Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Paris is (the) burning (issue)

This banner month for sleb-schadenfreude (viva ressentiment indeed!) reminded me of something I meant to blogg about when it happened, which is the penultimate episode of I'm From Rolling Stone. The contestants, you'll remember, are aspiring music journalists looking to win a paid position at the venerable rockmag. One of their last assignments is to do investigative pieces on corporations or agri-biz companies that have bad records when it comes to environmental issues, pollution etc. But while her colleague-rivals are being despatched to the far corners of the USA to inhale the reek of atomised chicken-dung dust at gigantic battery-farms and so forth, one of the team, Krystal, manages to weasel out of the assignment, even thought it's clearly crucial to the assessment that determines the winner. What she does instead is attend various red carpet events in New York City, even posing for the paparazzi herself at one. Another party she attends--or rather loiters outside--is the launch for Paris Hilton's album. Buttonholing Hilton's mother, she gushes uncontrollably about the delight and the honor of meeting her, referring to the Hiltons as "the iconic family... royalty to me" as the mother somehow manages to back away with her face, recoil without actually moving. Then Paris herself materialises, a waxy expression of frozen disdain on her face as Krystal burbles about how much she loved The Simple Life . Her parting shot, as Paris fades into the velvet-rope interior, is "I wish I could be on the show with you", her tone plangent with wistfulness.

Now perhaps one shouldn't read too much into this, but when the wanna-be-a-rock-critic competition is decided in the next episode, Krystal (early in the series, considered a prime contender) finishes last. The names are read out in reverse order, and Krystal's is first, meaning she's bottom.


Paris is the burning issue of our day, apparently. Considering the peg is ostensibly a record that came out a year ago (and tanked royally!) (okay there's been all that business with incarceration/re-incarceration etc) this makes interesting reading. The mass email that Frank Kogan sent out about this new column of his for the Las Vegas Weekly ends with the sign-off "Free Paris!" Apparently there are people who are buying and wearing--in public!--T-shirts that bear that slogan.

It's intriguing to speculate about what the motivations could possibly be. For some, it's probably a gesture of irony, a wind-up. For others, perhaps a genuine and heartfelt statement that they care about Paris as an actual living human being, feel she's been wronged (the court verdict compounding further the injustice of so many people not giving the album "a fair listen").A few people, of a Baudrillardian bent, might conceivably enjoy the giddy vertigo of voiding out the meaning of the tradition of appeals for justice starting with the word "Free..." (as in "Nelson Mandela", "Guildford Four", "George Jackson" etc)and the radical/progressive discourses they issue from. Then there are those who fancy themselves heroically free-thinking and self-questioning sorts.

Finally, you could imagine that maybe some people might buy the T-shirt as an expression of their peasant-soul, someone like Krystal with that reflex to
curtsey in front of royalty--or, its obverse, the deluded fantasy of becoming the princess who gets curtsey-ed to. Musing about all this I suddenly thought of "vogue": the vogueing subculture, Madonna's "Vogue," and also--and I swear I didn't notice at first just how aptly titled the film is--Paris Is Burning. Here's a portion of what we wrote about that documentary in The Sex Revolts:

"... In the film, a soft-spoken, willowy Hispanic teenager who's called Venus
Xtravaganza, declares that his/her dream is to be a "a spoiled rich white
girl--they get what they want whenever they want it, and they don't have to
really struggle with finances, nice things, nice clothes
." Many of the voguers
fantasise about becoming a successful model, then branching out into movies or
singing, eventually marrying a rich white man and adopting children... The voguers' fantasies are so conventional, so colonised, as to verge on a parody of straight values. They want to possess the opulence of the millionaire, or better still the rich man's wife. Their ideas of what it is to be female are as reactionary as they come--being a real woman means knowing the arts of seduction, having everything but not having to pay for it, passivity, conspicuous consumption, vanity."

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