'I'm available – swallow me'

When Marilyn Monroe lay dying in Hollywood, I doubt she guessed her poisonous legacy. Marilyn lived in the era of wriggle, casting couch and actress-as-available-flesh, and she embodied it. No one seemed to care whether John F Kennedy’s ‘lollipop’’ could act; they just wanted the glistening pout.

The planet may have changed since 1962 but Tinsel Town hasn’t. The proof will be staring out of magazine racks from Friday when the March ‘Hollywood’’ edition of Vanity Fair — the glossy with a frontal lobe — will be ready for its close-up.

The cover shot, which was taken by Annie Leibovitz, has already been splashed across the planet, to much production of saliva, jealousy and despair. It features 10 successful and nearly successful actresses in an almost Last Supper-like tableau (except the apostles are thinner, prettier and less obsessed with Jesus Christ).

Like the William Thackeray novel it is named after, this Vanity Fair is a loveless world. It has imposed a brutal hierarchy on its exquisite models, who flew into Culver City, California, in December for the shoot, that is enough to make a minger smile.

Don’t be fooled by the puff that this edition of the magazine has 10 cover girls: the photograph has been divided into three smaller tableaux and folded over twice. Only Uma Thurman, Cate Blanchett and Kate Winslet pout out from the cover proper; they won the Celebrity Death Match and are in pole position. Claire Danes, Scarlett Johansson, Rosario Dawson and Ziyi Zhang are folded over behind it in a first runners-up cover. Meanwhile Kerry Washington, Kate Bosworth and Sienna Miller are stuck in the second runners-up section of the triptych, a vacuous, lipglossed no-man’s-land buried between the handbag and perfume adverts.

Vanity Fair considers its Hollywood issue an event — ‘This is a very big issue for us so close to the Oscars,’’ a PR told me — but actually, it is a desperate sight to make all feminists tremble. This is Disempowerment as she is dressed by Versace. On the first rung of the paper podium, Winslet (29), Blanchett (35) and Thurman (35) mug ferociously for the camera lens, trying to ease each other out of the viewer’s eye in a nightmare of expensively dressed passive aggression. Thurman has her hand resting on her neck and stretches out lasciviously in a parody of post-sexual languor. Blanchett has chosen to fling out her arms and toss her hair as if she’s been caught on board a ship in a gale. She, too, is doing the repulsive yearning thing, which should only be done in secret, with a lover.

Winslet is arching her back and flinging her hand across her crotch, with enormous ‘No, don’t fuck her — fuck me’’ eyes. And these three are the talented ones.

On cover, part two, it gets younger, nastier and more reckless. Here are the ingénues: think Eve destroying poor Bette Davis (who never wasted a fuck-me look on a camera; she saved them for men) in All About Eve. Danes (27) is actually lying supine in her crumpled green dress. She reminds me of a peeled banana that can speak. It says, ‘I’m available. Swallow me.’’

In her golden courtesan gown I can see as much of 20-year-old Johansson’s breasts as I’ve ever seen of my own and her pout, always volcanic, seems almost nuclear. It’s Chernobylesque. Dawson (25), the first of three strategically placed ethnic minority representatives (remember Vanity Fair, like the Oscars, is a global marketing phenomenon these days: they are present but not too prominent) has done controversial for the shot. She is actually smiling — well, a little. But you can see the aggressive pulled-in abs, the thrown back shoulder, the preening flesh. Zhang (26) is glaring and pushing her breasts together. On a Vanity cover, only the breasts are friendly, and then only to their pair. Between the women themselves, this is sex appeal at dawn.

On to the sorry third fold — the ‘who the hell are they?’’ section, and a mere vale of tears. It is desperate. Washington (28), who appears in the biopic Ray. Pout lip, arch back — check. Bosworth (22), dating Lord of the Rings star Orlando Bloom. Breasts saluting, crotch on the offensive, slightly angrier pout — check. Miller (23), famous for starring in the television adaptation of Jilly Cooper’s novel Riders and for potentially marrying Jude Law, is trying to look ‘London’’ in a black John Lennon cap. She has raised her left leg in the air, like a Labrador relieving itself in a park.

I feel soiled gazing at this photograph, and it’s not just jealousy. It reminded me of Caravaggio’s famous chicken; it’s just as pornographic.

Leibovitz’s cover is simply a casting couch, a homage to the blowjob values of 1950s Hollywood. To watch 10 beautiful women (of whom at least four are talented) bicker for the lens’s attention like tarts in an upper class brothel is dispiriting. I’m off to buy the Socialist Worker newspaper. They don’t do drama and the tits are smaller. —

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