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Is Paris Hilton a Simulacrum?

 
  

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Sensual Cobra
09:13 / 19.02.04
I have to admit that "Paris Hilton" (not the person, but the walking, talking event that leaves flashbulbs scorched in her wake, etc.) fascinates me. Partly because her personality runs the spectrum from aloof to narcoleptic, but also because she's the most potent example of any entirely media-centric (though not necessarily media-created) person. I have a feeling the camera is never off for her, that there's no "Behind The Scenes with Paris Hilton," because her whole life is one long scene.

A lot of people complain, "Why is she famous? She's never DONE anything!" Which seems to be beside the point to me. I'm thinking about David Foster Wallace's essay "E Unibus Pluram," where he says something along the lines of "Television used to point to things beyond itself. Now, we've been trained not to look where the finger points, but at the finger itself." Which seems to me what celebrity is -- it no longer points toward any accomplishment, but the essence of celebrity itself. I don't think this is a new realization. Which brings me to Baudrillard's simulacrum - the copy without an original. I'd like to propose that there is no Paris Hilton, there's only a "Paris Hilton" that is famous because it's a perfect media virus (Douglas Rushkoff; meme theory). Paris, to paraphrase Baudrillard's comment on Americans, has no identity, but has very nice teeth.

Think Max Headroom, who died and was reborn in mediaspace. Paris has simply made the process voluntary.

Is this too silly, or should I start a dissertation on it?
 
 
Scrambled Password Bogus Email
11:31 / 19.02.04
I gather you've not met it?
 
 
J Mellott
15:33 / 19.02.04
Keep in mind also that there are at least two "Paris Hiltons". One is the physical building in Paris, France. The other is the media event. Paris not only fits into the simulacra mold, but also seems a living reminder to all of us that people who are filthy rich never seem to spend the money on anything of actual worth. Of course, "worth" is culturally constructed, but even with that caveat, her fiscal IQ seems to hover in the low double-digits.

If I was an heir to that kind of fortune, I'd already be trying to acquire a Gutenberg bible. As well as some more, lets say, "obscure" manuscripts...
 
 
Sensual Cobra
20:13 / 19.02.04
I've never met it. I'm not sure I'd want to, though I've seen its various cell phone numbers posted online.

I watched "No Maps For These Territories" last night. It's a documantary about William Gibson. He talks about the mediaspace that's a kind of prosthetic nervous system. I like the idea of "Paris" as the incarnation of some weird dream that's bubbled up out of the collective media-consciousness.

You can't buy Gutenburg Bibles before your dog has enough sweaters. And your dog can never have enough sweaters.
 
 
the Fool
00:33 / 20.02.04
"Television used to point to things beyond itself. Now, we've been trained not to look where the finger points, but at the finger itself."

Its funny, but I use the same thing to describe religion. I got it from architectural theory on Las Vegas, where the sign has become more important than the building it signifies. But it works equally well in describing fundamentalist literalisation of religious text and their seeming invulnerability to metaphor. But I digress.

I don't know if Paris Hilton is voluntary participant in her mediaspace rebirth but I don't think that matters. She is now commodity. Her name a revenue line. Perhaps her publicists have told her to embrace her reconstruction, who knows. There is a lot of 'who knows' surrounding this mediacreature but we all know her name and that there are videos of her nekkid. That is her claim to fame, and that her dad owns hotels and is rich. Royal families worldwide don't need anything else to be famous (most do less).
 
 
w1rebaby
00:49 / 20.02.04
I must admit that I am a bit concerned about the actress who plays the "Paris Hilton" character. I'm not convinced that these twenty-four-seven roles that seem to be popular are healthy. I hope she has good union support.
 
 
Sensual Cobra
01:09 / 20.02.04
Having read many profiles, interviews, etc., with and about her, I find it hard to believe it's totally voluntary. It might be possible she's competing in the only realm left open when you're heir to $30 million -- fame. But if so, I don't think she's thinking of it in those terms.

