"Every decade has an iconic blond like Marilyn Monroe or Princess Diana, and right now I’m that icon." - Paris Hilton.The thing that makes Paris Hilton a little unusual in the story of our culture is that she is an American. She hasn't even been on our television screens, on our talk-shows or anything else and unlike other American celebrities, we're not familiar with her from movies or music. So she is more than usually irrelevant to the British observer as compared to our homegrown stock of those famous for being famous. And then I saw this quote, undoubtedly repeated because it was considered rather funny in its arrogance. Only I think the lady is spot on.
Clearly, Hilton isn't famous just for being an idiot. Is she even an idiot? Well, perhaps a more pertinent question would be, is she an outstanding idiot? Driving offences are serious, but sadly commonplace; I have seen at least three cousins banned from driving at some point. In fact there’s probably no legal or social misdemeanour that Paris Hilton hasn’t committed which someone I know hasn’t also done. A dalliance in amateur porn? Indulgence in drink and drugs? Horrific fashion sense? I can personally lay claim to at least one of these.
Now I really don't know much about the lady except things that have filtered into my consciousness from headlines and gossip. Research would defeat the object somewhat. However, I can see the parallels with Princess Diana and Marilyn Monroe - although I know much more about Princess Diana.
Paris Hilton is not like Princess Diana but as a figure, she is treated in a very similar way. People forget what it was like when Diana was alive, but the vast majority of press coverage about her was sensational and speculative unlike everything since which has gone on about what a super lady she was. In one of the few truly prophetic moments of my life, on the morning of her death, I said, "Elton John ought to re-release Candle in the Wind; the words are uncannily close to the truth."
Like Hilton, Diana's privileged background allowed her to be cast as a spoilt brat. She was resented for having everything a person could want and still exhibiting signs of unhappiness. She was a figure of fun and derisory comment. Like Hilton, despite being extraordinarily beautiful in the fashionable sense, she was criticised for her looks, her weight, the clothes she wore, the people she was seen with. Her sex life was a national preoccupation; not her charity work or her qualities as a mother. She undoubtedly had her genuine admirers, but most people I ever heard speak about her, during her lifetime, regarded her as a rich bimbo.
All of which would be harsh on a human being, but we're not really dealing with human beings here; we're dealing with icons and what those icons represent. And let's face it, we're dealing with misogyny. Misogyny is all about the power women have, the absolute basics of their being human, and a cultural desire to wish it away. Not just by men, but women too. Power complicates everything. And in the case of Hilton, Diana and perhaps Monroe, we're dealing with women who have significant sexual and material power. We're dealing with Helen of Troy - and just look at all the trouble that silly tart caused.
Of course, other beautiful, rich and famous women exist; actors, musicians and others whose output is far more popular, but we know relatively very little about their private lives - and some make a great success, against the odds, to keep themselves relatively private. To be an iconic blonde - and the blondeness is important but not essential - you have to give us a reason to hate you. Some weakness, some foolishness. And then you'll never be out of the papers.
Do people hate Paris Hilton? A lot of people are simply baffled by her celebrity or the interest of others in her - Mika Brzezinski's protest against headlining with the lady when there were other things going on in the world isn't hatred; I feel the same, which is why I'm trying to get to the bottom of this. But yes, things I've seen and heard suggest that some people really hate the woman, and they relish that hatred. It's culturally sanctioned misogyny; you can't talk like that about the pretty girl down the road who won't put out for you. You can say what you like about the celebritwit.
So in the UK currently we have figures such as Jordan, Jade Goody, Colleen McLoughlin; the class issue working in reverse of course because these are working-class women who are cast as uncooth, uneducated chavs.
This never happens with men. There are male celebrities who are held up as rather dim but they are usually very good at something (and that something is usually football and they're more often in the back pages of the newspaper than they are in the front). Plus male celebrities just don't get this level of attention, perhaps with the exception of Michael Jackson, who was not only very good at something, but the guy undoubtedly qualifies for outstanding idiocy above and beyond the call of celebrity.
I'm now beginning to think that depictions of Helen of Troy, the face that launched a thousand ships, might be material proof that beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder...