The ‘Soft’ Death of Marilyn Monroe. Standing in front of him as she dressed, Karen Novotny’s body seemed as smooth and annealed as those frozen planes. Yet a displacement of time would drain away the soft interstices, leaving walls like scraped clinkers. He remembered Ernst’s ‘Robing’; Marilyn’s pitted skin, breasts of carved pumice, volcanic thighs, a face of ash. The widowed bride of Vesuvius.
J.G Ballard-You:Coma: Marilyn Monroe-The Atrocity Exhibition 1966
Marilyn Monroe’s death was another psychic cataclysm. Here was the first and greatest of the new-style film goddess, whose images, unlike those of their predecessors, were fashioned from something close to the truth, not from utter fiction. We know everything about Marilyn’s sleazy past-the modest background, the foster homes and mother with mental problems, the long struggle as a starlet on the fringes of prostitution, then spectacular success as the world embraced her flawed charm, loved by sporting idols, intellectuals and, to cap it all, the US President. But she killed herself, slamming the door in the world’s face.
A kind of banalisation of celebrity has occurred; we are now offered an instant, ready to mix fame as nutritious as packet soup. Warhol’s screen-prints show the process at work. His portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy drain the tragedy from the lives of these desperate women, while his day glow palette returns them to the innocent world of the child’s colouring book.
For all its influence on the visual arts and literature, advertising remains the field where Surrealism (or its techniques anyway, the question of aims answers itself) has had the largest impact. In J.G Ballard’s (who was a former advertising copy-writer himself) 1970 experimental novel on the media landscape, The Atrocity Exhibition, which features Marilyn Monroe, JFK and Elizabeth Taylor as characters (or at least people the protogantists fantasies) there are also numerous references to the works of Dali, Magritte, Ernst, Bellmer and others. The inference is clear, the media landscape had been shaped to a large extent by Surrealism.
The clearest example of applied Surrealist techniques is the ad campaigns for cigarette brands Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut in theUKin the 70’s through to the 90’s. Faced with severe restrictions on the marketing of cigarettes; they couldn’t be shown to indicate status, youthfulness or sexual appeal and all ads had to carry the mandatory health warnings, the ad firms Collett Dickinson Pearce for Benson & Hedges and Saatchi & Saatchi for Silk Cut had to get creative. The results are some of the most iconic images ever created in advertising. The Benson & Hedges ads made use of the distintive gold packaging while Silk Cut plays with the brand name and the purple lettering on the box; the swathes of slashed silk hint at possible sexual allusions . Ironically the health warning is sometimes the only thing that alerts you to the fact that it is cigarettes being marketed.