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Crazy About Nudes & Driftwood

In The Seven Year Itch (1955), Marilyn Monroe’s character is simply titled “The Girl”. That’s because this story is supposed to be about the man Richard Sherman (played by Tom Ewell), his marriage, and his virtuous (if comedic) fidelity, imaginative fantasies, and silly male jealousy. However, for most people, that film is all about the iconic image of Marilyn in that white dress, standing over a subway grate as her dress blows-up around her legs. But that’s not what I think about when I think of The Seven Year Itch.

No, I already knew all of that, the plot, the posters, the marital problems the iconic pose caused for Monroe, etc., all before I ever saw the film. Instead, what I think of was a discovery made during that film.

Every time I think about The Seven Year Itch, I am reminded of this scene in which, Monroe, The Girl, discusses her risque art photos:

I posed for this picture and when it was published in U.S. Camera, they got all upset… It was one of these ‘artistic’ pictures… it was on the beach with some driftwood. It got Honorable Mention… It was called Textures, because you could see three different kinds of texture: the driftwood, the sand, and me.

Of course, this film being made made in 1955 meant that the artistic picture wasn’t even a nude. When it is finally revealed, this is what we see:

seven year itch monroe driftwood textures art photo

Anyway, the reason this quote stood out for me, and continues to be recalled, is that I’d often seen photos of nude women with driftwood.

vintage driftwood nude by Pierre Zoetterman

I can’t recall my age at the time I first saw this Monroe film. I know I was young… Perhaps my late teens? But already I had seen enough of these artistic nudes — enough to make me feel bored and possibly a little annoyed by them. And so by the time I saw the film, the “textures explanation” seemed to answer at least one unasked question.

However, time has now passed and I am no longer satisfied with that answer.

In fact, when I watched the film again this past weekend, my annoyance returned, stronger than ever.

I’m no art critic, but for me the juxtaposition of a nude young woman — and it is almost always a nude and young woman — with driftwood on the beach has little to do with textures.

A Mermaid Riding Driftwood 1968

Grains of sand aside, both the nude female form and the beached driftwood are smooth, and even warm, to the touch.

Instead, there are greater contrasts at play here: One subject is fresh, fertile, and desirable; the other is dead, lifeless, and left behind. These photos are all about vitality, or the perception of it. It’s about shelf-life and perishability. And that obviously strikes a nerve more than ever now as I deal with the emotional and physical delights of menopause and move (as my tarot cards warned me) into my new role as crone. And that’s a role not very valued in our culture.

A Windblown Curve on a Piece of Driftwood 1968

I’m not saying I am offended by the photographs themselves, the photographers who take them, the people who buy them, or anyone involved in the commerce or trade of them. But I am offended by the cultural values implicit in the works. It would be crazy for me not to be.

Image credits: Screen cap of Monroe as The Girl in her Textures photo in The Seven Year Itch via Everything We Do, We Do For You, Marilyn; other black & white photos of the nude female form with driftwood by Pierre Zoetterman.

Posted in Age, Art, Essays, Films, Photographs.

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8 Responses

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  1. Mike says

    Hi SPS
    I have to admit on first reading of this post your point was lost on me, then on re-reading the penny dropped!
    Over the years I’ve noticed what you are describing – naked young women posed with almost anything that is not young, not naked and so on and so on. The message always being that young is good and anything else is not (in matters other than sex too!)
    Even on an artistic level such photos have only had a passing interest for me, not just for the comparison but when it comes down to taste in erotica etc. youth doesn’t interest me (I think I’ve made reference to this in previous responses to some of your posts.)
    As a heterosexual man I have had a preference at any age for women older than myself puts me against the cultural norm (in the UK and I guess in the USA too.) As I get older (I hit 60 last year) nothing changes. There is more of an acceptance over here that older/mature women can be sexy and desirable, but such women are usually ‘famous’ and held up to be the exception so it is OK to comment (Helen Mirren being one of the most well known.)
    Then there is the menopause, and as your link shows, is seen as the end of anything sex related, whereas for many women it is the opposite; but still with it’s problems. My partner of eighteen years (female) has put up with her menopause for the last 14 years or so and it is still going on – hot flushes her real nightmare – but when things are OK she is still the sexiest woman in all senses I’ve ever met. She is the kind of woman I always wanted to be with when I became sexually aware around the ages of 13-15 (the first actual woman I realised was sexy was a friend of my mother in her forties – a cliche I know but she WAS sexy even to me at that age!)
    You’re right about the photographs, they are not offensive in themselves but as with many things the cultural references are . In the Internet age there is, as we know, easier and wider access to sexually related material so it is a plus that those with different desires can discover they are not alone (and I’m sure I don’t need to point out but I will that by ‘different’ I only mean anything consensual and legal between adults.)
    There is a wider question, why do some cultural references become acceptable so easily and why can’t we change them with such ease?
    Regards
    Mike (UK)

  2. Silent Porn Star says

    Hi Mike,

    Sorry my writing confused you at first read. (In my quest to force time for a post, I may have rushed things and been up too late to be coherent. Then again, that may be a chronic problem?) In any case, I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

    Here in the USA, there are some older women who are considered desirable… The “cougar” is more popular than ever (but that walks a fine line itself). Still, from media portrayals to mate selection, the cultural preferences for young and fertile is clear in nearly every category. Like you said, there are exceptions. Helen Mirren is hot (in the UK and everywhere), yet I’m sure your Page Six girls are typically young and fertile, yes?

    As for your question regarding change, that’s The Ultimate Issue, isn’t it. Here in the US, we suffer from a number of change points which suffer from cultural lag, even (especially?) when the change is law and supposed to be institutionalized. Ageism isn’t probably going to be any faster. *sigh*

  3. Mike says

    SPS
    My not getting your point to begin with was entirely my fault! Nothing to do with your post, just one of those things where one seems to get blinkered – then once you notice it seems so obvious!
    Ageism is (in the UK) not taken seriously, and is rarely seen in cultural terms, whereas western governments go to great lengths to deal with racism in all its forms and some aspects of sexism.
    What your example photographs show is that, just like racism, ageism is implied in very subtle ways and so gets ignored (whereas if a woman over 50 years old poses for nude photographs it is held up in popular media as either unusual, weired or offensive and often all three!)
    Is this one of those things all we can do is deal with it in our own lives, and hope that one day the rest of our nations will one day catch up!

    (Thanks again for some really thought provoking posts!)

Continuing the Discussion

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    […] But already I had seen enough of these artistic nudes — enough to make me feel bored and possibly a little annoyed by them. And so by the time I saw the film, the “textures explanation” seemed to answer at least one unasked question.However, time has now passed and I am no longer satisfied with that answer.  […]

  2. Crazy About Nudes & Driftwood | Sex History... linked to this post on May 30, 2014

    […] But already I had seen enough of these artistic nudes — enough to make me feel bored and possibly a little annoyed by them. And so by the time I saw the film, the “textures explanation” seemed to answer at least one unasked question.However, time has now passed and I am no longer satisfied with that answer.  […]

  3. Crazy About Nudes & Driftwood | Human Inter... linked to this post on May 30, 2014

    […] But already I had seen enough of these artistic nudes — enough to make me feel bored and possibly a little annoyed by them. And so by the time I saw the film, the “textures explanation” seemed to answer at least one unasked question.However, time has now passed and I am no longer satisfied with that answer.  […]

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    […] Photographs by Pierre Zoetterman; via. […]

  5. Crazy About Nudes & Driftwood | Good to kno... linked to this post on June 11, 2014

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