“The one thing I hate more than anything else is being used.”
– Marilyn Monroe, My Story
Exploitation is the act of selfishly taking advantage of someone or a group of people to profit from them or otherwise benefit oneself.
There is nothing more superficial than capitalising on someone else’s fame, especially their passing, to gain recognition for oneself. These actions do not honour Marilyn’s legacy, promote her work, or celebrate her life; they constitute exploitation.
It involves pop singers posing as a lifeless Marilyn, who tragically succumbed to an overdose. It includes reality TV stars donning highly delicate, historic, and personalised clothing that once belonged to her. It comprises social media influencers claiming they have stumbled upon her belongings and now feel haunted by her, all for their personal gain.
This isn’t about emulating photographs from her life or replicating her iconic dresses to showcase their significance. It’s not even about providing insights into Marilyn’s former residences or other significant locations in her life. These aspects genuinely intrigue people. Exploitation, on the other hand, boils down to a mere pursuit of clout, as if her name were a commodity.
WHY ARE PEOPLE EXPLOITING HER AND ALTERING HER NARRATIVE?
In simple terms: money and attention.
WHY DOES THE EXPLOITATION OF MARILYN PERSIST?
This persists because she has very few living family members and friends, making it too easy to exploit her without opposition. Her estate is owned by the Authentic Brands Group, and her possessions have been scattered across the globe, making it nearly impossible to halt these exploitative actions.
WHY CHANGE AN ALREADY CAPTIVATING NARRATIVE?
People constantly seek fresh information about individuals who can no longer dispute or clarify the facts. While Marilyn was an open book to those who asked the right questions, she remained a relatively private person. She even remarked, “People don’t really know me.” What many fail to grasp is that not every story about Marilyn can be true. Yet people pick and choose what intrigues them. Utilizing Marilyn’s enduring iconic status serves to elevate forgotten or lesser-known individuals into the realm of relevance.
THOSE WHO HAVE EXCESSIVELY EXPLOITED MARILYN INCLUDE:
Slatzer met Marilyn in 1952 on the set of Niagara when Marilyn was already in a relationship with Joe DiMaggio. Slatzer wrote a book in which he claimed to have married Marilyn, despite no evidence to support this. His claims have been debunked by photographs and a cheque proving Marilyn’s presence in Los Angeles when they were supposedly in Mexico. Slatzer also falsely asserted that Marilyn had been in contact with him before her death, even though there were no records of their correspondence. In addition, he sold items claiming they belonged to the deceased star.
Carmen has appeared in numerous documentaries, asserting that she was best friends with Marilyn. However, there are no photographs of them together, no evidence of communication, and no proof that they ever met.
Referred to by Marilyn as “the Italian woman” among friends, Pepitone worked as a maid for Marilyn. She made claims in a book that portrayed herself as Marilyn’s confidante, but these claims have been widely disputed.
Surprisingly, the big star in an early film with Marilyn later exaggerated his relationship with her, even hinting at a romantic connection on a talk show.
Claimed to have lost his virginity to Marilyn in yet another book with outrageous claims.
Regained relevance by associating himself with Marilyn claiming she became pregnant with his child during the filming of Some Like It Hot despite Marilyn making a note that Tony Curtis stating: “There is only way he could comment on my sexuality and I’m afraid he has never had the opportunity!”
RIPLEY’S BELIEVE IT OR NOT AND KIM KARDASHIAN:
Ripley’s claimed that having Marilyn’s dress on display was a way to attract new fans, but it seemed more about garnering attention for themselves. Kim Kardashian wearing the replica dress meant it required additional alterations to fit Kim’s body and resulted in significant damage to the back, the straps and the intricate beading. This has raised questions about their motivations. It appears they were not doing it in order to promote Marilyn but more likely for financial gain. After images came out of the torn fabric, missing beads and various loose threads there was worldwide outrage from fans. The dress is now displayed but with the back placed against a wall so people are unable to view the damage.
In 2021, Madonna, who had long since drawn creative sustenance from the wellspring of Marilyn Monroe’s legacy, took a step too far. Her decision to re-enact the harrowing scene of Marilyn’s death for a shoot was met with widespread dismay. The portrayal, far from being a respectful homage, was seen as an act of exploitation, casting a shadow over the previously celebrated connection between the two stars. By commercialising Marilyn’s darkest hour, Madonna not only diminished her own artistic narrative but also engaged in an act that many viewed as not just exploitative, but also deeply distasteful. It serves as a stark reminder that the line between inspiration and exploitation is perilously thin, and transgressing it can irreversibly tarnish an artist’s homage.
Jasmine Chiswell and her family currently reside in a house that Marilyn briefly rented for a few months in 1952. However, some of her followers mistakenly believe that it is the same home where Marilyn tragically passed away in 1962. What’s more, Jasmine has not only made baseless claims of discovering Marilyn’s belongings (all of which can be debunked with concrete dates and evidence), but she has also asserted that Marilyn’s ghost haunts the residence, seemingly for the sole purpose of garnering attention and views.
THE ONGOING EXPLOITATION:
Blonde. Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe
BIOPICS: Films like My Week with Marilyn and Blonde are known for taking significant creative liberties with Marilyn’s life story, often veering away from historical accuracy in favour of heightened drama. These cinematic interpretations not only distort the truth but also contribute to the myth-making surrounding Marilyn, as they sensationalise her experiences and relationships for the sake of entertainment.
