Thursday, July 12, 2012

Marilyn by Lois Banner

Marilyn:  The Passion and the Paradox by Lois Banner is another biography about the movie-star icon by a woman whose credentials promise a different perspective from what has been thrown out in publication before.  Banner is both an academic and a feminist, having cofounded Berkshire Conference of Women Historians and more.  On the heels of Gloria Steinam's Marilyn, with luscious photographs by George Barris, it is exciting to see women engaging with the meaning of Marilyn Monroe both as a person and as an icon.

I want to be gracious and say that this book doesn't live up to the promise but I'm fighting not to say that this biography is speculative and salacious, more tabloid than truth, as insulting ot the reader as it is to the memory of Marilyn Monroe herself.  In short, this biography is crap.

When she isn't self-aggrandizing, Banner belittles her reader's intelligence by bandying about heresay as possible truth.  Offering inconclusive evidence, she shares the most disgusting stories with "some say" and "may have" and "possible" to throw around the most vulgar suggestions about Monroe's life.  One story in particular was so disgusting that I wanted to throw the book away unfinished; unfortunately, I was so close to the end at this point that I didn't think it couldn't get any worse.

Interestingly, the author often cites sources but whenever she uses one of these qualifiers to share a story, there are no citations.  So if you want to know who "some" of the people are who "say" these things, you will not find an answer anywhere in this book.  Usually, the citations are dumped at the end of the paragraph either lending erroneuous credence to the final (often infallmatory) sentence of the paragraph although the citation actually refers back to some other part of the paragraph.  Not that it matters; most of her primary resources are such "reliable" ones as Kitty Kelley's sensationalistic unauthorized biographies and personal interviews which, of course, the average reader cannot merely verify for themselves.  Assuming most readers even bother to look at footnotes.

The author is also often redundant in her statements repeating things she has said either in a previous chapter or even just a page earlier.  I don't know how many times anyone needs to be told that Marilyn Monroe called Eli Wallach "Teacake" but apparently Banner thinks her readers are as dumb as Monroe was purported to be.

Have I explained well enough why I think this is an unfortunate biography which will likely get far more attention than it deserves?

Anyone who still thinks that Marilyn Monroe was a dumb blonde hasn't been paying attention to over 20 years of scholarship.  The only "revelations" the author makes are speculative, based on rumor or gossip or conspiracy theories.  It is common knowledge that Norma Jeane was abused as a child, maneuvered and manipulated, a natural survival instinct often seen in adult children who have been shuttled from foster home to foster home.  That she used her sexuality to get ahead in a patriarchal industry makes her both a shewd businesswoman and a victim of her socity.

But if you hoped to read about any of these things, if you thought that a feminist academic might have written a scholarly survey of one woman's life, offering some insight into both a personal psyche and a universal one, this book does not even come close to being that text.

In the end, you can learn more truth about the actress by reading Blonde, a novel (in other words fiction) written by Joyce Carol Oates.  I wanted to at least like this book if not love it.  Instead, I loathe it and would not only never recommend it to anyone, I will make every effort to avoid any text pulblished by this author.  And when I finished the book, I felt like I needed to take a shower.

Note:  I am not easily disgusted nor embarrassed by sex and sexuality.  However, some parts of this book were so vulgar--in particular that one that is close to the end of the book--I could not even tell my husband what the author claimed.


  1. Sounds like a piece of crap.

    1. Interestingly, so far all of the good reviews I've seen (I haven't bothered to read them) have been written by men but I stopped looking the same day I posted this review. I looked just after I posted this to see if I am alone in loathing this book. I'm curious if any feminist is going to give it a good review. I doubt it but anything is possible.


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