Cecelia Blum ’24
When people ask me what my all-time favorite show is, my default answer is The Simple Life: the early aughts ‘reality’ production in which Beverly Hills socialites Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie travel around middle America, working ‘real people’ jobs and living with working-class families. Most people assume this answer is a joke, and to an extent, it is. Obviously, the show is not artistically brilliant or groundbreaking in terms of dialogue. Yet, there’s something about it that makes it more than just a fun guilty pleasure watch.
I first discovered the show through a single image I stumbled across one day whilst sifting through the dregs of the internet looking for something to soothe my aching soul. On Instagram, I found a photo of a fast-food marquee sign — you know, the ones that say things like “all-day breakfast” or “free shavacado.” Except this particular sign read “HALF PRICE ANAL SALTY WEINER BURGERS,” and something about that ridiculously juvenile sentence struck a chord with the innermost harp of my soul.
A Google search of the phrase led me to discover The Simple Life. I knew very little of Paris Hilton at this time, only that her house was repeatedly robbed by teenagers, as depicted in the godawful movie The Bling Ring. I started watching the show because it was free on Amazon Prime (this was before the world turned on dear old Jeffery Bezos, and being an Amazon Prime subscriber was not a fraught moral issue). As is the case with any good-bad show, I felt myself being pulled under by the quicksand of its easy watchability until I had finished three seasons in one weekend.
The Simple Life is downright hilarious, and not in a trying-to-be-funny-but-obviously-extremely-scripted way. Obviously, Nicole and Paris play up their perceived airhead personalities for laughs, behaving at times almost buffoonishly in the interest of comedy (see H.P.A.S.W.B above), but surprisingly enough, they also possess genuine wit. Mostly, the show is funny because Paris and Nicole are not afraid to look stupid on camera. In the same episode mentioned earlier, the girls are forced to dress in ridiculous slushie costumes and stand outside to draw in business for the town’s Sonic restaurant. In a top-10 moment of slapstick comedy, they trod across a busy street, bogged down by their stuffed cylindrical costumes and 15-inch clown shoes, struggling to maintain balance. They clomp around town in these ridiculous costumes, garnering stares from innocent townspeople who are likely unaware they are in the presence of two legends – that they are witnessing history in the making. The sequence ends with their flustered manager finding them toppled over inside a local store, unable to right themselves.
Why is The Simple Life important? Well, it’s not, but I think there’s something to be said about the right to act like an idiot. When I lament the struggles of being a teenage girl, there is one particular injustice that stands out to me as especially grievous because it is so often accepted. Teenage boys are allowed, nay encouraged, to behave in a way that is, for lack of a better word, utterly idiotic. Teenage girls are not afforded this same luxury, as we are expected to behave as young women — responsible, level-headed, disciplined. The way that Paris and Nicole embrace chaos and reject traditional female decorum is almost cathartic.
While Paris and Nicole certainly (and self-admittedly) play to their stereotypes of incompetence and weakness, they are moments — iconic moments — when we see them break from these caricatures. One of these moments comes in the form of Nicole Richie’s ruthless diatribe against a coworker who flagrantly calls her and Paris “stupid” and “dumb.”
After said man refers to them as “dumb and dumber” Nicole swiftly pulls her designer sunglasses from her eyes, stares to the center of this man’s soul, and says the following: “James, I have respect for myself, and this is my best friend and I have respect for her. And I’m being dead f*cking honest right now, that if you call me dumb or her dumb one more time — I don’t care how many steroids you take, how many egg yolks you drink, how many pushups you do — I’m being dead f*cking serious, I will beat your f*cking face in. You think I haven’t done it? I’ve done it before and I will do it again. I really don’t care, so watch your f*cking mouth.”
There’s a raw energy that this speech exudes. Not only does she read this man to absolute filth, but she also does so in a language he can understand. It’s somewhat surreal to watch a mixed-race woman threaten to beat up a white man who is twice her size.
I find the language of physical violence fascinating here because it is probably the one regard in which Nicole is actually less powerful than the man. Yet, her choice to employ a physical threat is telling. She speaks to this man in his language, and by the end, I found myself fully convinced that Nicole could and would beat this man up. Evidently, so did he, because he promptly retreated into himself like a turtle in the cold. The scene is nothing short of empowering.
If you’re looking for a show that is equal parts mind-rotting, hilarious, and surprisingly earnest, look no further than The Simple Life. If not for the plot, then at least for the trashy-glam fashions and Paris Hilton’s ASMR voice.
Image Source: Entertainment Weekly