Monroe and Joyce: when celebrities read books


marilyn-ulysses

My article ‘Reading Marilyn reading Ulysses: when celebrities are photographed with books’ has just been published at Kill Your Darlings. In the article I discuss the famous image of Marilyn Monroe reading James Joyce’s Ulysses, and how discussions surrounding the photograph tap into broader arguments about celebrity culture and literature.  Here is the opening:

In 1955, photographer Eve Arnold snapped a now-iconic image of American actress Marilyn Monroe, in her bathers on a Long Island playground. It is notable not only for her beauty, but for the fact that she is pictured reading what is considered to be one of the most impenetrable books of modernist literature: James Joyce’s Ulysses. In the sixty years since the photograph was taken, it has prompted continual speculation as to whether it was staged…

To read the article, click here.

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From the Archives: ‘The Advocate’ on Communism and Marilyn Monroe (1955)


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Copyright Siobhan Lyons, 2016

Our family recently discovered an old copy of The Advocate amongst my grandmother’s papers; a Melbourne-based Catholic newspaper reporting on all things moral and wholesome, it was first published on February 1, 1868, and ceased publication in 1990. This particular copy was published on December 8, 1955. The content, as one would expect, features very orthodox views on topics ranging from the latest films to commentary on the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and the threat of Communist involvement. On the film review page, a guideline offers insight into just how conservative the views of certain Catholics were back in the 50s, with films being separated into an archaic, though quite amusing, ratings system. In place of G, PG, M15+, MA, and R, we have:

A1: Suitable for General Patronage

A2: Suitable for Adults

B: Objectionable in Part

C: Condemned

As the photograph below reveals, both A Star is Born, with Judy Garland, and The Seven Year Itch, starring the curvaceous temptress Marilyn Monroe, belong strictly to the ‘Condemned’ column. Other films in the ‘Condemned’ list include the 1954 film noir Black Tuesday and 1954 dance flick MamboThe Barefoot Contessa gets off lightly in the B column, criticised for ‘misrepresenting Catholic practices’ and containing ‘suggestive scenes’ (our version of ‘sexual references’). Women without Hope – a French film by Raoul Andre about prostitution – also sits in the ‘partly objectionable’ column, featuring a ‘low moral tone’ and ‘unfit subjects’.

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Copyright Siobhan Lyons, 2016

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Copyright Siobhan Lyons, 2016

A film review of The Young Lovers notes: ‘Aside from these reflections, The Young Lovers can be accepted at the level of fine entertainment without swallowing the spineless philosophy on which it is based’. A review of The Man from Laramie praises James Stewart though notes: ‘The formula is as trite and predictable as last Sunday’s dinner’. Also found in the newspaper is an article on Communism at the Melbourne Olympics. ‘From behind the Iron Curtain’, it begins, ‘comes fragmentary but reliable news that the Communists are aiming to dominate the Melbourne Olympic Games and indeed have a good chance of winning’.  It continues: ‘If they win, immediately they will follow the triumph with a propaganda barrage claiming the superiority of the “Communist man”. This is not sport with them, it is grim business […] We of the West may have to develop new ideas on what is “an amateur” and what isn’t’.

Copyright Siobhan Lyons, 2016

Copyright Siobhan Lyons, 2016

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Ashes to Ashes: David Bowie (1947-2016)


Words are not enough. David Bowie, who changed the music scene forever, has passed away at age 69. From his androgynous Ziggy Stardust persona to his sexually charged turn in movies such as Labyrinth (1986), Bowie incorporated poetry and psychedelic rock into his entirely unique music and has become one of the most notable figures of popular culture and music. The world has lost a truly great, experimental singer and musician.

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Kill Your Darlings #24


The latest issue of the quirky and cool Australian literary journal Kill Your Darlings is now available, complete with my article ‘The Myth of Rejection’- on the romanticised narrative surrounding literary rejection. Issue #24, accompanied with the usual stunning cover art by artist Guy Shield, also features Nathan Smith’s article on the iconic publisher New York Review of Books. Copies and free-to-read articles are available here. Be sure to check out archive copies of the publication.

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In Search of Lost Cities: Imagined Geographies and the Allure of the Fake (2015)


‘Fake Paris’ in Tianducheng, China

The Diffractions Graduate Journal for the Study of Culture, run by the Lisbon Consortium, has published my article in their 5th issue: ‘Urban Imaginaries’ (Fall, 2015). Employing  Edward Said’s notion of ‘imagined geographies’  and Robert Alter’s notion of ‘phantasmagoria’, my new article ‘In Search of Lost Cities: Imagined Geographies and the Allure of the Fake’, looks at the portrayal of famous cities in popular culture and media, and discusses the touristic disillusionment with the ‘real’ city. Here is the abstract:

Despite audiences being aware of the way in which popular culture frames and invents history, places and people, these representations inevitably impinge on a viewer’s initial conception of various global landscapes and features, particularly the nature of an urban environment so often depicted through the lens of popular culture. It has been well established that the disparity between one’s expectations and the reality of a city’s layout and feel is stark, and that tourists are often confronted with the reality of a city. These episodes of touristic disillusionment stem from a fairly basic departure from romanticised images that circulate throughout the media and popular culture as ‘reality’, creating phenomena such as the ‘Paris Syndrome’ in which tourists express despair at a city’s realistic environment. In these instances, the imagined city – created by recycled media images and a person’s own psychological mapping – gives way to reality, but does not completely diminish. Instead, tourists often seek alternate destinations that substitute or even imitate real cities, fully aware of the staged authenticity of such sites. This paper interrogates how such images of a city are constructed in the first place, and examines the subsequent response of tourists who continuously seek what Umberto Eco calls the ‘hyperreal’ landscape in place of the real city.

