It is something of a truism for psychoanalysis that one member of a family can carry the unconscious secrets of a whole family, can fall sick, as it were, on their behalf. My question is: for whom or what in 1950s and early 1960s America was Marilyn Monroe carrying the can? This is not, I should stress, the same as asking: what or even who killed her? Or: did she commit suicide? These are questions that I see as a diversion and to which in any case I strongly believe we can offer no definitive reply. I am interested, rather, in what she, unknowingly, but also crucially for my argument knowingly, is enacting on behalf of postwar America.

She removes her wig, her eyelashes, her makeup, never breaking eye contact with the reflection of her natural self. It’s an intimate, powerful moment television doesn’t often show: A black woman removing all the elements white supremacy tells her she has to wear to be beautiful, successful, powerful. And let’s not forget that that wasn’t just Annalise taking it off: It was Davis, too—Davis, who remains brave in a world where a New York Times critic can get away with calling her ‘less classically beautiful.’x