Fighting for the Real Marilyn

Marilyn by George Barris, 1962

Immortal Marilyn president Leslie Kasperowicz gave a powerful speech at the memorial service marking the 55th anniversary of Marilyn’s death earlier this month. You can read the full text here.

“Once upon a time, a false story about Marilyn could only be spread as fast as paper publications could disseminate; and tabloid stories were easily recognizable as fake news. Today, a fake news story about Marilyn spreads in seconds across the globe, and just as quickly becomes ‘fact’ as the tabloid source is obfuscated in the anonymity of the internet share, reblog, ReTweet. The reputation of the source hardly matters anymore. Her true story is lost in the clickbait sensationalism, and I do not know this Marilyn Monroe.

When last I stood here, Photoshopped photos of Marilyn were rare and easy to spot. Today, a new fan’s first image of Marilyn is as likely to be a fake photo as a real one; the fakes so widespread that even Google images has a photoshop in the number one spot for results. Marilyn’s head is seen on the bodies of others, she is shown with people and in situations that never happened in her lifetime; she is seen brandishing guns, throwing gang signs, covered in tattoos. And I do not know this Marilyn Monroe.

Fake quotes spread around the world so fast and so thoroughly that when searched, she is the only source to be found. Inane, vague, and utterly ridiculous statements are attributed to her, she is turned into a talking head for what a new generation thinks of as inspirational words she would never, in reality, have spoken. And I do not know this Marilyn Monroe.

Our Marilyn Monroe is more than an icon, more than a brand, more than a name, more than a character. Our Marilyn Monroe wanted only to find love, to be respected for her work, to be treated with dignity, to be an honest and realized human being – to be treated as such, and to work at being an actress. She was not a joke, no matter how hard some tried to make her one. And she was worth more as a human being to those who love her than her glamorous image ever earned after her death.”

The ‘Gangsterisation’ of Marilyn

‘Marilyn Monroe Bandana’: Art by Loyal

In an interesting article for Broadly, Mitchell Sunderland explores the bizarre phenomenon of #ThugMarilyn – the images of a tattooed, gun-toting MM which adorn unofficial t-shirts, phone covers and social media pages, yet are the antithesis of the real Marilyn’s sweetly sexy persona and her gentle, introspective private self. While some fans clearly feel this makes her more relatable, to me #ThugMarilyn is as mythical as the ‘dumb blonde’ character she  sometimes played in movies. Furthermore, I’m not sure Marilyn  would have wanted to be associated with violence and crime.

“Marilyn Monroe has lost her edge. Her sexual roles and nude Playboy pictorial made her one of the most controversial women of the 20th century, but the masses turned her once forbidden image into a backdrop for inspirational quotes posted on Pinterest and Instagram.

#ThugMarilyn posts cover Monroe in a 20th century aesthetic that opposes the sanitized version of her that appears on dorm room posters and alongside inspirational quotes, but it’s questionable how the hashtag associates tattoos and basketball jerseys with a dangerous coolness.

But the images of Monroe and Los Angeles have always been open to interpretation: Monroe played comedic roles while suffering from depression in her off time, and the underground has always lurked under the surface and around the corner from movie studio lots … Despite the dull quotes that millennials now attribute to her name, the underworld and hustling has always defined Monroe as much as her movie stardom—just like Los Angeles itself.

As much as #ThugMarilyn drawings rely on glaring stereotypes, their creators believe they’re bringing authenticity to Monroe’s life and legacy, which contain multitudes and contradictions. Monroe never flashed guns or paid for a tattoo sleeve, but her public persona consisted of playing dumb blonde comedic roles while navigating a tragic personal life and a sexuality the public deemed controversial.”

‘Endurance’: The Art of Michael Mahaffey

Michael Mahaffey Marilyn MonROGUE
‘Marilyn MonROGUE’ by Michael Mahaffey

Michael Mahaffey is an artist based in Savannah, Georgia. ‘Curious Tales and Terrible Creatures’, his solo exhibit at Gallery Expresso, includes works inspired by Marilyn and is on display through to January 6.

The concept of an updated, ‘gangsta’ Marilyn has become a popular trope in recent years, as has ‘zombie’ Marilyn. What interests me about Mahaffey’s work is that he takes these hackneyed ideas and creates something fresh and original.

Michael Mahaffey Endurance
‘Endurance’ by Michael Mahaffey

‘Marilyn MonROGUE’ shows Marilyn not as gangster but revolutionary, while ‘Endurance’ suggests (to me) the beauty of Monroe’s face (her own work of art) in perpetual conflict with the fact of her mortality.

“I used to be much more interested with just creating pretty pictures, and now I work hard to blend beauty and content,” Mahaffey tells Savannah Now. “I like to pull people in with a striking image and then hope they’ll stick around to consider the visual story happening on the canvas.”

You can also find his work on Etsy