Interesting Rolling Stone profile

"I don't want to be Paris Hilton," she says solemnly. "What is that? Who cares? So my family owns hotels. I didn't do it. I want to be 'Paris.'"

In other words, I want to be divorced from the burden of the past, to live in the timeless Now of Celebrity. But I don't think she's acting, trying to be who people want her to be 24/7. I'm reading this book Claims To Fame: Celebrity in Contemporary Culture, and one of the big tensions in celebrity is between the idea that fame is earned and that it is an essence, a fundamental quality present in those who become famous, a quality that is recognized -- but not endowed -- by the audience. That seems to be the camp Paris falls into.
 
 
Char Aina
04:01 / 20.02.04
can you guys let on a few of your sources for these kind of ideas?
i read the names in the abstract, but i dont know where to start.

most intriguing to me are these ideas of a copy of something that has never existed and the idea of celebrity/fame being recognised rather than attained.

share?
 
 
Sensual Cobra
07:05 / 20.02.04
The basic texts I'm going from are:

Jean Baudrillard, Simulations

Baudrillard's the simulation fan. He's pretty obtuse and I think it's almost impossible to popularize his ideas, but a lot of Philip K. Dick pre-dates Baudrillard's formulations of the same thing.

Joshua Gamson, Claims to Fame: Celebrity in Contemporary Culture

This is a pretty interesting history of fame as a concept. That's where I'm getting the idea of a tension between "earned" and "innate" celebrity.

David Foster Wallace's essay, "E Unibus Pluram" is about the state of US fiction in the age of television. It originally appeared in Review of Contemporary Fiction 13:2 (Summer 1993). It's since been republished in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. In that essay, in addition to the mentioned paraphrase about looking at the finger instead of where it points, he quotes a famous scene from Don DeLillo's White Noise, where the two protaganists go to see "America's Most Photographed Farmhouse." No one can see the farmhouse without seeing it as the "Most Photographed" -- what did it look like before that? Definitely a simulacrum.

Douglas Rushkoff's Media Virus is about how ideas spread through the media. Anything on meme theory covers similar ground.

The William Gibson documentary No Maps for These Territories is pretty interesting. It's him driving across the US in the backseat of a limo, talking to the camera the whole time. Lots of ideas -- I especially like the media as prosthetic nervous system, which I think he's also mentioned on his blog.
 
 
Scrambled Password Bogus Email
11:09 / 20.02.04
Sidenote, but isn't that finger pointing at the moon thing from the Tao Te Ching?
 
 
illmatic
11:31 / 20.02.04
I don't think it's from the Tao Te Ching (might be wrong), but it's certainly an old Eastern religous metaphor.
 
 
eye landed
06:32 / 05.03.04
It may not be an old Eastern religious metaphor, but Bruce Lee certainly said it.

I think Paris' RS quote above demonstrates her capacity to be complicit in the creation of herself as a simulacrum. Instead of resting on her family's financial laurels, she wants to strike off into her own territory of being the world's most famous amateur porn star. I know she's about my age, and I think I'd be capable of becoming world-famous if I had a few million dollars.

Her skill with a paradigm will be demonstrated by how long she lasts, and how graciously she bows out of the spotlight and goes on with her real life.
 
 
lbergstr
00:24 / 06.03.04
I have a feeling the camera is never off for her, that there's no "Behind The Scenes with Paris Hilton," because her whole life is one long scene.

There's a certain honesty about that, though, or at least consistency. Is it worse to always be a superficial twit, or to be different people depending on whether or not you're under scrutiny?
 
 
Solitaire Rose as Tom Servo
20:35 / 06.03.04
I don't think it is so much that she is famous for not doing anything, but instead shows our endless appetite for people better than us to tear down. She's young, rich, pretty and didn't do anything to earn it, so the very minute she steps into the public spotlight, she is torn down by pictures of her not wearing underwear when getting out of limos, her boyfriend gives people tapes of her having sex with him, and she is in a tawdry little reality show where she is treated as a monkey in a zoo for us to watch.

It's as if we no longer NEED heros to tear down to feel better about ourselves, we just create people to be torn down as soon as they appear, not waiting for the time when the stumble.

