Last of the summer wine .. who’s hottest: Paris Hilton or Beyonce Knowles?

Aug 29th, 2006 | By | Category: Entertainment, Ottawa Scene

With the serious summer of 2006 now in its very last gasps it is time for a concluding burst of wild abandon, before settling back into the post-Labour-Day grind. And I have been asked to (briefly) discuss who is the hottest – Paris Hilton or Beyonc Knowles?

Other names could be added. Osama bin Laden is said to prefer Whitney Houston. Or how about, e.g., Halle Berry, Mariah Carey, Nelly Furtado, Angelina Jolie, Lindsay Lohan, Jennifer Lopez, or Britney Spears? But that would make the discussion far too long. We live in an over-complex world that yearns for binary choices, short and sweet.

The Case for Paris Hilton ..

Paris Hilton herself would probably say that she is the hottest woman in America today. And in some gross statistical sense she may be right.

It has recently been reported, e.g., that “Paris Hilton is the most overrated celebrity in the world according to the latest Guinness Book Of World Records … According to the annual publication Hilton is now the most famous person for no reason in a new poll.”

Similarly, last year marked “the first time in the history of The Lycos 50 year-end list [of The Top 100 search terms of 2005′], that three women make up the top three most-searched terms of the year.” And “Paris Hilton” took “the honors”as the “Web’s Most Wanted Woman.”

(All told, the top 10 search terms of 2005 on this list were, in descending order: Paris Hilton, Pamela Anderson, Britney Spears, Poker, Dragonball, Jennifer Lopez, WWE, Pokemon, Playstation, and Hurricane Katrina. Beyonc Knowles alas placed a mere 46th – after Halloween [40] and Madonna [45], but before Avril Lavigne [48] and the IRS [52].)

Even beyond the gross statistics there is no denying that Paris Hilton has a certain appeal. Physically, insofar as you can judge from photographs and TV and movie cameras, she is provocative rather than perfect. (Where Halle Berry, e.g., is perfect.) And part of this flows from how brazenly yet demurely she plays the poor little rich hotel heiress, who has to struggle harder than you or I for her own worldly success.

The allegedly controversial “sex tape of 2003” – a less than three-minute home video clip in which she apparently rather indifferently serviced “none other than Richard Salomon, an independent movie producer and online gambling entrepreneur … and estranged husband of … actress Shannen Doherty” – is a case in point. This is the kind of publicity stunt that America (or even “North America”) in its Second Gilded Age of the early 21st century secretly quite deeply admires, no matter how much anyone may protest in public.

It is too easy to put Paris Hilton down for having no substantive talent. She has apparently appeared in as many as eight (or more?) movies (not counting the “sex tape of 2003”) and four “seasons” of The Simple Life TV series. Yet early this year one critic opined: “Paris Hilton … couldn’t act in a snuff film. She is completely useless in every way. In the real world, she would be taking notes at a high school play and blowing the drama teacher in the bathroom for a chance to hold the cue cards.”

This summer (almost as I write in fact) “Paris Hilton, author, actress, model and al-Qaeda recruitment poster girl, has issued a debut album” as a pop singer as well. The album is called Paris, and it has just been reviewed by Allison Stewart in the Washington Post: “You may … understand that there is some debate as to whether Paris is actually any good. It isn’t …

“You may be asking yourself [Ms. Stewart goes on]: Can Paris Hilton actually sing? … Even after repeat listens to Paris … it’s tough to tell. Suffice it to say that if you had access to expensive producers, a full complement of NSA-worthy voice-altering equipment and Fat Joe, you probably could have made it yourself.”

Yet this same point may capture much of Paris Hilton’s authentic charm for the mass audience. (Which in this case, I should make clear, definitely includes me.)

It is endearing to watch someone get away in public with making something that you could probably have made yourself. And it is encouraging. Other women might reasonably think: if some not totally beautiful girl with as little talent as Paris Hilton can become the hottest thing in America, with just the right money and the right moves, then I could too.’

Finally, in her review of Paris Allison Stewart does not point out that Paris Hilton has also just released her “debut single” video – a cute little summertime tune called Stars Are Blind.’ You can hear it all over the net at the moment. (A sign that the Parisian support network mobilized by the Hilton hotel fortune does have the right stuff?)

To sum the case for Paris Hilton up, a great old American Standard tune of the 1930s and 1940s once tellingly asked “Will I ever find / The girl in my mind / The one who is My Ideal?” Even a mere few decades of adult experience will convince you that this is a foolish question at best. But humans are a fallen species, and it does remain compelling, even in old age. (For perhaps most men – and even some women?)

Paris does not have a good or even a professionally acceptable singing voice. But the new musical technology can easily conquer all that. And she does know how to make her voice sound sexy. During one semi-magical moment in “Stars Are Blind” – having just burst into colour with her long blond hair and tanned body parts moving wildly in the sun – she sings “You know the gods are crazy / You know the stars are blind / You show me real love baby / I’ll show you mine.” When you hear this, for at least a few seconds you may suddenly think that at last you have found the girl in your mind, who is your ideal.

Of course it can’t last and it is all an illusion. But it can make you smile for a bit. Unlike so much of the other news of the world in the summer of 2006.

But it really oughta be Beyonc Knowles ..

