By definition, an icon varies depending if it is depicted from a person or a thing. However, they are very similar in nature. According to the Cambridge dictionary, an icon is “a small picture or symbol on a computer screen that you point to and click on with a mouse to give the computer an instruction.” An icon has also become socially known as a famous person who is believed to represent an idealistic way of life or values. Norma Geane, born June 1, 1926 is the most well known icon of beauty that the world has ever known. Through the work of the media and societal pressures of gender stereotypes, Marilyn Monroe’s beauty became the standard that is still unparalleled years later. The image of Marilyn Monroe surpassed her own life and death. Her image is still plastered all over advertising and merchandise. One thing seldom discussed is that Marilyn Monroe was a creation by the media. Her name, her body, and her voice were ficticous elements molded to continue the age-old problem of gender stereotypes. Today, when people present themselves as progressive, it is interesting that the majority of advertising is still based on gender stereotypes and the idea of what beauty is and the weight of power it continues to hold. Stereotypical media images of women are part of our daily landscape. Are these images a reflection of our societal values or are they misinterpreted distortions constantly thrown at us?
My project serves as an argument that it is both the consumer and the advertiser who are at fault for the continuous cycle of gender stereotypes. Through a clear feedback loop of women sold to society as icons and in return people taking these images as reflections of power and spitting it back out, one can see the endless cycle of an idea of what beauty is. In my project I use an icon of today, Kendall Jenner who recently did a voice over of Marilyn Monroe to portray how a media icon lives beyond a person and how the immortality impacts society in a negative and destructive way.
In 1876 Charles Reade, a famous English novelist, wrote about a woman that was seen from a far in his story “Art: A Dramatic Tale”. There is a part specifically in which the character Alexander falls in love with the theatre, but then his affection becomes specified to a woman.
So now Alexander Oldworthy lived for the stage; and as the pearl is a disease of the oyster, so this siren became Alexander’s disease. The enthusiast lost his hold of real life. Real life became to him an interlude, and soon that followed which was to be expected the poor novice who had begun by adoring the artists, ended by loving the woman, and he loved her like a novice and a poet; he looked into his own heart confounded it with her hers, and clothed her with every heroic quality. He believed her as great in mind, and as good in heart, as she was lovely in person, and we would have given poem to be permitted to kiss her dress, or lay his neck for a moment under her foot. Burning to attract her attention, yet to humble and timid to make an open attempt, he had at last recourse to his own art. Every day he wrote verses upon her, and sent them to her house. Every night after the play he watched at the stage door for a glimpse of her as she came of theatre to her carriage… (Reade120)
Charles Reade describes an issue that has become timeless. He believed her to be real so she became real. When looking at beauty icons such as Marilyn Monroe who came almost one hundred years later the similarities are still striking. There are public videos that show men literally falling at Marilyn’s feet and worshiping her for being so beautiful. However, there are a few important details that are rarely discussed. Marilyn Monroe is a factious creation produced and sold by the media. Marilyn Monroe was born as Norma Jeane Mortenson on June 1, 1926. In 1946 the actress became to be known as Marilyn, but she didn’t legally change her name until 1956. There is said to be several different claims on who named Marilyn, but the most common and (most likely true) according to various biographies of the actress, her name was changed by Fox Talent scout Ben Lyon, who got Marilyn her first movie gig.
Marilyn Monroe was also one of the first actresses in Hollywood to openly go under the knife for plastic surgery becoming the blonde bombshell that society has come to know. There is a lot that wasn’t said when It came to Marilyn’s transformation, but it has become stated over time that her male representatives wanted her to change her nose, her chin, and hair so that she could fit the image of beauty that they were trying to portray. Marilyn herself was often speculated to have been very shy, self conscious, and continuously dealt with depression. However, on camera she became known for her beauty, her sexuality, and her zest for life. Similarly to Rede’s character Alexander, society believed Marilyn to be real, so she became real. Marilyn’s career was fairly short lived. Marilyn was often cast in the role of the “dumb blonde” based off her physical attributes. Marilyn Monroe died when she was 36 years old. Despite the obvious tragedy surrounding losing a woman at such a young age her sexuality is still branded, sold, and packaged as an ideal of beauty today.