Pop culture on fast forward due to our lack of an attention span.
 
 
BlankX23
17:21 / 13.03.04
Marx had an interesting conception of the fetish that relates to this matter. His idea of the fetish was something that originally had value on the basis of its relations to other things, but then came to be valued above, beyond, and outside of those relations. The main example he provided I think was gold. Originally gold was valued because of its rarity. Now it is valued simply because it is gold outside of any relations it might have in the real world. Same could be said for gold.
 
 
Peach Pie
21:34 / 14.03.04
from the functional to the procedural. It's the price of progress.
 
 
ONLY NICE THINGS
00:04 / 15.03.04
Sorry, secret goldfish, but what does that mean, in the case of Paris Hilton?

To go back to the idea of being famous but without actually "doing" anything - that is, not being a famous actor, or a famous model or a famous dancer, it sort of strikes me that not having to waste time modeling or acting makes the pursuit of celebrtiy far easier for a Paris Hilton. After all, one can only spend a certain amount of time watching films or attending fashion shows, but you can be interested in the lives of people freed from the necessity of a day job and blessed with huge amounts of money all the time. Paris hIlton is eminently well-suited to providing a focus for this sort of interest, as far as I can tell - she has no need ever to worry about money, and thus is able to be shameless, outlandish and bizarre in a way that even a successful actor might not be able to for fear of losing his or her livelihood, and is clearly at the same time a bizarre subject for curiosity. Possibly, Paris Hilton is the kind of celebrity we need - one whose career extends from her celebrity, rather than the other way around.

Which reminds me of a suggestion that the number of "famous for being famous" people is linked to economic conditions. When you have high employment, high confidence and a high standard of living, you can consume, so the celebrities are designed to sell things - cinema tickets, books, CDs and so on. Low confidence, low employment, low disposable income - you need celebrities that will not be excluded by the demand for capital expenditure - so, people whose environment is tabloids, gossip magazines, red tops, terrestrial TV... celebrities who can be experienced inexpensively. In those terms, the burgeoning of Hiltons and Jordans and Jodie Marshlands suggests not opulence but impending doom...
 
 
katykent
14:41 / 01.04.04
I am currently conducting an undergraduate dissertation on this very topic, the title being 'In contemporary celebrity culture, has personality finally replaced reality'. Daniel Boorstins notion of pseudo people 'well known for their well knowness' has been a guiding concept, in conjunction with the 'types of celebrity' sited in Chris Rojeks 'Celebrity'. I am conducting primary research in relation to celebriy gossip magazines, and the types of celebrities who seem to be more popular these days. Any other references or ideas on this topic would be very useful to me, especially any journal articles that relate to this idea....?
 
 
Tom Coates
17:30 / 18.04.04
Not offhand, Katy, but it occurs to me that you might know some other people who might be interested in participating in this discussion. Is there any chance you could drop them an e-mail and invite them along?
 
 
Quartermass
18:51 / 23.04.04
I think that the idea of Paris as simulacrum definately works. We are discussing Paris as 'media personality' rather than Paris is a real person - how could we? (unless any of you are friends with her? Unlikely)

However, I think it is important to realize that Paris Hilton is a real, live, human being, and as such, there is an 'original copy'. It is her fame (or the 'essence' of it) that is the similacrum.

But if we are just talking about 'Celebrity', the real person doesn't exist. I would argue that 'celebrity' has always been far removed from achievement - except in a very few cases. While it is true that some celebrities 'achieve' that status (perhaps 'boy wonder' Quentin Tarantino, who is mostly famous for making really good movies), isn't most of it gained through other means?

Paris is famous - not only because she is rich kid - but also because she is beautiful, and combined with her sister (the oft forgotten Nikki), she is intriguing because she has what we all want - beauty and a life of leisure.

How different is this from Royalty (Prince William?); what about celebrity from being a novelty (William Hung anyone?); or from a freak accident or a lawsuit (Micheal Jackson's "accuser", the woman who was allegedly raped by Kobe Bryant?); or the new batch of 'reality tv' celebrities (who, it might be argued, have achieved less than Paris)?



