Where is Our Marilyn Monroe?

This week, I watched a film that I’d missed last year when I attempted to catch up with anything and everything that was nominated for an Oscar. The movie was My Week with Marilyn, starring Michelle Williams as the sultry icon and Eddie Redmayne as the lucky nobody SOB who got to make out with her for a week.

Williams did an absolutely stunning job, and though I didn’t see Iron Lady, I’m going to say that Meryl Streep didn’t need a 28th Oscar and it definitely should have been Williams’ year.

The most impressive thing the film managed to do was to convey a sense of just how much this woman was truly worshipped. As a 20-something, I wasn’t even close to alive by the time the starlet was dead, but the movie really does make her look and feel like the singular sexiest woman on the planet, bar none. Redmayne and her adoring fans aren’t just the ones falling in love with her on the screen, you are.

It got me thinking about true “superstardom,” and reflecting on today’s pop culture society of which I am some tiny cog of with my jobs here and elsewhere. I started to wonder why we don’t have superstars the way they’ve existed in decades past. It’s hard to make a comprehensive list, but I think ones people can general agree on would be:

Marilyn Monroe

The Beatles


Michael Jackson

These are all stars who at one point or another, could probably be declared the most famous people in the world.

After Jackson however, things started moving away from idol worship of just one individual, at least on a universally recognized, worldwide scale. There was Madonna, then maybe Britney Spears, but I’m not sure that falls under the same definition, the same more recently with someone like Justin Bieber. He may have similar screaming fans like The Beatles, but I don’t think in fifty years people are still going to be rocking out to “Baby.” No one seems “immortal” now.

And as for our actors and actresses, why have we not had another Marilyn yet? In watching the film, I couldn’t help but ask myself that. Taking Michelle Williams for example, she’s ever bit as beautiful as Marilyn if you ask me, and you could probably say the same for at least half the woman on Maxim’s hot 100 list. But what is it about her that went above and beyond anyone that came before or since?

We have no shortage of beauty and sex appeal in the world today, so what’s missing?

Yes, Marilyn just might have been that fascinating and sexy, and her personal life was too wild to be believed as she married famed sports stars and playwrights and had (alleged) affairs with presidents, but surely we have stars who with larger than life personal lives as well?

I think what has happened now is that there are simply just too many stars, so that we forget how remarkable they might be as individuals. They are all exceptional, so nearly none of them look exceptional. We have photographers taking pictures of them at all hours of the day, chronicling their every move and misstep. We follow them on Twitter and hear their every thought they care to share. We feel like we know them. Simply put, they are no longer gods to be worshiped. Fans can now think of them almost as…friends, as weird as that sounds.

Stars, they’re just like us!

I’m sad I wasn’t alive during a time to experience Marilyn fever for myself. To have the entire world universally declare a woman to be that incredible probably hasn’t happened since Helen of Troy. Perhaps I’m wrong and we and the media haven’t “humanized” potential Marilyns today. Maybe she truly was the sort of woman who comes along once in a thousand years or so, and captivates men and women to an almost supernatural degree. If Michelle Williams could be that hypnotizing merely playing the actress, I can imagine what the effect was like when she was alive and well.

This all has really made me wonder about why we no longer have the same sort of “godlike” icons today however. Perhaps dying young has something to do with it, as quite a few of the superstars I mentioned did so. Ironic that dying is a path to immortality, in many ways, but it’s not one I would wish that any of our current stars take. And for the ones that do? I’m still not sure I can equate Heath Ledger with James Dean, though maybe that’s just nostalgia talking.

It’s rare a film has such a profound effect on me where I’m still thinking of it days afterward, but I suppose that’s the power of Marilyn, and to catch some glimpse of it, you should check it out for yourself.

  • David Forck

    I think you somewhat hit the nail on the head with the “too many starts” part. Today’s society is actually rather fractured in its interests in entertainment as opposed to 50 years ago. Back in the day there would only ever be a handful of new movies out at any one time. Now we get a constant barrage of them almost every week. Jsut check out 2013’s schedule: http://www.movieinsider.com/movies/-/2013/

    Another example is music. How many genres are there today? I don’t know, but I’m willing to say that it’s a rather high number.

    And lets not forget the internet. Now you can become famous, at least tomporarily, from your own home, without ever having to step onto a stage.

  • Frank

    I think this is inevitable. It is much harder for the media to create these “Gods” like they used to. There’s just soooo much more variety in all media now than there was before. Tastes have also changed. It seems to me that there was a time when Marilyn was the epitome of beauty for the majority of the population but nowadays it seems much more broad in terms of facial features and body type. Think about how different Mila Kunis, Olivia Munn, Beyonce, Blake Lively, and Christina Hendricks look and all are considered beautiful. I think David hit the nail on the head.

  • Todd X

    The diffusion of technology has decimated the ability of media companies to create the cult of personality our parents and grand parents experienced.

    It was much easier to control the message when you alone controlled the method in which it was delivered. Starting as early as the Sixties multimedia was becoming more democratic. Recording music, movies, and everything in between was no longer limited to the wealthy.

    As multimedia tech becomes more diversified so does the elements of desire, class, and talent. The very aspect of multiplicity of choice creates new directions for people to consume. Until we lose this multiplicity it is a good bet that there will not be another Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Beatles, or Elvis.

    The one thing that we also have to consider is that the media supported these artists in a way that is unheard of today. There was a deification of the heroes of the past. It is no longer possibly today since everyone has very tangible access to creating mainstream news.

  • wevs

    Say whatever you want, but to me Marilyn Monroe is just the proto-celeb hoe. She’s just Kimmy K, maybe a tad bit better at acting. It’s not like Marilyn came even close to Audrey Hepburn in the world of acting.

  • IMHO Queen should be right up there on the list with the Beatles.
    And talking about (the) Queen, Princess Diana too. Everyone in the world knew her, loved her, feeled with her.

  • Courtney F

    In Meryl Streep’s defense, she has (thus far) accumulated 17 Oscar nominations, but before her win last year for The Iron Lady, she hadn’t won an Oscar since 1983 for her performance in Sophie’s Choice. Meryl was well overdue for a win (and she did an incredible job in The Iron Lady), admirable as Michelle Williams’s performance in My Week with Marilyn may have been.