THE BACK PAGES

Unfortunately, Paris is not burning

Women out of control are the stuff of myth— and so is the desire to see her behind bars

ROSALIND MILES June 4 2007
THE BACK PAGES

Unfortunately, Paris is not burning

Women out of control are the stuff of myth— and so is the desire to see her behind bars

ROSALIND MILES June 4 2007

Unfortunately, Paris is not burning

fame

Women out of control are the stuff of myth— and so is the desire to see her behind bars

ROSALIND MILES

Will she, won’t she? Watching Paris Hilton lead the world’s media like donkeys by the end of their tenderest parts has been a master class in how to tease those with a nose for news. Paris cut enough capers to keep us all guessing, and left the gossips slavering for more. What will she do next? This much we know: in June she’ll go to jail for driving while her licence was suspended.

Samuel Johnson observed martyrdom was the only way to get fame without achievement. He never met Paris. She’s a potent sexual metaphor for an age when desirability depends on fame, not physical attraction. Not pretty, nor exotically ugly enough to transcend classification, Paris has the same intense look of a small rodent as Victoria Beckham, another mistress of ferocious consumerism and ferrety self-absorption, and if her face has had surgical improvement, how can we tell?

Body-wise, everyone knows the score. The silicone enhancement of the Hilton balcon was an international architectural event, lasciviously chronicled with close-ups of before and after in every celebrity rag. Except, guess what, it all came down to a very expensive bra. The gams are good enough to speak for themselves, but in Parisworld, no leg is complete without mile-high heels: which the world hopes she’ll soon be forced to shed.

“I’m glad she’s going to do the time,” harrumphed Jane Fonda, one-time sex kitten and no stranger to causing aggravation herself. In one TV poll, 60,000 others voted the same way. Female humiliation is the staple of myth, literature and pornography, and the desire to see women punished predates Biblical Eve. What finer spectacle than to see

Paris cast down like painted Jezebel, when the dogs in the street ate all but the palms of her hands?

Paris’s antics also feed another atavistic preoccupation about women, the fear of their slipperiness, their endless ability to reconfigure themselves. There’s a new Paris for every day of the week, or even every hour. Paris herself has enthusiastically fed this JudeoChristian archetype by playing the “ditz defence”: “I didn’t know what I was doing!” Imagine a man trying to get away with that.

Women out of the control of men are the stuff of patriarchal nightmares, and Paris is single, sexual and unashamed. The fascination and terror this arouses can be seen everywhere, from the delicately gross sketches of Egon Schiele to Arabic texts like The Perfumed Garden, which suggests that men beware “the insatiable al-farj,” the crack into which man could disappear. “I have seen their vanity,” rants one 13th-century Arab scribe about females accompanying crusader armies. This could be Paris, no?

Attraction, revulsion, and the desire to see the taming of this shrew are the themes of the current media circus. But the Paris roadshow would not be racketing merrily round the world without tireless input from the girl herself. In truth, she’s not a good performer, cringe-making in front of a camera. And she’s

a lousy actress, awarded the accolade of “best scream” in horror movies for a yodel reportedly dubbed in by someone else. But what a player, shuffling roles like playing cards, from a Teona Helmsley disregard (“The rules of little people don’t apply to me”) to a tragic Cinderella making her tearful exit (“Midnight already! And nobody told me!!”).

Recent appearances have included The Penitent, all in white, with downcast eyes and prayerful hands. Next it was Shell-Shocked Victim, too “emotionally distraught and traumatized,” her lawyers said, to respond to a US$ 10-million lawsuit against her, outstanding since 2005. What is she this week?

To some, Paris will always be the startling dim-wit and borderline illiterate who had millions chortling over her spelling when she asked fans to “sihn” her petition. She boasted in court that she has “people” to deal with all those bothersome words that come her way. And no one saw this, and corrected it?

But this is Being Paris. It’s all in the game. Attention-seekers like Paris are modern victims, lost souls circling the universe like space debris. And when everything is a game, what is real? Beneath all the tinsel, lace and paint there’s an abandoned child mouthing in the darkness of her world, “Mom? Dad? Is anybody there?”

But don’t cry for this Miss Argentina. There’s nothing tougher than a little girl who knows what she wants. Prison or no, she’ll be back. Whatever happens, we’ll always have Paris. M