As always though, this is just a 'half thought,' so feel free to help me expand on this idea.
 
 
Henningjohnathan
20:38 / 23.04.04
I think touches on the basic debate over the reality of memes. I'm sure everyone here is familiar with memetic theory as described by Dawkins, but Tom Wolfe in his essays HOOKING UP makes the point that memes are all theory and no more real than the Oedipus Complex or God.

The thing is that there is a Paris Hilton who is a living, breathing, shitting human being. The question is: does she have anything to do with the phenomenon that surrounds her?

I remember reading a section in Mircae Eliade's THE MYTH OF THE ETERNAL RETURN which describes a 20th century folklorists attempt to track down the source of an Eastern European myth.

In the tale, a fairy falls in love with a mortal man, but when she discovers that he's engaged to be married, the fairy lures the man to the edge of a cliff and throws or drives him over the side to his death.

The folklorist, to his surprise, discovered that the fiance was still alive (though very old). he asked her about the story and she said that it was quite common for young men to accidentally fall off that cliff on their way back from the fields. It was a simple accident.

However, when the folklorist confronted the rest of the community with her story, they contended that she was too old and simply forgot about the fairy.

The idea is that celebrity, royalty, myth all connect to some primal need, some desire to create a mythic other world in which our subconscious impulses can exist and interreact.

Paris Hilton is a simulacrum only if you know her through the media we use to form this other world (Tabloid, Television, etc.) and as a result (as you noted earlier) the media itself focuses on "the finger" because that is how it creates this storyland.
 
 
Saturn's nod
12:36 / 24.10.06
Tannhauser wrote: To go back to the idea of being famous but without actually "doing" anything - that is, not being a famous actor, or a famous model or a famous dancer, it sort of strikes me that not having to waste time modeling or acting makes the pursuit of celebrtiy far easier for a Paris Hilton.

My systems biology keeps spotting this pattern - I was thinking about it in relation to ethical behaviour in politics recently. Anyone who is working as an actor as well as maintaining a media profile has two costs, two skill sets, two contact networks to keep sharp; someone who only maintains a media profile has only one cost, one skill set, one network. So if a cost-benefit analysis is iterated several times the person whose only occupation is to keep themselves in other people's minds will get ahead by having specialised in keeping themselves in other peoples' minds.

So perhaps not so much a sign of doom as an inevitable consequence of a system of massed human attention which is inadequately tuned towards checking whether it is making progress towards its own interests? (which is pointing Marx/Freire/revolutionary-activity-wards in my mind, YMMV obviously.)
 
 
Future Perfect
16:38 / 24.10.06
To go back to the idea of being famous but without actually "doing" anything - that is, not being a famous actor, or a famous model or a famous dancer, it sort of strikes me that not having to waste time modeling or acting makes the pursuit of celebrtiy far easier for a Paris Hilton.

I think Haus is spot on here and there is, to me, an interesting offshoot. That is, when we look back to past celebrity culture, is it really true that it was people's actor-ness or model-ness or dancer-ness that made them celebrities? I'd hazard a guess that, whilst you can probably be famous now for not doing anything in particular, I wonder whether the particular you were doing back in the day really was the important factor in your celebrity.

Were the the most celebrious of celebrities the best, most popular, most respected people in their fields or were they, like today, the ones that plastered their image where they could, who were involved in salacious goings, seen at the hottest parties, associated with the hottest cultural figures of their time?
 
 
Good Intentions
05:06 / 25.10.06
I must say that it seems to me that there is a rather fundamental misunderstanding concerning simulation and simulacra as Baudrillard described them, either on my part or on the part of the popular understanding of a simulacra as something different from the real thing. The simulacra is the real thing, just not very real. It's like faking a bank robbery, to use Baudrillard's example - you might think it's a huge joke, with your masks and your guns you won't fire (whether they are fakes or real ones "for the sake of accuracy" that you won't fire) but everybody else will treat it as a real robbery, thereby making your fake robbery a very, very dangerous thing to do - just as dangeorus as a real robbery. It walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and that is the extent of reality.