QUOTES AND MERCHANDISE: Policing the use of Marilyn’s quotes and likeness on merchandise is a formidable challenge, made more complicated by the involvement of various entities, including her own estate, which is owned by the Authentic Brands Group. While the estate has a responsibility to protect and manage her image and quotes, there have been instances where Marilyn’s image has been commercialised excessively, diluting the genuine essence of her words and persona.
DOCUMENTARIES: Many documentaries have faced criticism for presenting Marilyn’s story inaccurately, either through selective editing or biased storytelling. Some documentaries have even been accused of using Marilyn’s life as a sensationalised narrative to captivate audiences, often at the expense of historical fidelity. This not only distorts Marilyn’s legacy but also perpetuates misconceptions about her life and struggles.
COSTUME PRESERVATION: Institutions such as Ripley’s Believe It or Not, which have undertaken the task of preserving Marilyn’s iconic costumes, have sparked inquiries into their motives for neglecting the preservation of her Jean Louis gown and letting a celebrity damage it for 5 minutes on the red carpet. Additionally, the V&A in London has drawn criticism for failing to exhibit an authentic Marilyn costume for their DIVAS exhibition in 2023, instead, they are showcasing for a subpar replica. While many museums aspire to highlight the historical importance of Marilyn’s wardrobe, sceptics contend that these actions may be driven by commercial interests, exploiting Marilyn’s fame as a means to entice visitors.
PHOTOSHOPPING AND USING AI ON IMAGES: In the digital age, the manipulation of Marilyn’s images raises ethical concerns. Her likeness is frequently altered using software like Photoshop and AI technologies for various purposes, including advertising and artistic reinterpretation. These alterations can range from subtle retouching to more extreme transformations, which can distort Marilyn’s true appearance and create unrealistic expectations of beauty. This practice not only infringes on her image rights but also contributes to the perpetuation of unrealistic beauty standards in popular culture.
The exploitation of Marilyn Monroe remains a complex and troubling issue, encompassing a range of actions and individuals seeking to profit from her legacy. It’s essential to continue scrutinising and questioning these practices to protect the true essence of Marilyn’s life and work from further distortion and commercialisation.
MARILYN’S THOUGHTS ON EXPLOITATION
“I want to be an artist, not an erotic freak. I don’t want to be sold to the public as a celluloid aphrodisiacal.” – My Story
“People had a habit of looking at me as if I were some kind of mirror instead of a person. They didn’t see me, they saw their own lewd thoughts, then they white-masked themselves by calling me the lewd one.” – My Story
“In Hollywood, a girl’s virtue is much less important than her hair-do. You’re judged by how you look, not by what you are. Hollywood’s a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul. I know because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty cents.” – My Story
“Please don’t make me a joke. End the interview with what I believe. I don’t mind making jokes, but I don’t want to look like one…” – LIFE interview with Richard Meryman in 1962
“You know, most people really don’t know me.” – LIFE interview with Richard Meryman in 1962
“I think that when you are famous, every weakness is exaggerated… Goethe said, ‘Talent is developed in privacy,’ you know? And it’s really true… Creativity has got to start with humanity, and when you’re a human being, you feel, you suffer. You’re gay, you’re sick, you’re nervous or whatever.” – LIFE interview with Richard Meryman in 1962
“I never quite understood it, this sex symbol. I always thought symbols were those things you clash together! That’s the trouble, a sex symbol becomes a thing. I just hate to be a thing.” – LIFE interview with Richard Meryman in 1962
“I sometimes feel as if I’m too exposed. I’ve given myself away, the whole of me, every part, and there’s nothing left that’s private, just me alone. If you feel low, you might worry there’s nothing new to give. But that’s not true – not ever. You discover things inside yourself you never knew were there. You always go on developing.” – Conversations with Marilyn by WJ Weatherby, 1961
“My problem is I trust people too much. I believe in them too much, and I go on believing in them when the signs are already there. You get a lot of disappointments.” – Conversations with Marilyn by WJ Weatherby, 1961
“Fame causes such envy. People sometimes just because you’re famous. They’re phony to face. See you around—like never. I like to be accepted for my own sake, but a lot of people don’t care who you are. All they’re interested in is your
fame—while you’ve got it.” – Conversations with Marilyn by WJ Weatherby, 1961
“I refuse to let articles appear in movie magazines signed ‘by Marilyn Monroe.’ I might never see that article, and it might be okayed by somebody in the studio. This is wrong because when I was a little girl, I read signed stories in fan magazines, and I believed every word the stars said in them. Then I’d try to model my life after the lives of the stars I read about. If I’m going to have that kind of influence, I want to be sure it’s because of something I’ve actually read or written.” – Marilyn to Pete Martin in 1956
“I am not a victim of emotional conflicts. I am human. We all have our areas. We all feel inferior, but who ever admits it? I do think I’m human. I do have my down moments, but I’m also robust more than down.” – Marilyn to George Barris in 1962
“My body is my body, every part of it.” – Fragments
“I can’t really stand Human/ Beings sometimes-I know/ they all have their problems/ as I have mine-but I’m really/ too tired for it. Trying to understand,/ making allowances, seeing certain things/ that just weary me.” – Fragments
“I have a little temper, and I really lose it when people write untruths about me.” – Motion Picture magazine, 1954