Someone just paid $1.5 million for a 15 minute film of Marilyn Monroe fellating an unidentified man 50 years ago. Apparently, J. Edgar Hoover watched his copy obsessively either because he found it erotic or because he hoped that Marilyn's partner was JFK.
Marilyn is reportedly youngish in the film and the man's face does not appear, so Hoover's JFK hypothesis is wishful. If the movie was intended as an instrument of blackmail, its probable target is Marilyn herself. But most likely, this film is a 'cooch reel', a 50s sex video shot in 16mm, the postwar equivalent of videotape.
Pornographic short films from the 16mm era are invariably silent and black-and-white because sound and color processing involved large institutional machines. The search is still on for films of this sort featuring a young Joan Crawford who has just stepped into the timeless world of the celluloid frame fresh from Chicago's brothels. Then, as now, porn films sometimes served as a backdoor to Hollywood.
What I want to talk about is why this dirty little thing - really, the used condom of another era-- is worth $1 1/2 million in a time of recession when mortgage foreclosures are reaching astronomical proportions and gas and food prices are going through the roof.
Well, it's iconic isn't it? Marilyn and possibly JFK 'doin' it' couldn't be better film unless Cleopatra was on the screen smoking Antony's cigar. It's not even really adultery since these people are demi-gods. Before his untimely death, our Jack deserved no less of a lover than America's love goddess herself...
Then, there's the act itself. Men love it while women often find it demeaning and distasteful or worse, completely comic. Among heterosexuals, fellatio has the status of a special favor. It is used by some women to manipulate men, either to get them to love (or rely on) a woman more deeply or to reward a man for some specific act of generosity, a car, a diamond, a trip to Poughkeepsie.
Among men I know, such gratification is much more popular than 'hand jobs' or good old-fashioned 'screws'. Men find it so pleasant that it is sold on street corners throughout America. It has its own vocabulary, iconic status and hall-of-famers including Hugh Grant and a former president or two...
The sociology of the act has changed a bit over the years. Before the contraceptive pill was developed in 1956, fellatio was a compromise sexual act. Like the less intimate 'hand job', it gratified a man quickly without requiring a lot of privacy or risking pregnancy, so it was convenient for cars, and extramarital affairs. Consequently it acquired the tang of forbidden fruit. It was quick and dirty and had few consequences. Yum, yum.
I'm writing about all this because I think Marilyn's symbolic power rests on two things: first on her unapologetic search for genuine male authority -- her husbands and lovers were policemen, sports figures, literary lions and presidents -- and second on her attempts to tease and please these men completely.
For this reason, her modern clones (Melanie Griffith, Madonna, Gwen Stefani, Lindsay Lohan) often miss the mark. It's difficult for exceptionally smart women in a post-feminist age to identify with the strategies of the woman who characterizes the Playboy mindset. Marilyn's 'act dumb and give em what they want' attitude is an alien to an age when singers like Pink espouse the womanly virtues of gettin' it right and gettin' real.
Still, men's nostalgic love for Marilyn abides. We pine for a bygone age of superficially harmonious male authority and willing babes. Unfortunately, we live in an era when men like Al Gore are passed over for male boobies who look pathetic next to super-competent women like Condi Rice and Hillary Clinton.
But Marilyn's symbolic power includes a bit more than male nostalgia.
In addition to representing the swansong of patriarchy, she also belongs to the last moment when America expressed its faith.
It was a bright, young, prosperous country that left the battlefields of World War II. In stark contrast, our modern world faces the assembled specters of military, economic and climatic (no pun) defeat: moreover, a majority of American women now choose to live alone; and most Americans no longer have a single, trusted confidante or friend.
In other words, between John Kennedy and you-know-who, there has been a string of disagreeable disillusionments like beads on a nasty necklace: Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Regan, Bush, Clinton, and now Bush2.
I'm hoping that this will clarify the current Presidental contest.
After a long line of poor choices, America's next President must be someone completely different from this line of disappointing white guys. As long as Lance Armstrong is not running, the successful candidate will be an old female (Hillary Clinton) or middle aged black man (Barack Obama).
Which one promises the most change can be judged by the degree of support already accorded to each of them. Of course, whether promised change will become real change is another question.