From another point of view, with more spiritual depth and intellectual weight and heft, Paris Hilton may, statistically again, actually be the hottest thing in America today. But that finally is only because she (and her team) can mobilize the kind of Parisian support network made possible by the Hilton hotel fortune. And she is again, an illusion in the end.

The real hottest thing in America today is Beyonc Knowles – queen of the real musical group Destiny’s Child, who was cute and credible in Mike Myers’s Goldmember, and managed “a decent acting performance to go with some superb vocals” in The Fighting Temptations.

As such things are still judged in many parts of America today Beyonc is of course black, while Paris is white. And since there are more white than black people in the mass audience, Paris is bound to be hotter statistically. Yet Beyonc Knowles’s appeal transcends any definition of a strictly black community, in the USA, North America, “the West,” or even the world at large.

Even in just a somewhat more rational and altogether free and democratic global village than the one we apparently inhabit at the moment, Beyonc Knowles ought to and would be the hottest thing in America today, even in the statistical numbers (that can sometimes be manipulated too easily by vast agglomerations of ready cash?).

Beyonc’s act, for one thing, is more forward-looking and authentically encouraging than Paris Hilton’s. In his autobiography with Quincy Troupe, e.g., the late (and very black) modern jazz great Miles Davis had some harsh things to say about the African American woman of his day (19261991).

As he put it himself: “I think it’s because of their hair and the brainwashing this country has put on them about not having long, blond, straight hair, so they believe they’re not beautiful – but they are … Most white women tend to treat a man better than a black woman does, because most white women don’t have those hangups that black women have. I know this is going to make a lot of black women mad but that’s just the way I see it.”

It is one of Beyonc Knowles’s great virtues to have confronted this particular African American man’s critique of the traditional African American woman head on – in the kind of legendary can-do spirit you might expect from a girl born and raised in Houston, Texas. And it has no doubt helped quite a lot in this endeavor that her mother is said to own the best hairdressing salon in Houston. (Like Paris Beyonc has a kind of family fortune behind her. Her father also left a six-figure sales job to manage her career, with some now undeniable success.)

So, at her most elemental, Beyonc is the black girl with blond hair – or blondish , usually (in at least a similiar mode to Paris Hilton). If getting your hair done in various alluring blond shades in your mother’s high technological hair salon is what it takes for a black girl to mobilize the many and diverse present-day followers of Miles Davis – black, white, and all colours, hues, races, religions, and sexual orientations in between – why not? It is the American Standard way.

And, whatever the smoke and mirrors may be, the ultimate virtue is that, in presenting her version of the ideal girl in your mind, Beyonc is also contributing to the endless debate of the great democracy – in her own nicely amusing way. (And where Paris Hilton is just amusing.)

To sharpen the point a little more, the mixed-media look Beyonc Knowles presents can also be read as at least one version of a contemporary mixed-race look (albeit as energized by progressive African American culture today, or something like that). And the biggest issue here was intriguingly reviewed, to take a local case I know about first-hand, in a recent article in the Toronto Star by Andrew Chung, on the growing numbers of mixed-race urbanites in assorted North American cities, in the new 21st century age of the global village, like it or not.

Like Paris Hilton, in the very late summer of 2006 Beyonc has a new album hitting the mass market soon. And she does of course have a real voice, and some authentic artistic collaborators. But if you believe the gossip columns what she is most looking forward to herself right now is her impending $3 million wedding, at which she will finally marry Jay-Z, an already quite wealthy giant of young black pop music in America today.

There are those who have wondered aloud whether getting married to Jay-Z would finally be good for Beyonc’s career. And, if you believe the gossip columns again, until recently they have included her manager father.

After spending some time reviewing various related items on the Net, my own briefly considered tentative view was that any such marriage could finally lead to interesting music, that would clinch Beyonc’s true status as the hottest thing in America, even in the gross statistics.

According to the very latest reports, however, Beyonc herself has now declared that she is not in fact getting married any time soon, despite what the gossip columns say:  “I wish I could talk to whoever wrote that, because it’s fabulous … Somebody is so creative that they should plan weddings, because they have a great one planned for me and Jay! It even has a menu with caviar. I don’t even like caviar!”  

In any case, it is time to sum everything up. Both Beyonc and Paris were born in 1981 – Paris in February in New York City, and Beyonc in September in Houston, Texas. Their full names are Beyonc Giselle Knowles and Paris Whitney Hilton. Beyonc clocks in as “Ethnicity: Black; Sexual orientation: Straight; Occupation: Musician, Actor; Nationality: United States.” Paris is: “Ethnicity: White; Sexual orientation: Bisexual; Occupation: Socialite, Pornstar; Nationality: United States.”

As to who is the hottest today, viewed with spiritual depth and intellectual weight and heft, it really is and ought to be Beyonc Knowles. But because we mere humans still live in a highly imperfect world, according to the current gross statistics Paris Hilton is the hottest thing, if you’re finally going to put your money where your mouth is. Yet do not despair. In a real free and democratic society these things can change. And whoever you are going to vote for yourself, just make sure you do get out and vote on November 7, 2006. (Unless you’re a Canadian of course. In which case all you can do is wait and watch – and then vote for more or less the same more or less good guys in your own next election, which is probably going to be pretty soon enough too?)

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