Let Icons be Bygones

Ok. The first time I realized I was out of touch with the current generation of young people was when a 22 year old woman told me “You look good for your age.”  I was 28 at the time.

The next time I realized it was when I had to ask a student I was working with what “cupcake” meant as a verb.

All this to say that inevitably, I have reached the point where I consistently say that things “aren’t like they used to be” and that the current generation is “missing out.”

The death of Elizabeth Taylor reminded me that there are no more Icons. At least, not like there used to be.  There are people around who exhibit either vanguard originality or mastery of classic style, but they don’t have the broad audience that Icons of old did. When there was like, one tv show (the news) on one device (the television) everyone watched the same thing. If you were a celebrity, everyone knew who you were. No one had the conversation that goes:

“Oh that’s So-and-So.”

“So-and-So? Who’s that?”

“You haven’t heard of her? She’s famous.”

Mostly, I think the mind-bending proliferation of media sources is a good thing, it provides access to information for people who previously were not granted it and platforms for content to people who previously were not given them.

If the loss of Icons as we knew them is a consequence of the new media, I’m ok with that. That said, I think there is laziness on the part of American culture — with so much media noise, we don’t want to sift through it looking for a new icon. Instead, we re-create and re-consume the Icons of old like a junky chasing the dragon.

There is no Icon more imitated and re-created than Marilyn Monroe.

These are Images of Ms. Monroe from “The Last Sitting” her last photo shoot before her death in 1962. Below are photographs from a re-creation of this sitting, with Lindsay Lohan as Marilyn Monroe, from the February 2008 issue of New York Times Magazine:

When I first saw these images, I remember thinking that they were well done – they seemed reverent of the sad vulnerable quality of the originals. Also, they made me sad. Something about both sets of photos seems invasive and creepy. I can’t forget about the male photographer (in Lohan’s case Bret Stern). Both women look a little out of it, and Lohan looks downright reluctant in some of these pics. Even if that’s what she was trying for – It feels weird.

If you google “britney spears as marilyn monroe” this esquire cover comes up. Whats funny is that this is actually a recreation of a 1966 esquire cover featuring angie dickinson:

Marilyn’s “Iconic” Esquire cover is this one:

Which was of course, re-created in May 2008, starring Jessica Simpson:

Interestingly, and perhaps counter to my claim at the start of this post (I love blogging for not being an essay — I can change my mind in the middle of it!) Madonna, an Icon herself, is the biggest imitator of Marilyn EVER.

And who can forget the video to Material Girl that was a recreation of Marilyn’s Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend number in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes?

Whats crazy is that I think Madonna’s Marilyn phase came after she had already cemented her own iconic denim & lace look.  Here is Lindsay Lohan again, as Madonna before she was Madonna as Marilyn.

Here is Britney Spears as Madonna making out with Madonna as a masculine version of earlier Madonna.

And just to bring it back to Dame Liz, who was the inspiration for this post, here is Lindsay Lohan again, this time as Elizabeth Taylor in the June 2006 issue of Interview Magazine :

I don’t know what to make of all this. I kind of feel like my next post definitely has to be on people I think SHOULD be icons. But then, every IBC post is kind of about that. Mostly I was just interested in the idea that visual culture cannibalizes itself so intensely and it seems a little backward, no matter how well done.  I want to move forward people! Let Marilyn be Marilyn and Madonna be Madonna and while that may leave Britney and Lindsay without identities, so be it.

Willow Smith, lead us into the future!




About Carrie Leilam Love

i love words, babies, and shoes better than everything.


  1. Page McBee

    Yeah, WOW. I had no idea there was a cottage industry of celebrities dressed up as icons. WHY?! (This post, on the other hand, nailed it).

  2. michaelvonbraithwaite

    Carrie, I’ve been thinking about exactly this for such a long time and haven’t known how to articulate it. You did it better than I ever could have! The images of Lindsey and Brittany are so depressing. Dame Elizabeth and MM had such an enigmatic quality to their iconic-ness, and both seemed self-possessed in their own ways–even Marilyn, with all of her sad beauty. Brittany and Lindsey have none of that. They’re arrested development embodied, little girls playing make believe. There’s no spark or inspiration there, just empty vessels for cultural cannibalism. It’s grotesque.

  3. Antigone's Room

    What does cupcake mean as a verb?

    • carrieleilamlove

      It means cuddle-up/canoodle/make-out. It’s very sweet, and creative. I love what young people do with language!

  4. Pingback: Eartha Kitt, Where Have all the Sassy Women Gone? « Ironing Board Collective

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