In the student union here, right now, in 2008, there’s a poster of Marilyn Monroe—it’s the one with five different poses, all obviously from the same shoot, each differently colorized—it’s familiar to me because we had the same poster in my freshman dorm room, in 1991. There is a Marilyn Monroe thing, even now. It amounts to more, I think, than “to a hottie dying young.” Here is how John Irving put it:

… what could Marilyn Monroe’s death ever have to do with me?
“IT HAS TO DO WITH ALL OF US,” said Owen Meany, when I called him that night. “SHE WAS JUST LIKE OUR WHOLE COUNTRY—NOT QUITE YOUNG ANYMORE, BUT NOT OLD EITHER; A LITTLE BREATHLESS, VERY BEAUTIFUL, MAYBE A LITTLE STUPID, MAYBE A LOT SMARTER THAN SHE SEEMED. AND SHE WAS LOOKING FOR SOMETHING—I THINK SHE WANTED TO BE GOOD. LOOK AT THE MEN IN HER LIFE—JOE DIMAGGIO, ARTHUR MILLER, MAYBE THE KENNEDYS. LOOK AT HOW GOOD THEY SEEM! LOOK AT HOW DESIRABLE SHE WAS! THAT’S WHAT SHE WAS: SHE WAS DESIRABLE. SHE WAS FUNNY AND SEXY—AND SHE WAS VULNERABLE, TOO. SHE WAS NEVER QUITE HAPPY, SHE WAS ALWAYS A LITTLE OVERWEIGHT. SHE WAS JUST LIKE OUR WHOLE COUNTRY,” he repeated; he was on a roll…. “AND THOSE MEN,” he said. “THOSE FAMOUS, POWERFUL MEN—DID THEY REALLY LOVE HER? DID THEY TAKE CARE OF HER? IF SHE WAS EVER WITH THE KENNEDYS, THEY COULDN’T HAVE LOVED HER—THEY WERE JUST USING HER, THEY WERE JUST BEING CARELESS AND TREATING THEMSELVES TO A THRILL….”

This passage probably goes on a bit further than it needs to, making even more explicit the parallel between Marilyn Monroe and America, the beautiful mistreated desirable objects of powerful men’s careless use deprived of the right to be ends in themselves … but that’s the right theme, the Fitzgeraldian vast carelessness with the fresh green breast of the new world.