The Documentary Film Miss Representation, filmed in 2011, discusses some of the main issues of having such a pressurized idea of female sexuality and how it deeply affects women of all ages in society. “The media is shaping our society. They are shaping our politics, natural discourse and child’s brains and emotions.” With all of the technological advancements over the last decade there is really no point in trying to say that the media is bad or distorted. The distortions created through advertisement are relatively obvious. Women have been objectified throughout history. The problem did not begin with the creation of media. The important thing is to just have a deep understanding and an education of what specific advertisements are aiming to do. It might be believed that society’s power is based solely off of looks and not power, but it’s statements like that, that disallow room for change. People constantly say “society” like it’s this exterior thing that we have no control over, but we are society. This is where the feedback loop comes into play. This is how the problems of gender stereotyping and sexuality become timeless issues. “American Teenagers spend 31 hours a week watching TV, 17 hours listening to music, 3 hours watching movies, 4 hours reading magazines, 10 hours online. That’s 10 hours and 45 minutes of media consumption a day.” (MissRepresentation)
In the film Miss Representation the documentary begins with a quote from Alice Walker. It says, “the most common way people give up their power, is by thinking that they don’t have any.” With all of the outlets of the media now there is no way to control the speed and the type of information thrown at us. There are thousands upon thousands advertisements shown to us in one day telling the way to behave and the way to look. Advertisements cost a lot of money. They continue to recycle when people go out and buy what they are selling. Advertisements set out to make people feel insecure. There is a consistent pressure for both men and women to fit the roles of predetermined gender stereotypes. “The average facelift costs $11,429.” When this film was created in 2011 that was enough to pay 5 years at a community college, 2 years at a state university and 1 year at the university of California. Tuition prices have gone up since the creation of the Miss Representation documentary. During the time of Marilyn Monroe, pictures were airbrushed to smooth out obvious imperfections. Today, computers are used to make models look inhumanly perfect. These images are then sent out into the world and sold as attainable with the purchase of certain products or ideas.
In order for me to try to really understand how advertisement is able to shape the identities of young girls all the way into adulthood, I first began my research at a magazine stand. I grabbed ‘Vogue’ a women’s magazine, ‘Seventeen’ a teenage magazine, and “Girl’s Life” a magazine for girls. As objective as possible, I read each magazine cover to cover and wrote down observations in verbatim in which they were written. I would say 85% of the Vogue magazine was a picture of advertisements with very few words to describe them. Most, if not all, of these advertisements were primarily focused on the sexuality of a woman and not of a product. The magazine Seventeen had less pictures, but I would say every three pictures there was some sort of sexual objectification to sell a product. Most of the magazine consisted of clothes, beauty tips and how to decipher young men. The Girl’s Life magazine had the clearest direction of the three magazines. On the cover in bold letters there are phrases written like, “Shy girl to boss babe”, “Things EVERY Confident Girl Knows and you should too!” and “Make Over Your Life” slapped across the cover. Every article in the magazine is directed with some sort of command whether it be “must try”, “you should”, or “rules you truly need.” The editor of the magazine is in her thirties, but begins this month’s note to the reader by saying, “Hi, my name is Karen, and I am a control freak.” The last page of the magazine is a quiz to find out if you are a control freak and how you can change. The ages demographic for this magazine are ages 8-15. I think the biggest concern here is for the young girls who are in search of their own identities and are being told how to have one. This is just one media outlet. There are many through multiple technological devices that are set to do the same thing.
In this last month the media has been cycling through what is being called the “Kendall Jenner Effect”. Kendall Jenner is a part of the Kardashian clan who are very similar to Marilyn Monroe in the way that they sell a specific idea of beauty and sexuality to the media to be famous. The Kendall Jenner effect is the exploration of how social media is beginning to define the modeling world. According to the latest issue of vogue magazine, several models are no longer being booked for high profile gigs if their follower account on instagram dips lower than 10,000 people. Kendall Jenner is now the face of the global ambassador for, cosmetics pioneer, Estee Lauder. Estee Lauder brand president, Jane Hertzmark, was quoted saying “[Kendall] is the ultimate Instagirl, and we are excited to leverage her image, voice, energy, and extraordinary social media power to introduce Estée Lauder to millions of young women around the world.” By putting such a heavy emphasis on social media icons, we are once again being shaped not only by their clothes and their faces, but also by their lifestyles. Similarly to Marilyn Monroe, the ideas of these lives are not real or attainable, but they are continued to be branded and packaged as if they were.
