Schools and Churches are institutions in society where priests and teachers act as spokespersons to spread a certain set of attitudes, beliefs and values. Similarly, Hollywood is also a very powerful modern day institution, where a star's image can reappropriate, shape and circulate societal myths and ideologies. The construction of a star's image as a commodity of their societal myths and ideologies, has the extraordinary power to exert messages so that even the smallest details become significant yet not overtly obvious. How a star's image is produced and then consumed can justify a society's relationship with that image and therefore aid in explaining the social construction of what society deems as their 'reality'. A star's image is created through a range of representations churned out by Hollywood. Capitalism from the commercialisation of these images has made Hollywood the domineering force it is today. A re-emerging image in Hollywood is that of the sex symbol, epitomised by Marilyn Monroe in the 1950's. Monroe is Hollywood's archetypical sex symbol, where the cultural phenomena she creates, instigates her immortal and legendary status. The first ever issue of Playboy magazine features Marilyn Monroe as the covergirl. By decoding meaning from this magazine cover, the visual and written text becomes a communicator for both obvious and subtle meaning conveyed through her image.
Marilyn Monroe's image is communicated through signs and their codes. The paradigm (her facial expression, gesture, body language, positioning, written text, background, dress, colours, lighting and camera angle) carries meaning and can be considered signifiers. In the second order semiological system, the signifiers become signs which then signify 'preferred meanings' with signification that draws from metasigns and ideologies.
The slogan 'Entertainment for Men' is a signifier for the down classing of females as nothing more then sexual objects in our society. As a sign, the written text can be categorised as an icon as it directly connotes Marilyn Monroe as being 'Entertainment for Men', a playmate valued only for her body. This sign heavily draws on the inferior position that women held in the 1950's. The slogan only reinforces the 1950's discourse of a male dominated world where women were considered the 'lesser' sex. This cultural myth relies on the belief that men are the breadwinners who have the supposed right to monopolise and dominate females. Media industries were controlled by males, therefore Marilyn Monroe's image served the interests of men by legitimising their power. This creates a marketable image aimed at a well defined audience that is male. Classing Marilyn Monroe as merely 'Entertainment for Men' contributes to behavioural ideologies in society for women to act as objects for male desires. The myths drawn from such slogans creates for females a sense of inferiority, where in Monroe's case, her body and sexual allure were her only resources. The ideologies circulating in society naturalised Monroe's image as being the cultural norm and something which women should aspire to be for the benefit of males.
Marilyn Monroe established her temptress image through multiples of publicity shots. An important element contributing to this image, which is clearly displayed in this magazine cover, is her facial expression. Marilyn Monroe established a universally familiar expression, her face raised, mouth open and bared teeth, which became vital to her image. These idiosyncrasies of her facial expression are signifiers which help to create her marketable and sexual image. The open mouth and bared teeth become overt signs of sexual allure, playfulness and seductiveness. This contributes to the ideologies that females have to appear as a sexual object to remain a marketable image in society. Marilyn looking upwards, together with the photograph taken from a camera below her(angled upwards), becomes a sign of a male's superiority over a female. Marilyn Monroe's way of tilting her head, implies she is looking upwards seductively at a male reader. This is significant as it becomes a super-real embodiment of a male's desire, where the reader is made to feel superior over her. Her expression plays on the text that she is 'Entertainment for Men' reinforcing the ideological discourse of females as being subversive in the 1950's.
Body language such as that displayed on the Playboy magazine cover is a key signifier to Marilyn Monroe's cult status. Her gesture as if waving to an audience is a connotation that she was constantly on show. Such gestures as waving, places her on as high a pedestal to which royalty is also placed. This is significant as it indicates she is public property open for consumption or as the slogan denotes 'Entertainment for Men'. Marilyn Monroes's celebrity image is naturalised through her body language as it suggests she is fond of the limelight endorsing the ideology that males are superior to females. Monroe's naturalised image of being a male's plaything contributes to the acceptance of male dominance in the 1950's. This therefore leads to the rejection of the myth that Hollywood means success. Marilyn's commercialisation where she was constantly on show for the benefit of the public led to her exploitation. In this particular photograph she is also seen to be leaning into the camera which places focus on her exposed cleavage. This signifier becomes a sign of how her image was marketed for such magazines as Playboy, where she appears to be playing on the desires of men. Body language such as appearing to lean into a man has a direct sexual connotation. It displays her playful screen image of the naive airhead, free of woes and cares. The reality was that many young actresses at that time were thought of as male prey.
Marilyn Monroe's positioning in the centre of the magazine cover signifies she is the 'one and only', loved by the camera and everybody else. By leaving the background blank (excluding the written text), nothing rivals or detracts the focus from her body. The photograph is a cut out of Marilyn Monroe's figure sending a message to the viewer that she is an object and a commercial package where her only worth is her body. The way in which her photographed image has been cut and pasted onto the magazine cover depersonalises her image and drains her of beauty. Always the centre of attention, her commercialisation and exploitation rebuffs the myth that popularity, beauty and material wealth in Hollywood means happiness and success.
The extremely lowcut and revealing dress Marilyn Monroe wears in this photograph is a sign which can be categorised as a symbol as its relationship to its referent is arbitrary. The signs (her dress and gold earrings) refer to glamour and an unequivocally sexual image. Her slinky evening dress, the fur wrap she is sitting on and the revealing of bare skin, all combine to create an invitation for male readers to view her solely as a sex object. This once again draws on a society's social construction which underpins the worth of females.
The key colouring of white is a signifier of innocence, virginity and goodness. As a sign, colour can be classed as a symbol as it is merely a conventional and traditional link in society that white signifies purity. The myth of girlishness and innocence can be rejected, as the magazine specifically known for sexual exploitation obviously features Marilyn Monroe as a sex symbol. However, viewed diachronically that fact she was exploited as a star only reinforces the myth of innocence. The black dress in contrast to the overall whiteness of the magazine cover repudiates her image of purity. The black dress places focus on her body as a sexual asset which defies innocence. Lighting placed on Marilyn's face and emphasis on her white colouring and blonde hair, becomes a sign of the ultimate American female icon. This sign relies on the ideologies of the Aryan race where white people epitomised goodness and purity while black people were considered the dirty and inferior race. The lighting placed on Marilyn Monroe's face also becomes a signifier of a perfect life which bares no dark side.
The syntagm for the visual text being Playboy magazine, is known controversially for its portrayal of females as sexual objects. In terms of Marilyn Monroe's popularity, the representation of her image in magazines such as Playboy, worked in her favour. She satisfied the social reality of women being classed as inferior and brainless objects, thus providing meaning as to why she was such a cultural sensation and a universally adored icon. Her image does not reflect today's role of women in society however it does provide significant meaning and cultural understanding of the social construction in society. Marilyn Monroe as the prototypal sex symbol of the 1950s does illustrate social construction and ideologies upheld in that period. Society was encouraged by Hollywood as an institution to approve of and accept values associated with the Marilyn Monroe persona. Her image which served the interests of men, supported cultural ideologies endorsing her as the embodiment of the utopian American dream (ie. white, subversive, blonde haired female). Monroe's image naturalises the dominating discourse in the 1950's of females as sex objects where for a woman to be successful she had to be beautiful. The myth that utilitarianism and Hollywood equates to success and happiness can be rejected by deconstructing Marilyn Monroe's image to justify that a star is merely a commercial package. As more people challenged ideologies and rejected a dominant discourse of females as sexual objects, an image has emerged which portrays women as more powerful and independent, thus reflecting the changing role of women in society.
Source: Essay UK - http://www.essay.uk.com/coursework/ideologies.php