Marilyn Monroe once said, at the height of her fame, “Being a sex symbol is a heavy load to carry, especially when one is tired, hurt and bewildered.” We know how that burden took a toll on her. Nonetheless, almost 50 years after her suicide, her stature as the very definition of “Hollywood sex symbol” remains unchallenged. The Raquel Welch’s and Farrah Fawcett’s have come and gone, but no one has ever really equaled Monroe.
Today, sadly, no woman seems to even be trying. Not in the movies anyway. Sure, on TV there have been various women inclined to take a run at the sex symbol mantle. Pamela Anderson certainly did her part during her BAYWATCH years. Today, Sofia Vergara does a curvaceous, witty turn each week as Ed O’Neill’s trophy wife on MODERN FAMILY. And of course, reality TV has produced a few sex symbol wannabe’s in Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian. But we seem to have hit a vast drought regarding cinema sirens.
It appeared for a while there that Angelina Jolie might be willing to fill the need. But today the only place she regularly exploits her looks and sexuality is on the red carpet. On screen, she’s more apt to completely downplay her feminine wiles. In her two spy romps last year she whiffed the opportunity to play the sexy Mata Hari type. In THE TOURIST she was so chaste, Johnny Depp had nothing to play off of and their chemistry fizzled, along with the film’s box office. Even worse, in SALT, she spent the better part of that film running around dressed as a man. If I’m going to pay 10 bucks to see Jolie play a spy, I don’t want to see her in drag. Do you?
I remember in my teens Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel spent an entire program of their PBS show SNEAK PREVIEWS discussing sex in the movies and specifically, what films aroused them as men and critics. (Ah, the seventies and eighties…) Hollywood used to produce a lot of sex-themed major motion pictures. Films like LAST TANGO IN PARIS (1974), BODY HEAT (1981), 9 ½ WEEKS (1986), FATAL ATTRACTION (1987), THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING (1988), and BASIC INSTINCT (1992) were all huge hits and made the likes of Kathleen Turner, Kim Basinger, Lena Olin and Sharon Stone into stars and sex symbols. The closest we’ve come to a new sex symbol being created by the movies today seems to be Megan Fox. In the kiddie flick TRANSFORMERS (2007). Ugh.
And I don’t buy the argument that the reason for the decline in female sex symbols is that the Internet now serves up endless offerings of such 24/7. If that’s true then explain to me why the movies can still create male sex symbols like Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner. And they seem to be a lot more willing to play sexy than the likes of Jolie. In fact, it’s today’s male screen stars who are more likely willing to be seen as eye candy. Why is that? It’s either a sign of the equalization of the sexes or perhaps more likely, the unwillingness of the serious actress to be exploited in any way as to endanger her credibility. All I know is I miss the potential new Marilyn’s.
And boy is the male sex symbol filling the void by appearing everywhere these days. Just look at all the new comic book movies due out this summer. The previews for THOR, CAPTAIN AMERICA and THE GREEN HORNET promise the endless fetishization of beefcake. Look at Ryan Reynolds’ Green Hornet suit. Does it leave anything to the imagination? How far has cinema sexuality shifted when Reynolds is willing to be photographed like that?
I hope the female sex symbol returns, and pronto. The modern actress should realize she can be fierce and feminine. Actors like Jason Statham and Daniel Craig take off their shirt at a moment’s notice, so why can’t women embrace their sexuality on screen just as much? If you saw the stunning Jennifer Lawrence at the Oscars you know she is one talented actress whose looks could also stop traffic. And now she’s going to lose all her curves to play the starving Katniss in THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy. Bring on the glam.