Paris Hilton is a celebrity, not the imitation of one. Celebrity seems to me the ecstatic form of recognition (where a thesis isn't met with it's antithesis, but taken to a further extreme) just like pornography is to sex and terrorism is to violence.
 
 
All Acting Regiment
14:09 / 25.10.06
I think Haus is spot on here and there is, to me, an interesting offshoot. That is, when we look back to past celebrity culture, is it really true that it was people's actor-ness or model-ness or dancer-ness that made them celebrities? I'd hazard a guess that, whilst you can probably be famous now for not doing anything in particular, I wonder whether the particular you were doing back in the day really was the important factor in your celebrity.

Also spot on, I think. And one to remember to people who constantly accuse contemporary culture of being vain, vaccuous and etcetera without specific evidence. In this case I'm particularly thinking of people who are, in one way or another, against pop music, be it opera fans who hate anything post 1900 or Pink Floyd fans who hate life.
 
 
STOATIE LIEKS CHOCOLATE MILK
16:59 / 25.10.06
That is, when we look back to past celebrity culture, is it really true that it was people's actor-ness or model-ness or dancer-ness that made them celebrities? I'd hazard a guess that, whilst you can probably be famous now for not doing anything in particular, I wonder whether the particular you were doing back in the day really was the important factor in your celebrity.

I would guess that until comparatively recently, most "celebrities" would have been so because they were either royal, or the Earl of somewhere-or-other. Whether that counts as "doing" is another matter, really... maybe all Paris is doing is going back to this model- you are born into fame, whether as a prince or princess or a rich society heiress with an A-list phonebook.
 
 
ONLY NICE THINGS
17:20 / 25.10.06
It's like faking a bank robbery, to use Baudrillard's example - you might think it's a huge joke, with your masks and your guns you won't fire (whether they are fakes or real ones "for the sake of accuracy" that you won't fire) but everybody else will treat it as a real robbery, thereby making your fake robbery a very, very dangerous thing to do - just as dangeorus as a real robbery.

I don't think that's right though - that is, I don't think that's what Baudrillard is saying. This from Simulacra and Simulations, which should really be the name of an RPG:

But the difficulty is in proportion to the peril. How to feign a violation and put it to the test? Go and simulate a theft in a large department store: how do you convince the security guards that it is a simulated theft? There is no "objective" difference: the same gestures and the same signs exist as for a real theft; in fact the signs incline neither to one side nor the other. As far as the established order is concerned, they are always of the order of the real.

Go and organize a fake hold up. Be sure to check that your weapons are harmless, and take the most trustworthy hostage, so that no life is in danger (otherwise you risk committing an offence). Demand ransom, and arrange it so that the operation creates the greatest commotion possible. In brief, stay close to the "truth", so as to test the reaction of the apparatus to a perfect simulation. But you won't succeed: the web of art)ficial signs will be inextricably mixed up with real elements (a police officer will really shoot on sight; a bank customer will faint and die of a heart attack; they will really turn the phoney ransom over to you). In brief, you will unwittingly find yourself immediately in the real, one of whose functions is precisely to devour every attempt at simulation, to reduce everything to some reality: that's exactly how the established order is, well before institutions and justice come into play.


That is, you can't simulate a hold-up, or rather all hold-ups are simulated in the sense that they are replications of a codified series of interactions and expectations characteristic of a hold-up, but you can't create a simulated hold-up, because reality makes it real. A simulacrum is a replication of something that doesn't have a real existence any more - a copy the connection of which to the thing of which it is a copy has been broken. So, perhaps the simulacrum of a bank robbery would be one performed entirely under controlled conditions - where every participant in or witness to the action was aware that this was not actually a hold-up. Or, perhaps more interestingly, believed that it was not. More interesting than Baudrillard's formulation - try committing a simulated crime in a world which believes that the actions of crime connote real crime - is maybe trying to commit a crime which nobody thinks is a crime. I'm reminded of the "sip-ins", and the way that they played with the way that the same act of serving three or more men drinks was or was not a criminal offence.

