A 26-foot tall statue of Marilyn Monroe and her iconic billowing white dress is coming back to Palm Springs, California after a seven-year absence. But NPR reports that some locals are petitioning against the return of the statue they’re calling “misogynistic” due to its prominent exposure of Monroe’s underwear.
The statue, “Forever Marilyn,” sculpted by Seward Johnson, is inspired by photos of Monroe on the set of 1955's The Seven Year Itch in which Monroe stands over a subway grate, enjoying the breeze as the subway passes by, blowing up the skirt of her dress in the process. The scene is not only the most celebrated photo of Monroe, it’s also arguably one of the most recognizable photos of the 20th century.
But for many, icon status doesn’t overshadow the creep factor. A change.org petition against “Forever Marilyn” has generated nearly 40,000 signatures, and the statue in Monroe’s likeless is even getting the MeToo treatment. The hashtag #MeTooMarilyn is associated with the campaign, arguing that Monroe, a survivor of sexual abuse and Hollywood exploitation, wouldn’t want to be immortalized this way.
From the petition:
Marilyn Monroe is a beloved icon to millions worldwide. Her life was short and harsh. A victim of rape at the age of 11, Norma Jean Baker suffered sexual abuse throughout her life. Entering the entertainment industry, she was forced to change her name and her looks in order to become a movie star.
In the 1950s she bravely spoke out about the abuse she endured at the hands of studio heads and others she called “wolves.” She warned upcoming female actors to beware of them.
Placing a hyper-sexualized, misogynist statue of Marilyn at the entrance to the elegant Palm Springs Art Museum sends a message to the community, its visitors (especially young, innocent children), and tourists that this somehow represents “the real Marilyn,” a Marilyn she would have been proud to see celebrated.
Well, it’s not. In fact, it’s the opposite.
Elizabeth Armstrong, the spokesperson for the petition, told NPR that “[Monroe’s] literally going to be mooning the museum” and that “It’s blatantly sexist... It forces people almost to upskirt.”
Armstrong also happens to be the former art director of the museum, and she’s in agreement with its current director, Louis Grachos, who reportedly complained to the Palm Springs City Council that, “The thought of... kids leaving our museum and having the first thing they see is the undergarments and underwear of this enormous Marilyn sculpture would be highly offensive.”
But the council didn’t really care what Grachos had to say, and it’s hard to imagine that they’ll care about what the petitioners say either; money talks.
NPR reports that Aftab Dada, managing director at the Palm Springs Hilton and the head of hospitality organization PS Resorts, has spent years trying to get the statue back. He believes that the giant Monroe statue is just what Palm Springs needs following a covid-19 tourism slump.
“We are going to conduct [an] independent research study and notify the city what the economic impact and benefit she has been,” Dada says.
He’s surprised by all the “Forever Marilyn” backlash — especially from the city’s art scene. After all, “she’s an attraction, in our opinion,” Dada says. “She’s not an art.”
Whatever “Forever Marilyn” is, the tourism group PS Resorts bought it for $1 million. They’re hoping that investment pays off, both in buzz and receipts.
At the end of the day, “Forever Marilyn” is certain to attract visitors like any other novelty statue—people love novelty statues—and despite the hand-wringing, this statue probably won’t have much of a lasting impact on students who happen to be taking field trips nearby. But while it’s a little gauche to invoke the MeToo movement onto a giant inanimate object, it’s fair to critique whether Monroe’s entire rear end on display for people to gawk at and stand under is the most tasteful way to honor the dead Hollywood legend.