KIM K/ MARILYN/THE METHOD/VEGETABLES
This week, amidst the news of our loss of bodily autonomy, the Met Gala happened. Though my personal favorite look was Billie’s, I found myself in the most conversations around what Kim Kardashian wore.
Kim was in the Happy Birthday Mr. President Marilyn Monroe dress. She borrowed it from Ripley’s Believe it or Not and said that she had to lose 16 pounds in three weeks to make it work. She died her hair blonde and wore it on the red carpet, and then changed out of it. She let us know that she didn’t eat any sugar or carbs for three weeks and that after the red carpet she was going to have a pizza and donut party in the hotel room with Pete. She told Vogue, “I would wear a sauna suit twice a day, run on the treadmill, completely cut out all sugar and all carbs, and just eat the cleanest veggies and protein… I didn’t starve myself, but I was so strict.”
The first time she tried the dress on, it fit. The second time, it didn’t and she cried. The third time, it did, and she cried tears of joy.
^ I love the Instagram that she posted because look in the top right corner! She’s purposely exposing her background. The set! Owning the façade! Anyway.
Obviously, there is meaning we’re led to imagine in Kim’s wearing the dress. Wearing anyone else’s clothes is an invitation to comparison. She asks us to ask, how is Kim like Marilyn? Misunderstood in the same way? Not taken seriously in the same way? Shamed and celebrated for her body? They say that when Marilyn showed the dress in 1962, the room emitted a gasp. What do we as a collective do, if not gasp, when we remember that the launch of Kim’s career was a sex tape?
Second, and this is a plot point that seems to be made clear on the new season of The Kardashians, this is the first time Kim is really dressing herself without Kanye’s curation. The point seems to be that she is the one who orchestrated a connection with conservationists and manifested this dress. She is the one that curates herself.
That she did so in the image of someone else should not go unnoticed. And some people were not happy!! Monroe scholars are quoted as being “extremely disappointed” (lol?). One scholar said that he didn’t quite have an issue that Kim was the one wearing it, but that “The dress has its own importance. [Monroe] is a modern day Cleopatra.”
So Kim is being Marilyn and Marilyn was being a queen who died in 30 BC? Okay… it seems like there’s something unsettling to us as an audience, a resistance to being asked to adjust to one cultural figure becoming another and yet somehow an inclination to continue this cycle of aspirational embodiment.
LISTENING TO KIM
Describe her process for getting into the dress was, of course, not that fun to listen to. There has been the expected commentary since Kim wore this dress, many articles on how her regimen promoted an example of disordered eating. (In thinking about this, I also stumbled across this very funny article about what Marilyn Monroe did eat… which is a whole other story here… )
But all of it did make me think of Method Acting.
Last weekend, while I made many charcuterie boards,
I listened to the new season of the NYTimes podcast Still Processing. Wesley Morris is maybe my favorite cultural critic (I saw him once at Weather Up and stared at him the whole time but was too scared to say hi… he was gorgeous and glowing!). The episodes are only Wesley right now because Jenna is on book leave, and there is a beautiful episode on the canon that made me cry.
The Method is a style of acting, developed by Konstantin Stanislavski, that became widely popularized in Hollywood in the 50s. The Method’s intention is to make acting more realist, encouraging actors to embody their characters, to become them.
The Method also introduces the concept of affective memory. This is the methodology of summoning one’s own emotional memories, and bringing them directly into a scene instead of simply acting like the character might. To cry, you bring yourself back to a time you were actually sad etc.
The contemporary Method has been both lauded and questioned. People have done some wild things to be their characters! Regarding the Method, it seems our culture is most interested in focusing on the way actors can change their bodies. Within approximately four minutes of me Googling ‘method acting extreme’ I found out: Christian Bale lost 60 lbs, Ann Hathaway lost 25 lbs, Natalie Portman lost 22 lbs, Daniel Day Lewis lost weight many times (and also did other things), Kate Winslet lost 20 lbs, Charlize Theron gained 30 lbs. Apparently this is the direction of our gaze – how hard did they work to overcome their bodies?
Last September, Pete Wells wrote the kind of critique of Eleven Madison Park that people like to call ‘scathing’. What he hated most was the effort by Chef Daniel Humm, in curating a vegan incarnation of the restaurant, to make vegetables taste like meat. He wrote zingers like “the role of the duck will be played by the beet, doing things no root vegetable should be asked to do” and “Beets aren’t very good at pretending to be meat, but their ability to taste like beets is unrivaled”.
Mostly, Wells’ critique was based on an impatience with pretense. I actually agree – I find purposeful replications of food one is avoiding to rarely be triumphs, and usually they’re a little melancholic, ghostly. Still, it’s impossible to notice that Wells is angry less about the food not hitting than the intention by the chef to seemingly substitute one thing for another, and expect the same reaction.
^this little smile!
The way that Wells was so upset about Humm’s seeming intention of bold replacement sounds a little similar to the anger from the Marilyn scholars about why Kim should not have worn (and did not deserve to wear) the dress.
Is what Pete Wells called EMP in that review.
The Uncanny Valley is the aesthetic theory that when a human is presented with an object that is humanoid (not quite human), there’s a very strange space where uneasiness creeps in. This is the Valley.
Wesley Morris and Ian Butler discuss, in a moment on the Method episode, a problem with Method acting. Referencing an *intense* scene (trigger warning) from Cape Fear, where Robert de Niro puts his thumb in the mouth of Juliette Lewis, who is playing a teenager. It’s an unsettling scene because it does feel so real, implicating us as the viewer. The scene seems to ask how far we can push Method until we descend into the valley.
When I heard Kim talking about how hard she worked to lose the weight for her dress, I heard someone explaining how hard they worked to prepare for a role. Kim was practicing the Method – crying when the dress didn’t fit her, committing to it so much that she shed her own skin in a dogmatic dedication to her craft.
Maybe this criticism, of Kim and of EMP, comes more from some fear, or grief, than righteous anger. Kim’s wearing the dress is a reminder of the brutality of the present: Marilyn has been dead for many years, that the time in our country where the gown contained her has long fallen away. Vegetables, lacking innovation, may remind us how much less vital this country will be when we can’t eat meat anymore. We look for the blood of the thing, the heart of it. These are the descents into the Valley: the fear of replacement, the alarm of how easily one thing can take the space of another, the punishment of someone for their audacity to even try.
Brian Cox, in that one interview about Jeremy Strong, said about the Method: ‘It’s a particularly American disease, I think, this inability to separate yourself off while you’re doing the job’. The gent makes a good point.
Manifest Destiny Puzzle, 19th century