Wednesday, March 5, 2008

How Not To Pay Homage

I wasn't going to write about this--so many others have--but now that the parodies are coming out, it must be done.

For those of you who may have been living under a rock, Lindsay Lohan recently recreated Marilyn Monroe's final photo shoot, known as The Last Sitting, for New York Magazine. She was photographed by Bert Stern, who did the original shoot with Monroe back in 1962, six weeks before she overdosed on barbiturates. The shoot has been gaining a lot of attention--some claiming that it encourages a kind of necrophilia, others wondering why Lohan would do a nude photo shoot just after her third stint in rehab, but for myself, I wonder: Why do it at all?

Let it be known that I am incredibly conservative when it comes to icons. When Natalie Portman wore Audrey Hepburn's dress on the cover of Bazaar, I cringed. Even if it was somehow an improvement on the original, I would never enjoy watching a remake of a classic like Casablanca or Gone With the Wind. In my opinion, there's a conceit in trying to recreate icons which compromises their impact on the pop culture of their time. If that's the point, fine, but I don't believe that Lindsay Lohan or Natalie Portman were trying to imply that Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn weren't all that important. I think they were trying to pay homage to two incredible women who inspired them, but copying an icon is not enough to constitute an homage.

In my opinion, you need to take it further. You need to show me something new about what this person, this ideal means to us decades after he/she/it peaked, and only then is the icon status affirmed. When I saw Anna Kournikova channel, but not precisely copy Marilyn Monroe over a grate in The Seven Year Itch, then I considered how our perceptions of sexuality have changed since my parents were my age, how images can be reappropriated to sell something, and personally I had to consider the fact that I recognized what was being recreated without having ever seen the original creation. For me, that made me imagine what it might have been like that day when Marilyn's skirt blew up around her waist over the Lexington Avenue subway line.

I think the Lindsay Lohan photos are beautiful, but still they irritate me. If she wanted to do a nude photo shoot, why couldn't she just do one of her own? Why did she have to hide behind the auspices 0f homage? And over forty years later, can't Bert Stern be a little more creative about contextualizing troubled tabloid actresses of the past and present? One can only blame Lindsay Lohan so much for jumping at the chance to play a personal hero. Really, it's the folks at New York Magazine and Bert Stern who need to dig a little deeper.

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