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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The King and Miss Munroe: Fractured Beings, Unbreakable Icons

As a starstruck Oklahoma kid whose life went from black and white to Technicolor during my summer pilgrimages to L.A. in the late '70s and '80s, I all-too-frequently frowned at the sepia images of Elvis and Marilyn that swallowed every square inch of Hollywood Boulevard and the nostalgic nation's collective consciousness.

Who are these two-dimensional lookers, I wondered, and why do their likenesses merit U.S. postage stamps, commemorative plates, posters, life-size cut-outs, napkin holders and, well, any other shred of merchandise big enough to display a famous face, plunging neckline and gyrating pelvis?

I recall watching my parents sob during Elvis' televised funeral in August '77. And I totally got that both "The King" and Miss Monroe met tragic, untimely deaths at the hands of drugs, celebrity and other soul-poisoning excess. But try as I could, I never fully grasped the timeless, universal connections they left behind.

Sadly, nearly 32 years later, I now absolutely get it.

My generation lost its King and Miss Munroe—pop music's majestic moonwalker and Charlie's Angels' celestial jiggle queen Jill —on the same fateful day. In a matter of mere hours on June 25, 2009, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson—the pop icon of the Seventies and the pop icon of the Eighties—were sadly, suddenly, irretrievably lost in the same ether that transmitted their radiant, electric images and creative magic for four decades.

Nearly three weeks later, the tributes continue to pour in on newsstands, online, (coming soon) in bookstores and, of course, in the non-static, visual medium that crystallized Michael and Farrah's reigns as charismatic, era-defining icons: TV.

And like the troubled musical genius and fragile sex symbol-actress who set the bar of immortal greatness so impossibly high a half-century earlier, Michael and Farrah in their final days became vulnerable, tragic figures whose robust, picture-perfect exteriors collapsed under the weight of their very human hardships.

Long famous for their physical fluidity, cascading locks and well-chiseled (if, to varying degrees, cosmetically altered) faces, Michael and Farrah both left their physical bodies bald, brittle and broken, a sobering reminder of their very ordinary mortality blind to fame and fortune. Their lifelong struggles with superstardom, family heartache, tabloid cruelty and abuse—physical, emotional and psychological—struck a cord in our individual and universal hearts. We knew that behind their flawless facades, beneath their unbreakable iconic brilliance, and beyond their heavenly charms dwelled fractured souls that, whether we wanted the lesson or not, taught the world about our own human journeys.

In their far-from-perfect final years, The King and Miss Munroe faced crippling trials and tribulations. Farrah, felled by terminal illness, in the end completely grasped her spiritual significance as a celebrity. Farrah's Story, the intended documentary that exposed her courageous, harrowing battle with anal cancer, will forever bear testament that she mastered her cosmic lesson. Michael, felled by the equally ravaging disease of addiction, left a musical legacy that will forever tell his story as an artist who, afflicted with lupus, vitiligo, body dysmorphia disorder, bulimia and substance abuse, sensed, surveyed and sung his heart out about our uniquely human frailties.

Both of our beloved icons illustrated, in sickness and health, that humankind's vulnerabilities forever tie we mere mortals to the now-heavenly stars who, despite their heavy earthly burdens, continue to lighten and enlighten our lives.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Monica Seles' "Getting a Grip"—by contributor Rose Sacco, Retroality.TV's "Girl on the Side"

I just was given Monica Seles’ new book Getting a Grip: On My Body, My Mind, My Self, and—excuse the pun—it WAS gripping. Monica, if you remember, was a star of tennis in the Nineties, when out of nowhere a crazed fan stabbed her in the back at one of her matches. And although that incident is addressed in her autobiography, she includes it as a chapter in her life, NOT the defining moment of who she is. This could be another Hollywood story of rags to riches to rags again, but it’s the opposite. It’s a story of a woman working hard to achieve her goals and dealing with obstacles in her life. It’s the story of Monica stumbling in life, then finding her footing to go on.

It seems as though Monica was born with a racket in her hands. Her dedicated father improvised their own “court” and taught her the fundamentals of the game when she 5 years old. She was born a hard worker, and her natural talent led her to win enough matches to be a junior champion. At 12 she was scouted to train in America with the world’s top tennis coaches. She was turning into a tennis star, and yet the stress of that ridged environment soon began to eat at her self-confidence. Plagued by anxiety, she started eating to deal with stress. At 12 and 13 years old, Monica began a lifelong struggle with weight. She was stuffing her face to stuff down feelings.

Her family supported her in the decision to become a pro player at 15. Monica was lucky enough to be surrounded by family who kept her grounded. When she was earning thousands winning tournaments, her parents still expected normalcy from her. She addresses that fact over and over again—family support helped her reach the success she had in life.

Her stabbing in 1993 took her off the court for the first time since she was a young child. Depression set in, compounded the sad, distressing news that her beloved father was diagnosed with cancer. Her stress binges soon spiraled out of control. And though she fought hard to hit the court again as a contender, her weight battles consumed her.

As I was reading her story, I found Monica so charming and relatable. Most every woman deals with feeling inadequate and insecure. As Monica tells the stories of her professional life, she lets you into her personal struggles in such an honest and graceful way. I felt myself cheering her on, on every page.

—Rose Sacco