Caitlin Flanagan, the writer, has a lot of nerve, and the arrogance can grate on a reader. (And maybe grated on her editors at The New Yorker too, which might explain why she's not there anymore.) A writer who reviewed her most recent book went on air with her and Tom Ashbrook a year ago and wrote eloquently in Salon about "creepy condescension" of Flanagan, not to mention her "Michele Bachmann-esque disregard for the facts."
Yet and still, Flanagan can hit a nerve. Be curious to hear what others think of this recent idea of hers, in a review of a couple of recent biographies in the Atlantic, that the legend of Marilyn Monroe was more or less the product of Elton John and Bernie Taupin's 70's classic pop song Candle in the Wind. (Which is when Monroe became a star for my generation, really, before the over-the-top Norman Mailer hagiography, the picture books, the unpublished nudes, etc.)
The song evokes a particular emotional state, one familiar to readers of, say, Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams. It celebrates the aching ardor that a certain kind of gay man can feel for a beautiful, tortured woman, whose plight is to be dependent sexually and emotionally upon the often brutal and brutalizing force of straight-male lust. The song has a coherent inner logic, even if it doesn’t match up with the facts of Marilyn Monroe’s life. Nobody else set her on a treadmill, and nobody else created the superstar she became; full credit for both achievements goes, deservedly, to Marilyn, who worked as hard for fame as anyone who’s ever achieved it. But it’s the suffering itself that matters; it’s the idea of some shadowy malevolent force sending a delicate soul on a dark journey that was the appeal of the song and that was the true birth of Marilyn Monroe as one of the greatest Hollywood stars of all time.
Swept away by this idea, I start to imagine (if Monroe had not died young) a somewhat older and harder-working actress taking the stage in "A Streetcar named Desire," bringing her beauty and her suffering to the role of Blanche DuBois. An appealing thought, no? And allegedly Williams himself saw her in the role of Baby Doll, so not completely crazy. But Tennessee set me right, in a harsh appraisal:
I wanted to love Marilyn: I fall for myths, too. She was fragile and she was beautiful and she was silly. She was the lost kitten in the rain, or the kittens who were born on Carson McCullers' bed in Nantucket--you wonder who will take care of them, because you know that you cannot, and you cry like the child you were who saw the dog run over and the town move on, uncaring and serious about getting their needs attended.Marilyn was also annoying and cloying and demanding. She knew her power and she abused it, but in the demonstration of it she degraded herself and she knew this, so the spiral of destruction deepened and intensified. Do not think for a moment that I do not see this in my own behavior and that of others: I am only offering a sobering lesson.