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Close your eyes and think of Marilyn Monroe. Do you see that most iconic image from The Seven-Year Itch, the white dress and rid lips, standing above that grate on Lexington Avenue? Or, perhaps her Andy Warhol print, which has become such a pop-cultural fixation that it is almost impossible to look at it and conjure a living person, rather than some national symbol, like the Statue Of Liberty. She is a stand-in for sex appeal and femininity, of gentleman preferring blondes (another movie she starred in), and of Hollywood glamour embodied. And, for some reason, elements of the fashion community keep thinking that she is presently being re-incarnated by Kim Kardashian.
First, it was Carine Roitfeld, who took the middle Kardashian sister and put her, pregnant, on the cover of her very fashion-forward glossy, stating, "She’s controversial, but so was Marilyn Monroe and I always like controversial people." Kanye West echoed Roitfeld in December when he said, "I have a love-hate relationship with the paparazzi, but actually I love them because they are empowering us. They are empowering us over Vanity Fair that wants to say that Kate Upton is Marilyn Monroe. Kate Upton ain't Marilyn Monroe, Kim is Marilyn Monroe." Then, yesterday, fellow Kanye enthusiast and Givenchy designer Riccardo Tisci stated, "I just wanted a moment with her to understand — and I fell in love. She's the Monroe of our age. People think she's like a doll, but actually she's tough and clever." And as such, a headline is born.
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Kim Kardashian understands, as Marilyn Monroe did, the power of photography and sexuality. Think, if Monroe lived in the era of cell phones and videos, would she have a sex tape? (With her open acknowledgment of the power of nudity, she might've even leaked it herself...) For lack of a better descriptor (or, perhaps, this is the best descriptor) both Monroe and Kardashian revel in their femininity. In their robust, over-the-top, unapologetic womanhood. In this respect, the comparison seems more apt. And, while both revel(ed) in controversy, it's controversy of a completely different stripe — and herein lies the ladies' key difference.
'Tis true, Kim is controversial. One could argue there is no presence in show business quite as controversial as she, who clearly earns a great deal based on her name, because people pay to see her both out of admiration and aversion. Monroe, rather than being a product of the Hollywood machine, never seemed to fit within it. Moreover, with her nudity, depression, perceived promiscuity, and drug abuse, she was about as counter to that culture as the Kardashians are emblematic of it. There is a great dissonance between that recognizable Monroe, wide-mouthed and smiling, and Norma Jeane, the girl who flitted from foster home to foster home, avoiding sexual and physical abuse. Marilyn Monroe's legacy is that her "blonde bombshell" mystique was all light and lipstick masking the pain, loneliness, depression, and addiction she battled within. To put it plainly, her celebrity persona was her escape from a scandalized life, while Kim K's sexualized past became the very groundwork for her celebrity.
Kim Kardashian is, above all things, a businesswoman who offers her image as a commodity. Through her resources (and her own decision-making), she has become one of the most famous women in the world. Marilyn Monroe was also self-created, but she came from a starkly different background, and her fame was her downfall — whereas, Kim's is her brand. The gorgeous, incredible, and troubled iconography of Monroe is a troubling one to impose on another woman (and keep imposing, as we do, with our endless headlines of, "Is So-And-So The Next Marilyn Monroe?"). The thing both women share is a powerful approach to sexuality, but Monroe's own legacy is both Icarus and iconic, something that no one should want Kardashian to replicate.