Paris Hilton, meanwhile, seems a victimless crime. But is she a simulacrum? To say that she is seems to presuppose that there is a real or pure celebrity which she is in some way recreating but in a way devoid of the values with which celebrity interacts with the world, or similar. Or possibly that she is a simulacrum in the sense that she is a celebrity, but not actually a human being, maybe - that is, that she's like the hold-up where everybody believes there is no hold-up; she is a Paris Hilton where everybody believes there is no Paris Hilton...
 
 
Good Intentions
01:58 / 26.10.06
That is, you can't simulate a hold-up, or rather all hold-ups are simulated in the sense that they are replications of a codified series of interactions and expectations characteristic of a hold-up, but you can't create a simulated hold-up, because reality makes it real.
As far as I can see, we agree about what a hold-up is as a reality and as a simulacra. But how large is the gap between the copy of the thing and the real thing? An exact copy is hyperreal, but Hilton isn't an exact copy, is she? I don't think there is any difference between the two, except the ever-diminishing reality-principle which plays no part in interpersonal relationships and for which a perfectly serviceable simulacrum exists, namely celebrity culture.

I think it's much more interesting to view celebrety culture, with Paris Hilton as a pure example, as an ecstatic form of entertainment.

Anyway, I don't think it's a problem or even a perjorative that Paris Hilton, or anything else, is a simulacrum.

(And I think "The Ecstacy of Communication" should be the name of an MP3 blog)
 
 
Good Intentions
01:58 / 26.10.06
Or possibly that she is a simulacrum in the sense that she is a celebrity, but not actually a human being, maybe - that is, that she's like the hold-up where everybody believes there is no hold-up; she is a Paris Hilton where everybody believes there is no Paris Hilton...

I think this is it.
 
 
ONLY NICE THINGS
01:19 / 28.10.06
Oh! And events have reminded me of Chantelle Houghton. Normally I would not think well of events for this, but in this case it might be interesting.

Chantelle Houghton was a professional Paris Hilton impersonator, who was elevated to the ranks of celebrity by pretending to be a celebrity on Celebrity Big Brother. None of the other celebrities competing realised that she was not a celebrity, the coin of the word being so debased that many of them might have struggled to remember themselves. She has parlayed that into a form of celebrity based on being a "normal girl" - but one who happens to show up on television, looking like Paris Hilton. Which is odd.
 
 
STOATIE LIEKS CHOCOLATE MILK
01:47 / 28.10.06
That's really funny... I was thinking that (about Chantelle) myself this afternoon, and had come to this thread to say pretty much what you just did...
 
 
stabbystabby
12:21 / 06.11.06
I like this analysis:

Thatís the real reason Paris Hilton is really famous. Because she is the queen of links.

When Paris first came on the scene with her own user generated sex video she used that attention to create a career. Hereís how she did it.

Though she hired a publicist to get her on Page 6 She never really talked about herself. She talked about other people. She would mention the designers of her clothes, the club she was going to, who made the sweater for her dog, all without any guarantee of any return. She just threw out links.

It didnít take long for designers and club owners to realize that Paris Hilton was a walking billboard. So they embraced her. She paid attention to them, so they paid attention to her.


...

Whenever she tries to promote herself, it falls flat. Books, records, movies, etc. donít work for Paris. Because sheís actually a platform. Like Digg and YouTube.



from here: link
 
 
Good Intentions
02:05 / 07.11.06
I don't buy that.
 
 
charrellz
02:55 / 08.11.06
Good Intentions, could you explain a little why you don't buy that? What exactly is problematic with it? (not trying to take a side on this, just wondering what you were thinking here)
 
 
Regrettable Juvenilia
00:23 / 09.11.06
I think the important thing is that we've established that this young woman is not a human being, she doesn't exist, she's a simulacrum. Not a real person like you or I or Douglas Rushkoff. After all, she is in a video having sex, and real people don't do that, only avatars generated by the pan-collective dreammind of the unconscious zeitgeist.
 
  

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