Click here to read the whole paper.

The issue also features urban photography by artist Pedro Magalhães. See his photography here.

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The Tao of Trash


By Siobhan Lyons, PhD Candidate
Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies
Faculty of Arts
Macquarie University
Sydney, Australia

“For many years, until I wrote my first book, The Mechanical Bride, I adopted an extremely moralistic approach to all environmental technology. I loathed machinery, I abominated cities, I equated the Industrial Revolution with original sin and mass media with the Fall. In short, I rejected almost every element of modern life in favor of a Rousseauvian utopianism. But gradually I perceived how sterile and useless this attitude was, and I began to realize that the greatest artists of the 20th Century–Yeats, Pound. Joyce, Eliot–had discovered a totally different approach, based on the identity of the processes of cognition and creation. I realized that artistic creation is the playback of ordinary experience–from trash to treasures. I ceased being a moralist and became a student.”

-Marshall McLuhan, Playboy Magazine, March 1969

cropped-trash8 Courtesy of Trash…

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December 21, 2015 · 4:00 PM

The Force Awakens: What the new Star Wars film lacks… (Partial spoilers)


Author Thomas Wolfe once said ‘you can’t go home again’. For me, that’s pretty much how I felt going in and out of the cinema to see Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens; the original trilogy, in spite of all the retrospective criticisms, cannot be measured up to.

Some have described the new Star Wars film as slick and stylish. But despite the original being known for its ground-breaking visual effects, it was not meant to be slick and stylish, but somewhat rugged. For all its imaginativeness, Star Wars was actually fairly modest in scope, providing a more intimate atmosphere, almost claustrophobic as we follow the hero’s journey in the big, wide galaxy. Contrasting Luke’s youth and inexperience with the expanse of the galaxy was how we came to understand the greatness of the Star Wars universe. The new film, however, replaces the cosiness of its characters and settings with fast-paced action, light and effects. The narrative, of course, is there, if not replicating that of the original Star Wars film (familial issues at its heart once more).

The originals were not so self-conscious, and in their limited scope they provided an intimate atmosphere. It moved slowly, propelled more by its narrative and burgeoning mythology than it did by action and anticipation. What this new film lacks is that innocent sense of whimsy present in the very first film. This is what made Star Wars so different to begin with, for imaginative kids and world-weary adults.

Suffering under the sheer burden of its legacy, this film, as various critics have noted, aims to please its nostalgic adherents. This is what it does, with carefully placed cameos and reveals, but this is also not what the original trilogy set out to do.  Its own story was enough to keep it going.

There are pleasing moments, amusing touches and parts that give you goosebumps, but not the kind that the originals delivered. They are goosebumps brought on by fandom and familiarity. Harrison Ford is in quite good form as both smuggler and now-famed rebel fighter, though it is quite difficult to get past the wrinkles. Carrie Fisher, too, has not only aged but her voice has also deepened, a far cry from the peppery Leia we knew. These things shouldn’t matter, especially when the film is conveniently set 30 years after Return of the Jedi, but they do.

The characters, moreover, lack the charisma of the original actors. As Rey, Daisy Ridley is a little insipid, lacking the monumental weight of the original desert-dweller, Luke. Her English accent also feels a bit misplaced in a galaxy we all know is distinctly American. Finn, on the other hand, played by John Boyega, is quite capable, especially when it comes to humour, though a few scenes are wooden and feel forced.  But Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron is the one who balances both humour and drama the best.

Lucas copped a lot of criticism for his almost all white-male cast throughout the films, so it is good to see this balanced out with fresh new characters who satisfy both race and gender equality. But again, the actors in the film, both past and present, simply suffer from constant comparisons to the original. This is made abundantly evident through the blatant similarity between this film and the original Star Wars (renamed A New Hope). Another death star, another mission involving a droid (the more able-bodied BB-8 in place of R2-D2), and another hero-to-be plucked out of boredom and obscurity to fight in a galactic battle. Abrams is clearly a huge Lucasite, which is both positive and problematic. He understands the source material, but his fandom ultimately intrudes upon the narrative. Perhaps inadvertently channelling the force, I found myself being able to predict some of the dialogue and even some of the events (I felt the line ‘Kill them all’ coming on before it was uttered, while anticipating the episode’s most heart-wrenching, unforgivable death before it happened). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when it comes to dialogue, I felt that it could have been more inventive and less dependent on cliché.

The originals seemed to have fun with filming, urged on by the newness of the narrative. The Force Awakens, for the most part, belongs to the brand of all-too-serious, CGI-infested films of the 2010s, and in so doing it robs its viewers of the ability to imagine. For all that, it is still a partly satisfying film, though as soon as I came home from the viewing on its opening day, I immediately re-watched the original trilogy, which left me with the feeling I was missing from Abrams’ new film. What counts, though, is that I am indeed left wanting more from the film’s ending, which is a good sign, even for a film that is largely bereft of the kind of wonder synonymous with the franchise as a whole.

 

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