Almost 50 years since her death, Marilyn Monroe still cannot escape exploitation or bad likenesses of her presented as art (a motley crew that includes Catherine Hicks — yes, the mom from “7th Heaven” — and Mira Sorvino — yes, Mira Sorvino).
New Jersey sculptor J. Seward Johnson Jr.’s Forever Marilyn is currently on display on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. It is large, obvious, and tacky — everything Marilyn was not — and has so far proven to be the biggest magnet of mediocrity since the creation of the reality TV genre.
An article in the Chicago Tribune describes a throng of “tourists hugging her legs and voyeurs young and old unabashedly shooting upskirt photos on their iPhones.” While this would be rude if the 26-foot statue were a living, breathing entity, it is distinctly irrational and borderline insane behavior when you consider that the statue is an inanimate object.
The statue is based on a famous scene from Marilyn’s 1955 film, The Seven Year Itch. After the range she displayed as the femme fatale in Niagara (1953) and the comedic chops demonstrated in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire (both also 1953), her role is a bit of a come-down. She is the unnamed “girl” who symbolizes the tempation Tom Ewell’s character experiences during a sweltering New York City summer. However, unlike the previously mentioned films, its success is solely attributable to her, as she embues it with the classic Marilyn Monroe persona.
When I saw the scene within the full context of the film, I was moved by Marilyn’s sensitivity. Could anyone else see “Creature from the Black Lagoon” and identify with the monster? “He was kind of scary looking,” she concedes, “but he wasn’t really all bad. I think he just craved a little affection.” This consideration for the outcasts in all of us is what separates Marilyn from all the knock-offs who dress up as her at costume parties. Unfortunately, they probably have only seen the clips of the scene that begin with her hopping on the subway grate and making history. Viewed without this glimpse into her heart, she’s just a tart, desperate for attention from a man. A spontaneous display of innocence is now interpreted as calculated seduction.
My issue is not with the sculpture itself but with the public’s reaction to it — the lack of respect and the desire to consume. It is an unfortunate reflection of what happened to Marilyn in life. I’m not sure if that was Johnson’s intent but his official statement does encourage people to “…come close and actually touch” the statue.
“There is something about her pose; the exuberance for life without inhibition, which is quintessentially American. It expresses an uninhibited sense of our own vibrancy.”
However, “life without inhibition” could describe Madonna at best or the cast of “Jersey Shore” at worst. Neither is truly Marilyn, but I suppose I should thank Johnson for the resulting performance art the statue has generated and its comment on our society. For example:
Expect to see these guys involved in whatever version of a “sexting” scandal will exist thirty years from now.
Uncertain as to what he’s celebrating. He was photographed between the legs of a statue. Is that the silver or bronze?
I presume this woman is attempting to recreate Marilyn’s famous pose — but without the skirt and with the regrettable side effect of looking like she’s about to relieve herself in the statue’s presence.
Forever Marilyn is scheduled to remain in Chicago’s Pioneer Court until the spring.