Sunday, June 20, 2010

Image problem

Marilyn and Maf the dog by Pants

I was listening to an interview with Andrew O'Hagan in which he discusses his latest book The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog and of his friend Marilyn Monroe. I made a mental note to fill in a request form at the Larrikin's End Municipal Library. I hope it arrives before I lose my marbles, or the ability to read, or both.

It sounds like an interesting book. I wonder if Maf's view of Mistress Marilyn deviates substantially from that of, say, Norman Mailer. I was thinking about this as I was listening to this man regurgitate the classic Marilyn fixation thesis. She's been dead for nearly fifty years, yet represents an enduring ideal of womanhood, even to men who were born long after she died.

The thing about Marilyn that appears to fascinate O'Hagan is that she is a creature entirely of her own invention, a collage of acquired aspirations. Perhaps the source of her enduring attraction to men is that she somehow invites completion. She was never quite able to put a life together in a demonstrably viable way.

Since I've been back in Australia, I've had to reacquaint myself with this country's broken egg of an ego and it strikes me that the popular version of DIY Marilyn is a bit of a template for looking at my birth-parent nation. It too is beautiful to look at and does something dazzling often enough to divert attention from its inner turmoil and inability to confront all the nasty bits of its past.

The bad things don't go away though and this week some internal rot has broken through the glossy veneer. Two football personalities delivered up racial slurs about black players. We're not talking slightly dodgy stuff here but full-on confrontational insults that leapt from the speakers' lips straight onto every news website in the country.

And the Government's response? The Finance Minister, Lindsay Tanner, ambled out a few days later, after having presumably drawn a short straw, to offer a vaguely stern rebuke. Did he counsel the offending men to confront their inner arsehole? He did not. He advised them to think before they spoke in future. It's okay to be a racist in this country, as long as you don't voice it. You never know when potential tourists might be listening. Image is all that matters.

Marilyn Monroe was a child/woman. Australia is a child/country. It isn't enough to dress up and smile beguilingly whenever a camera is turned on you. Marilyn Monroe may still be worshipped and adored but she actually had a short and mostly unhappy life...