When Iconism Precedes Bodily Autonomy After Death
First, it was Kim Kardashian wearing Marilyn Monroe’s famous “Happy Birthday, John Kennedy” dress at the Met Gala.
Well actually, no.
FIRST, it was a history of childhood abuse and teenage years filled with grooming and marriage. This was followed by a career of deception into objectification and the infamy that came with it. Then, it was the selling of much of her estate and likeness to hundreds of companies due to her early death and lack of detail within her will. And then there were the 14 movies made about her, many of which were largely fiction and focused more on her being a “sex symbol” than anything else.
And then, it was Kardashian wearing Monroe’s famous dress, and the uprising conversation of the rights of the deceased.
At that time, there was strong speculation on whether Monroe would’ve even wanted to have her personal items paraded in public and to be celebrated as a body of a person and a certain figure. Oh, and then there’s the 2022 film adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’s 2000 biographical novel, “Blonde,” which treats Marilyn Monroe as a character, with her distinctive blonde hair, red lip, curved body, and whatever storyline the producers find most glamorous and tumultuous. There is also the rating of NC-17, given for explicit sexual content, which is worrisome given her history of sexual abuse. To have such intimate scenes with little basis of truth is exploitative and wrong.
What makes the consistent media obsession over Monroe upsetting is a resounding lack of consent.
And sure, the lines of consent are obviously blurred after death without the proper legal documentation, but that does not excuse the behavior of the media in continuing to exploit her body and character in a way that dehumanizes her. Marilyn, or at the time Norma Jean, struggled through a childhood of foster homes and sexual abuse. Her first husband was abusive, and her career-selling sensuality, glamor, and class started off with a photographer who put her in a compromising position. Her nude photos were later published by Hugh Heffner without her consent.
For all her life, people have made money or somehow gained pleasure from her body and her lack of consent. In the afterlife, it is disappointing to see this trend still continue in more complex ways.
The media rarely focuses on how Monroe was an activist for the civil rights movement or how she spoke openly about her abuse as a child. She was an advocate for psychiatry and defended socialist-leaning literature and her husband Arthur Miller during the Red Scare. She spoke about many of the people in the industry who had been pervasive. She was a complex human, with knowledge and writings about the world and the industry she was in.
For the media to ignore her humanity sends a dangerous message about consent and the sexualization of women’s bodies when they have no autonomy.
She deserves peace.