselves, warts and all, for everyone to see. This obsession with fame and celebrity has, rather sadly, influenced our young people in dangerous ways. More and more surveys show that today's youth seek celebrity and material wealth instead of wanting to contribute something more deep and meaningful to their world. See article below about reasons for wanting fame, it's quite telling: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/2013/09/04/why-do-you-want-to-be-famous/
Additionally, even grown adults are far too ready to live their lives in public, without much thought as to what is appropriate and what isn't. I'm often disturbed by how often I see what should be private conversations taking place on Facebook, by how often people post pictures of drunkenness, drug use, and sexuality for all to see. Thus, thinking about the tragedy of Marilyn's life, a life she could not help but live in the public eye, makes me wonder about what her example should be telling us in 2015 with so much social media at our disposal. The beginning of a new year is a perfect time to examine our own demons and how we handle them.
Things to consider:
- How much are you putting out there and why? If you've surrendered your private life and private self, why have you done so? What benefit is there?
- Exhibitionism is often a mask for deeper unhappiness and insecurities. Is this the case? How can you move your self-examination inward instead of displaying it outwardly?
- Are you addicted to the problems of others? Are you a gossip fiend? Do you constantly reading voyeuristic stories about celebrities to make yourself feel better?
- Are you distracting yourself from dealing with your own issues and demons out of fear or laziness, or a combination of both?
- Do you want to spend another year making bad choices?
- To make a physical list of how I want my life to look. What kind of household and family life do I want, what kind of professional life, what kind of personal life. Be specific with your list. Take your time writing this--it can become your blueprint for the new year.
- To make a document--a life "to do" list--that you can all up easily and often. It's amazing, but since making such a list (anything from the most trivial to the most important tasks can be on this), I've actually achieved several of my goals (and thus been able to cross them off the list). This can be anything from "get online bill pay" to "make a will" or "earn a master's degree."
Please think about checking them out and using them as tools for guidance. Marilyn's dharma was to entertain and enthrall. Unfortunately, her time and circumstances didn't allow her to fulfill it in a healthy way. My dharma is to help others to live their most artful and healthful lives by using the education I've spent 30 years acquiring and sharing it in a way that is relevant and fresh.
So here's to a healthy and artful 2015--with thanks to Norma Jean--for providing inspiration. Yes Marilyn, you are still relevant (perhaps today more than ever).