July 23, 2006

She stoops to conquer

By: Kevin Michael Grace

Paris Hilton made a startling confession to Regis and Kelly last week: she’s giving up sex for a year. “Every time I have a boyfriend, I’m just so romantic, and I’ll put all my energy into the guy, and I don’t really pay attention to myself,” she explained. “One-night stands are not for me. . . . Guys want you more if you don’t just hand it to them on a platter. If they want you, then they will wait. You have to make them work for it.”

Paris Hilton without sex? Unthinkable. Like Angelina Jolie without rugrats, Ashlee Simpson without “guide tracks” or Lindsay Lohan without tears. Unless this is a tease — like Christina Aguilera’s strip down from a nun’s habit at the MTV Europe Awards — it suggests that Paris has lost the plot, that she has forgotten how she came to be the most famous woman in the world.

Yes, the most famous woman in the world. Paris Hilton does not have to be identified: as in “Ashlee Simpson, singer/actress,” “Lindsay Lohan, singer/actress” or “Angelina Jolie, actress/humanitarian/serial adopter.” (Or “Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State,” for that matter.) Nor is she “famous for being famous,” which suggests a phantom celebrity. Paris Hilton just is.

She is, among other things, a singer (her first, eponymous, album will be released next month), a model (Guess, etc.), an actress (too many C-movies to mention), a reality-TV star (The Simple Life and its spinoffs), a best-selling author (Confessions of an Heiress and its spinoffs), a designer (purses, jewellery, watches) and an entrepreneur (Paris’ record label, Paris’ perfume, Paris’ nightclubs, und so weiter).

But all this is extrinsic. The essence of Paris Hilton, what makes Paris Paris, is that she is a slut. Well, you say, so are lots of women. What makes Paris a revolutionary figure is that not that she has parlayed sex into celebrity. This is the way of the world. Paris Hilton is a revolutionary figure because she has transcended Eros. For Paris, sex is ubiquitous and quotidian. As humdrum as a manicure or a bag of Doritos. Nowhere near as exciting — as she demonstrated in her career-making porn video 1 Night in Paris — as the cellphone’s ring, with its promise of endless dilation on the imperishable subject of me, me, me. . .

Prerequisites for sleeping with Paris Hilton: a mention on Entertainment Tonight or ESPN — and a pulse (although this last would appear optional, as she has been “romantically linked” with that antediluvian Hollywood horndog Robert Evans). Women do will just as well as men. Although she has been involved in some ugly public spats (with Lindsay Lohan, for instance) over charges of “boyfriend” filching, Paris’ trysts are characterized by an almost total lack of affect. Sex to Paris is not so much scratching an itch; it’s more the shame of an empty page in the appointments diary.

Just what is it that makes Paris Hilton so “hott,” anyway? Her meagre body? Her crone face? Her personality? Ha ha. Paris’ personality — “I’ll put all my energy into the guy, and I don’t really pay attention to myself” — is so inner-directed that its energy is like a massive star collapsed into a black hole.

No, Paris Hilton is a true avatar precisely because she is so ordinary. (As McLuhan pointed out, charisma means appearing to be like everyone else.) Paris Hilton represents the triumph of the principle I propose to call an excess of secular democracy. Women aspire to be like her because it is so easy. Men aspire to do her because she is so easily doable.

The sex symbols of the past were beautiful and, above all, unattainable to the common man. But this is intolerable in an age when the greatest insult is “You think you’re the boss of me?” For all their undoubted efficacy, diet, exercise, surgery, the cosmetician’s art and the couturier’s flair still cannot make silk purses of sow’s ears, for beauty is a gift of God. So Democratic Man has rejected beauty, just as he has rejected God.

To be extraordinary today is beyond an affront; it is almost treason. This is why celebrities have replaced models on the covers of fashion magazines, why anchormen and women are no cleverer or handsomer than the members of their audience and why George W. Bush succeeded Bill Clinton as President of the United States.

Thomas Aquinas wrote that God created the world in the spirit of comedy. If this is true, then we can regard the apotheosis of Paris Hilton as a particularly good cosmic joke, one that follows directly from the advent of universal contraception. The birth-control pill — an excess of secular democracy — has not, contrary to prophecies of Hugh Hefner and other philosophers, ushered in an era of universal erotic bliss. Quite the contrary. Without the promise (or threat, according to taste) of procreation, coitus has become mutual masturbation. It has devolved from dangerous joy to grim duty: avoiding the shame of an empty page in the appointments diary.

But the Pill has been good news for Paris Hilton and her legion of followers. Indeed, they wouldn’t exist without it. Under the ancient regime, the beautiful were accorded their rightful due. When fornication was illicit, men reasoned they might as well be hanged for a sheep as for a goat. The Pill inverted this natural order, and made plain, even ugly, women more sexually desirable than their beautiful sisters precisely because of their obvious availability. As McLuhan pointed out, men do make passes at women who wear glasses.

And so now we have Paris Hilton retiring from the field, claiming surfeit, while gorgeous, pouting Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen complains that men aren’t hitting on her. You have to laugh.

Kevin Michael Grace lives in Victoria, British Columbia. He maintains the website TheAmbler.com.