Beth Ditto’s Fatness Gets in the Way of Her Stinging Critique on Marilyn Monroe WorshipPosted: May 21, 2012
If you heard anything about the Gossip’s performance of Candle in the Wind at Cannes, it probably went to the tune of either, “Why did she ruin such an amazing song” or “She doesn’t understand the poignancy of Toppin’s lyrics or Monroe’s legacy,” or — most likely — “Hey, Beth Ditto’s fat.”
The short version is this: The Gossip played a disco version of Candle in the Wind while screening a slideshow of photos and videos of Marilyn Monroe at the opening of Cannes’ 65th festival season. The song wasn’t incidental: Cannes was “honoring” the 50th anniversary of Monroe’s death. While performing, Ditto made a couple of jokes about the less-than-enthusiastic crowd, asking if they were alive and reminding them that whether they love it or hate it, she still gets paid.
One article in particular calls the performance “disastrous” because of the uncomfortably lukewarm reception the band received while onstage, and YouTube comments range from the nasty to the disturbing. Many people revile Ditto for “ruining” a beautiful song and one deluded Monroe-worshipper demands:
“PLEASE leave this beautiful song to be sung by someone who truly knows and loves NORMA jEAN a.k.a. Marilyn Monroe.”
Another patiently explains:
“I do appreciate the singers talents but I just think she could have put a bit of an effort into understanding what she was singing about. Marilyn is probably the most loved and adored female ever born and her life story was sad and horrific. With respect I do think the singer could consider her appearance and lose a few kilos.”
Earlier, the same poster gave us this word cloud:
“Beautiful, wonderful, sweet, adorable, loveable, marvellous and incredible Marilyn.”
Discussions of beauty, weight, legacy and talent all seem to miss the point: why take a tribute ballad about the death of a movie star and turn it into an up-beat disco song? Why agree to do a tribute to Marilyn Monroe when you are the ultimate anti-image pop star? Is it possible there is a message that Ditto’s trying to get across? Probably not — but hey, have you heard she’s fat?
The “legacy” of Marilyn Monroe is inherently disturbing, even 50 years after her death. She’s the ultimate damsel in distress — a woman so beautiful, so loved and yet so helpless and depressed. Much of the current male adoration of the star stems from this Midnight in Paris-esque desire to be able to go back in time and fix her, to be the White Knight she never had, and any and all other creepy and misogynistic fantasies.
The female fanbase is a little harder and a little more troubling to try to explain. So many people love to post photos of Monroe taken at bad angles and celebrate her for being chunky, others love to point out that the constant reports of her being a size 16 are both a misinterpretation of what sizing was in the ’60s, and a move toward unacceptable “fat acceptance.” In other words, Marilyn worship for women still comes down to appearance.
It seems like all of the most vapid and empty-headed celebrities — Kim Kardashian, Lindsay Lohan, Megan Fox, Anna Nicole Smith, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton — are all fans of her “look” or “style” or “tragedy” or “innocence.” Countless Marilyn photoshoots have been conducted with blonde celebrities — regardless of whether they’ve professed their love for Monroe. Michelle Williams, who recently played the actress in My Week with Marilyn, admitted that she had never been that caught up in the fuss. What’s interesting is that her movies are almost never discussed. You’d have hardly known that Monroe was a comedic actress — or an actress at all — from the way she’s currently portrayed.
Let’s get that out of the way right now: Marilyn Monroe was hilarious. Sure, she played the dumb blonde, and you can even argue that she made the dumb blonde trope what it is today, but she did it with an enormous amount of intelligence and talent — which becomes even clearer from the number of people who try to imitate her and fail. What is Anna Faris’s entire career based on, other than (poorly) imitating the breathy, stupid, little-girlishness that Monroe invented?
Then there’s the reality of Monroe — three failed marriages, two very public affairs with two very public figures, a terrible family history, a terrible history in Hollywood and ultimately a suicide possibly stemming from deep depression and feelings of self-loathing (unless you’re a conspiracy theorist, of course. Then it was those rascally Kennedys). A woman who was degraded and downtrodden by the film industry is being honored on the anniversary of her death by the film industry with lively, sexy, cute and sunshine-y photos. What could possibly be riper for lampooning?
No, The Gossip’s performance was satire — satire on a hypocritical industry, satire on the worship of a tragic figure, satire on the continued fixation with image — a fixation that arguably contributed to the star’s destruction. To claim that you adore Marilyn, that you feel for her, that you feel you know her, and then to snidely suggest that Ditto needs to drop some weight is almost mind-boggling in its inability to grasp the only lesson that anyone need to learn from Marilyn’s story: you can be considered the most gorgeous woman in the world and still feel completely alone, abandoned and worthless. No wonder so many people want to carry around a rhinestone-encrusted image of her face on a handbag — what an inspirational message.
Sarah Arboleda contributed this article to the Daily Pletteau. Read about her here.