Throughout time, within many aspects, women were thought to be different from men. Feminist theory states that women have wrongly been objectified, discriminated against and thought of to be softer and more emotional than men. Women often found themselves living within a patriarchal society, which privileged men to inherently assume power, generally leaving women to assume marital and motherhood roles. Part of feminist conception disputes that women should not inherent marital and motherhood roles on the sole reason of being female, but rather women should be free and equal to assimilate to any role assumed by the male gender. According to Linda Alcoff, professor of philosophy at Hunter College, “for many contemporary feminist theorists, the concept of women is a problem.” Oxford Dictionaries defines feminism as the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men. During a time when the media begins to shift even more to an idea of beauty rather than a reality, the Digital Media can be continued to be used a platform to create awareness on what is happening. For example, Mary Shelly’s Patchwork girl uses hypertext in order to accurately display how a woman’s body is split into pieces and not seen as a whole. There is an acute measurement of Marilyn Monroe’s entire body shown for the public eye. It is only one example of a patchwork girl, but it is a good foundation to understanding how women are depicted apart. In Patchwork Girl, Shelly Jackson uses hypertext to converse the issues of feminism allowing the readers to come to their own conclusions in a nonlinear way. It is interesting to present a discussion this way because the Internet combats ideas of beauty in a very similar way.
The two generations of E-Lit Separate works like Patchwork Girl with works like Dakota by Oung-hae Chang Heavy Industries, flashing fiction. The first generation uses hypertext and the second-generation uses multimedia and flash images. Both project similar overall messages, but just use different platforms to get across to the reader. Patchwork Girl, although the navigation of it can be frustrating, is not meant to stimulate as much anxiety as work like Dakota that uses flashing to stimulate an idea or an action. Dakota still uses words to reflect an image, but the words flash quickly across the screen with a disarmament of loud music to create distractions and make it harder to read. It has been stated that Dakota is meant to reference a poem by Ezra Pound, but I don’t think that similarities of how the media has become chaotic over the last two decades and the chaos of this work of art can be ignored as simple coincidence. The music used in Dakota itself, jazz, is known for being chaotic and Avant-garde, to have no reason whom rhythm behind it. Trying to read text on top of it can symbolize the way that people have sort through the media on a day-to-day basis in order to understand what is really being said.
Dakota heavily inspired my own project, “The Marilyn Monroe Effect”. Dakota was created in 2002, so I did want to use the idea of chaos to display my message while also trying to make it as relevant as to today as I possibly could. Technology is still advancing and it is continuing to become more and more chaotic. For this reason, I used five different songs and remixed them together to show just how much more anxious the use of media has become. Instead of Jazz music, I used House music because that is the music that is most commonly played at parties and clubs today. I also used the song “Fashonista” by Jimmy James to start the video and then I used to weather warning signal and vhs disturbance to finish the video. I wanted to create a clear line of how the ideas of beauty can still be pulled back to Marilyn Monroe and the warning of how her life was irrevocably destroyed by the media. The main video clip I used was of Kendall Jenner’s Love campaign in which she models while doing voice-over of Marilyn’s voice and music to indicate the level of fiction that stems behind this obsession with icons. I also overlapped different advertisements and digital art to re-emphasize how these types of messages influence society. There is a subtle loop in the video where I repeated one of the Marilyn lines Kendall says to portray how these messages are fed to us over and over again, as well as a couple images of clocks to create the timeless feel to this ongoing problem. All of the images used to overlap the videos are pulled from social media sites such as Pinterest and different magazine advertisements. My overall intention of my work is to use the same form of media that is constantly put in front of us, but with a different filter to attempt to pull out an awareness that is very much needed now.
DAKOTA. Oung-hae Chang Heavy Industries, 2011. Web. 07 May 2017.
Jackson, Shelley. Patchwork Girl. Watertown, Ma.: Eastgate Systems, 2001. Print.
“Miss Representation.” The Representation Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 May 2017.
Morgan, Michelle. Marilyn Monroe: Private and Confidential. New York: Skyhorse Pub., 2012. Print.
Muller, Marissa G. “The Kendall Jenner Effect: How Social Media Is Changing Modeling.” MTV News. N.p., 11 May 2015. Web. 07 May 2017.
Reade, Charles. The Complete Works of Charles Reade. New York: Kelmscott Society, n.d. Print.
Spoto, Donald. Marilyn Monroe: The Biography. New York: Cooper Square, 2001. Print.