Advertisement

Leave Marilyn Monroe alone: An AI chatbot is just the latest attempt to exploit her legacy

Leave Marilyn Monroe alone: An AI chatbot is just the latest attempt to exploit her legacy

Will Marilyn ever know peace?

In her life, Marilyn Monroe was continually exploited — by her mentally ill mother, by her first husband, and by the entire entertainment industry. It was a lifetime of abuse that fed into her mental health challenges, precipitating numerous breakdowns and her overdose when she was only 36 years old.

One would hope, then, that the screen legend would be left alone in death. But in some ways, her exploitation has only worsened in the decades since her passing. She’s been the subject of numerous films — some empathetic (My Week With Marilyn); some wretchedly provocative (Blonde) — that treat her as a victim. Rarely, if ever, do they acknowledge her brilliance as an actress, her tongue-in-cheek understanding of the “dumb blonde” trope, or her groundbreaking move to found her own production company. The countless books written about her could fill their own library. And her image has been used to sell everything from a Mercedes-Benz to Absolut Vodka. In 1999, her personal effects were auctioned off, which is how we arrived at the ignominious moment when Kim Kardashian wore what was once a museum piece on the red carpet.

Baron/Getty Images Marilyn Monroe, 1954
Baron/Getty Images Marilyn Monroe, 1954

Every bit of Monroe, from her private property to the sound of her voice, has been divvied up and used to generate attention and money. Often attributed to her is the quote “Hollywood is a place where they'll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.” But at this point, Monroe’s soul has been forgotten entirely, while those with no connection to her rake in thousands selling her kiss.

But we may have arrived at an all-time low with Soul Machines' recent unveiling of an AI-generated digital Marilyn chatbot. As I type those words, I think my soul just left my body.

In a press release, the AI technology firm states: “Every interaction is unique. Digital Marilyn analyzes your preferences and tailors her responses accordingly, fostering a genuine connection that resonates with you on an individual level. [She will] engage in natural, fluid dialogue, adapting to your questions and interests in real time… Mimicking the human nervous system, this technology allows Digital Marilyn to respond with realistic emotions and nuanced expressions, creating a deeply personal and memorable experience.”

20th Century Fox - Public Domain- Wikipedia Marilyn Monroe
20th Century Fox - Public Domain- Wikipedia Marilyn Monroe

For starters, 62 years after her death, no one could ever form a "genuine" connection with Monroe — or anyone, for that matter. Because there’s nothing genuine about a computer-generated version of a movie star. But setting aside the cognitive dissonance of trying to forge a connection with a long-dead woman and the heaps of ethical issues surrounding the use of a deceased individual’s likeness in AI-generated material — including that individual's inability to consent to such a thing — there’s also the deeply concerning issue of how misunderstood Monroe was, and still is. Those in charge of Monroe’s legacy have never respected, never really gotten, her.

This Marilyn chatbot feels like a new way to use her, much like the men — studio executives, fellow actors, husbands, directors — who abused her in her lifetime. She was sexually assaulted, silenced, and gaslit throughout her life. Putting words into the mouth of her digital recreation, when she can’t object or shape its design, is a technological extension of that behavior.

Everett Marilyn Monroe, 1953
Everett Marilyn Monroe, 1953

How did we get here?

It’s a result of the circumstances of her life at the time of her death. Because she had no spouse or children, Monroe’s will bequeathed money to her secretary, assistant, and half sister. But she left the vast majority of her estate to her acting coach, Lee Strasberg.

When Strasberg died, the estate went to his second wife, Anna, who hired CMG Worldwide to license Monroe’s name, image, and likeness, which led to the creation of Marilyn Monroe LLC. In 2011, Authentic Brands purchased Anna’s portion of the estate, and while Monroe’s legacy has never been overseen with much care, it is that company that has made questionable decisions like allowing Kardashian’s Met Gala antics. Now, Authentic Brands is making a bid to buy Monroe's home, so it can relocate it and turn it into a museum. Can you imagine the ghoulish ways someone might show off the room in which she died?

Ed Feingersh/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images Marilyn Monroe
Ed Feingersh/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images Marilyn Monroe


Every decision since her death has shown that those legally responsible for Monroe’s memory care little about who she truly was and the complicated nature of her legacy. Because what does that matter as long as her signature platinum coif and beauty mark are still bringing in the cash?

To them, Marilyn Monroe is not the gal who always gets the sticky end of the lollipop and finds love anyway. Nor is she the clever blonde who knows how to get men to buy her best friends — a.k.a. diamonds — for her. Hell, she’s barely even the woman standing over a subway grate pushing her skirt down. She’s a dollar sign, and nothing else.

Bettmann/Corbis Marilyn Monroe in 'The Seven Year Itch'
Bettmann/Corbis Marilyn Monroe in 'The Seven Year Itch'

This AI chatbot is perhaps the most egregious reflection of that. Monroe’s voice, face, and mannerisms are all up for grabs to the highest bidder. Her sex appeal — an undeniable component of her fame — could now be subverted into a bespoke experience for whoever wants to pay for the privilege of her (digital) company.

This version of Monroe will even tailor her responses to your personal preferences, erasing any sense of the star's authentic self. In life, she had to cater to powerful men to make it as an actress. And now that she's gone, the greatest tribute we can give her is to create a new way for her to mold herself to the whims of others?

This doesn’t honor Monroe’s legacy — it whores it out. She deserves so much better.

Want more movie news? Sign up for Entertainment Weekly's free newsletter to get the latest trailers, celebrity interviews, film reviews, and more.

Related content:

Read the original article on Entertainment Weekly.