Media Mutations

As Marilyn Monroe shimmied up and down the stairs in ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ she became a cultural icon, a perfect representation of a perfect 1950’s woman. Marilyn was the woman women wanted to be, and the woman men wanted to marry. She graced the covers of magazines, advertising billboards and of course the most popular films of the day. But how is it possible for one person to have such an impact on a dominant culture, and would it be possible for another ‘Marilyn’ to emerge today?

In many ways, Marilyn’s fame was due to her being the perfect representation of the dominant cultural narrative as created by the dominant media at the time. They key concept here is the notion of dominant media and specifically that in the 1950’s there were few voices contributing to the cultural narrative. Film, television, newspapers and magazines all had an interest in creating the dominant narrative of a perfect wife and housewife as it helped them sell more soap power, more white goods and more beauty products. Marilyn was the epitome of that perfect woman.

In to 2010’s we live in a very different cultural world, different because of the variety of voices who now contribute to our cultural narrative. The explosion of the internet and users ability to create content via the likes of social media means we now have a non-homogenous expression of culture. Culture is now something that is disparate, multi-layered and open to interpretation by the individual. That isn’t to say that there wasn’t complexity in the 1950’s cultural narrative, indeed there was, but the representation of that culture was simple due to the limited number of media voices who contributed to that representation.

So in today’s context, is it possible for a Marilyn like cultural icon to emerge? Would she be an actress, a scientist, a pilot, a doctor? In fact she could be any. In my view, the disparate narratives that now make up our media make it difficult for there to be a dominant cultural narrative. Today there wouldn’t be a single Marilyn, there would be a group of very different women. Because of that the presentation of a single cultural representation is largely futile and unlikely reflect a dominant cultural narrative.