Lena Dunham Wrote An Essay Comparing Herself To Marilyn Monroe, And I’m Tired

On top of the fictitiously objectionable Monroe biopic, 'Blonde', why can't we leave Marilyn in peace?


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Hot off anointing herself a gay icon, Lena Dunham is being dragged across the coals once again — this time for comparing herself to Marilyn Monroe.

In a recent essay for Vogue, Lena Dunham explored her relationship with Marilyn Monroe. The piece titled, ‘What Marilyn Monroe Means to Me‘ begins with Dunham bafflingly confessing she didn’t understand Marilyn Monroe as a figure until her 33rd birthday.

“Unlike the reticent Marilyn — whose early 30s produced her own 50-car pileup of public humiliation, but who rarely spoke about any of it — I never shut up, and I certainly didn’t put red lipstick on to cover the sad truth,” Dunham writes, seemingly ignorant that Marilyn Monroe was as open about her health struggles as a woman in the ’50s could be permitted to, which is to say, they weren’t.

Dunham deep dives into explaining the public humiliation attached to herself: her stint in rehab, a break-up, and the loss of her fertility due to endometriosis. Then, on her 33rd birthday, she received a coffee table book about Monroe from a friend who inscribed on the book’s cover: “For Lena — who, like Marilyn, has something for everybody”.

This inscription, it seems, was enough to prompt Dunham into finally considering Marilyn Monroe as a person, but only in relation to herself.

She writes, with extreme ‘not like other girls energy’: “As a young woman, I didn’t much care about her. I was obsessed with those I perceived as shifting the cultural landscape toward something more like… weirdness — Gilda Radner, Grace Jones, and, later, Tina Fey. I thought that girls who cited Monroe as an inspiration were at best trite, and at worst boring.”

The essay goes on in the overconfident condescending wistfulness with which Dunham approaches Marilyn Monroe. Ironically, like Blonde and a plethora of media about Monroe that has come before that, Dunham compares her human experience to Monroe’s with little acknowledgement of Monroe’s own humanity.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the closing paragraph: “I will find out the joys and fears that each of these years brings up, feel my youth lose its currency, hopefully replaced by love, respect, safety — a great head of wild, gray hair. Marilyn never got any of that, but in a way she got it all, living infinitely in her proxies: as story, as motif, as warning bell.”

Dunham robs Monroe of personhood altogether, rendering her as nothing but a collection of concepts with which to bolster her own sense of self. In reality, apart from their struggles with endometriosis and being women in similar professions, Dunham and Monroe could not be more incomparable.

For example, Monroe was a foster child who married at 16 to escape the instability of poverty pre-World War II. At the same point in her life in the ’90s, Lena Dunham was attending a private school on the Upper East Side of NYC, paid in full by her parents.

This is not to say that Dunham, or indeed anyone, can’t empathise with Monroe’s life. However, the act of cherrypicking elements of Monroe’s known life and death as if she were a piece of art from which to excavate individual inspiration and meaning has to end.

Unfortunately, there is no end in sight. The rights to Marilyn Monroe’s image and life are owned by an advertising and brand management company, Authentic Brands Group. If you’ve ever wondered why Monroe never seems to be permitted to rest in the pop culture zeitgeist, the Authentic Brands Group company is to blame.

Between Dunham’s essay and the fictitiously objectionable Monroe biopic, Blonde — perhaps the aptest sentiment in regards to Marilyn Monroe’s legacy is that her humanity is entirely absent from it.

Read Lena Dunham’s ‘What Marilyn Was To Me’ Here.