You can’t have sex symbols with the ‘sex’ – and once the Hollywood legends have died, that brings up all sorts of questions that people prefer not to think about.
The story goes like this: after her death, the body of Norma Jean Baker was removed to a Los Angeles morgue to await autopsy. The night attendant at the morgue in question soon realised that here was an opportunity to pick up a few bucks by permitting any man who so wished to screw the cadaver at $10 a pop. Only at the subsequent autopsy did this come to light, when traces of semen were found in the body. Of course, the true tale was suppressed and remains, to this day, little more than rumour. However, it doesn’t seem that far fetched, does it?
After all… would you have done it?
Necrophilia is one of the oldest perversion in history. Legends and myths featuring this act have been recorded throughout history. Caligula was said to have made it one of his favourite pastimes, while the early Egyptians decreed that the corpses of young women should be retained for three days by their families before being passed on to the undertaker, as presumably, a three-day-old corpse sauteed in the Nile heat lacks the sexual allure of one more fresh. Coming closer to date, we have such famous latter-day necrophiles as Dennis Nilsen, Peter Kurten and the Reverend Emyr Owen, sentenced to four years in 1985 after confessing to violating the male corpses in his charge. For an in-depth look at modern-day necrophilia, one should go no further than Karen Greenlee, “the unrepentant necrophile” as featured in Apocalypse Culture (Feral House 1991), which provides a fascinating insight into this strange sort of lust.
But the form of necrophilia we’re talking about now is very different. If it has a name, perhaps Iconic Necrophilia suits it best – that weird preoccupation we have with dead stars, the classic case being Marilyn Monroe.
Almost sixty years after her death, Monroe remains one of the most potent sex symbols of latter-day Western culture. This is something that goes far beyond her work in the movies. In fact, we might as well ignore Monroe the movie star altogether. After all, everyone else does, as a screening of one of her films has very little to do with the cinema at all – it merely provides us with the tangibility, the opportunity to see in the flesh what we see in our (wet) dreams. Viewing a Monroe movie, we are somehow closer to actually touching the sacred flesh. We can look but we cannot touch – the ultimate tease of all. Make no mistake, this is a sexual thing, whichever way you look at it; a fetish of our culture. Our admiration of her does not encompass any skill that she might have had as an actress, but it has a whole lot to do with our sexual feelings towards our dead icon… the way in which we imagine ourselves making love to her. Disgusting? Appalling? Or just plain honest? our culture wants from Monroe exactly the same thing in death as it wanted from her in life, a desire that, if anything, is more heightened because of her death.
There exists a little-known Franco-Swiss porn film, made in 1985 by Michael LeBlanc, entitled Marilyn, My Love, which takes this bizarre fascination a step further. In this picture, a Monroe lookalike, Olinka Hardiman, plays an actress whose career has been built around her resemblance to the dead star. Essentially, this is little more than an average fuck film, but the clear selling point is in seeing the physical incarnation of Monroe involved in graphic sex acts. The film’s smart move is in seeing that and referencing it as the central plot point – meta-porn, you might say.
if we cannot actually see the real Monroe fucking and sucking, a facsimile will do. We have become so desperate as a culture that we need these simulacrums in order to fulfil our fantasies by proxy. Witness also the sensational coverage garnered in the 1990s by the death-by-suicide of another Monroe lookalike, Kay Kent, and see how excited the tabloid press became, lingering over every little detail, her death becoming a media event not because of who she was, but only because of her resemblance to You Know Who.
But then, what is it like to be a sex symbol? On the one hand, there is the glamour, the fame, the adulation, but the very title symbol automatically denotes a darker obverse to the glittery coin. There is a strange cultural coyness we have about this – constantly denying any sexual feelings towards these icons who we have reduced to the status of ‘symbol’. Jayne Mansfield may have convinced herself that her legions of male fans loved her with deep and heartfelt honesty, but did she ever consider the rest? A tattered pin-up photo in the sweaty hand of a gas station attendant, his other hand in his lap working nine to the dozen as he fantasised all manner of perversions on that pneumatic, publicly-owned body. That’s the true reward of the sex symbol – fucked every which way by millions daily. Be honest, that’s why they existed then, why they had the mantle of fame upon them, and the same is true of our contemporary icons, male and female – they may see themselves as serious artists, but rest assured, in countless bedrooms across the world they are seen in a very different light – one with which they might feel ill-at-ease, were they ever to consider their true role in our culture.
But whether their sexual allure will endure as Monroe’s has is a moot point. Whether they will be paid the same homage in death as she or Mansfield or Dean or Elvis is open to speculation. These symbols were, and still are, created for us to enjoy sexually and we might as well be honest about it the way we are honest about full-page beaver spreads in men’s magazines. Hollywood is the dream machine – it just steadfastly denies that those dreams are wet and we believe it, helping to perpetuate this cultural falsehood for the sake of being able to live more easily with ourselves. In fact, so bereft of ideas has the silver screen become that now we are in a situation where our movie icons are now a collection of interchangeable costumed muscle men (and muscle women), none any great shakes as an actor, appearing in movies that rely on multi-million dollar special effects rather than such considerations of plot or character. It’s a shift that began with someone called Arnie, the most sexless superstar of all time – a man who’d rather shoot off a nipple than kiss it. Schwarzenegger was the perfect icon for the AIDS generation – all look but don’t touch, the sexual energy of his characters redirected towards violence and mayhem. We have yet to see who emerges as the icon of the #metoo generation, where we are no longer supposed to even look; though what the modern audiences are doing, furtively and guilt-ridden, in the privacy of their bedrooms while watching our new politicised icons has perhaps not changed as much as they might pretend.
The one thing our action stars of today are not is passive, which makes them the ultimate turn-off. That’s the supreme attraction of Monroe, Mansfield, Dean or whoever takes your fancy from the roll call of eroticised cadavers. They are now passivity par excellence – they will never age and they will never disappoint with an ill-timed Tweet or incorrect opinion, or – worse yet – by outliving their sell-by date in a way that many have. Nothing is less becoming than fading sex symbols desperately clinging to their virility or pulchritude – the risible sight of Burt Reynolds and his infamous toupee perched atop his head like some obscure species of South American muskrat in the 1980s should stand as a salutary lesson to all. But Marilyn will never age a day beyond the 4th of August, 1962, her sexuality still potent today – perhaps more potent as our imaginations can run rampant with her curated image, because now just as then, her whole raison d’etre is sex – we can comfortably draw a veil over her numerous miscarriages, her mental health problems, the way everyone treated her and her entire miserable existence because the aroma of sex is always stronger than the touch and taste of sex itself.
And we can absorb ourselves in endless debate about whether or not Jayne blew her iconic status when she stripped off for the bath scene in Promises… Promises… (true sex symbols never show their flesh, lest it proves to be a disappointment), unlike Monroe, whose nude photos came when she was still a mere mortal. And we can wonder what kind of sickness this necrophiliac desire is symbolic of – a secret longing for straight-forward uncomplex sex symbols who don’t talk back and give perfect sex every time; a desire for the ultimate passive kewpie fuck doll. But we’ll find no absolute answers, as the answers died along with the questions. What was it like to have sex with Marilyn? We’ll never know, but you can bet the guessing won’t stop for many a year to come.
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