Saturday, October 1, 2011
Dumb and ditzy?
Don’t be taken in by the packaging; these glamour babes are savvy businesswomen as well
The Indian media was all agog last week with the visit of Paris Hilton to this country. The cameras were in attendance when she arrived at Mumbai international airport at some unearthly hour. Packs of hacks followed her wherever she went in the city. And breathless reportage was according to every minute of the stay. Paris wore a sari-drape dress. Paris did a Namaste. Paris was offered a role in a Bollywood film. Paris went shopping. Paris ate a kebab. Oh well, you get the drift.
But no matter what event the media were covering, the sub-text was quite clear. Paris Hilton was this frivolous It Girl, who had pink sequins where her brains should be. She was someone who was famous for being famous, a C-class celebrity who had made a career out of posing in small, tight clothes for the gawking paparazzi. To put it plainly, she was depicted as some ditzy party girl who didn’t have anything going for her but her family name, a generous trust fund, and an impressive décolletage.
So far, so completely wrong. If we have learnt anything over the last decade, it is that it is dangerous to under-estimate Paris Hilton. She may sport a giant blonde beehive when she’s channelling her inner Marilyn Monroe, but she has a sharp business mind ticking underneath it. And though you may have missed it among all the party pictures of her frolicking with various Mumbai celebrities, Paris was here on serious business: to promote her own name brand of handbags and accessories.
In case you think this is just a case of rich girl plays at business, consider this. There are now 30 ‘Paris Hilton’ boutiques in more than a dozen countries in the world, which retail as many as 17 different product lines. She has launched as many as 11 fragrances, all of which sell on the basis of her brand name. And if you include all her business earnings along with her trust fund, she is worth a staggering 45 million dollars.
So, how has Paris done this? Why, by parlaying her image as an empty-headed celebrity into a international brand that now has better name recognition in some circles than the original Hilton group of hotels which were founded by her grandfather Conrad Hilton. And on that basis, she has launched a career in reality television, her own fashion labels, a perfume line, and God alone knows what else.
Whatever you may think of her predilection for pink, you have to admire Paris’s chutzpah. She has mastered the art of taking the most unpromising situations and turning them into drivers of positive publicity for herself. Cast your mind back to the last US Presidential campaign when John McCain poked fun at Obama by comparing him to a Z-list celebrity like Paris Hilton. Unfazed by the snub, Paris retaliated by sending out her own video message, wearing a skimpy bikini and promising to paint the White House pink if she was ever elected President. By sending herself up so brilliantly she didn’t just show that she had a sense of humour; she also showed up John McCain as being silly and outdated.
So, why do we persist in seeing Paris as a pretty airhead? Part of it is down to what I call the Legally Blonde trap. We are so conditioned to seeing pretty young blondes as dumb and dumber that we often miss the fact that they have bright minds under those gleaming tresses.
And as it is in the West, so it is in India. Only here, it’s best described as the Rakhi Sawant syndrome. Just as Paris is dismissed as a silly little thing, Rakhi is routinely derided in our media as a crass vulgarian, a talentless bimbo who is good only for carefully-orchestrated publicity stunts. But while she is undoubtedly good at that, Rakhi is also savvy enough to spin off a show-business career on the basis of that.
Just consider, for a moment, just how far she has got on the basis of very little talent and very average looks. She features regularly on prime-time television, she breaks up with her boyfriend in full view of the cameras, she hosts a programme to find herself a husband, she hits the newspaper headlines every other week with some stunt like wanting to marry Baba Ramdev. And as her celebrity quotient goes up, so does the fee she charges for every new gig.
Or take that other media darling, Mallika Sherawat, who has, quite literally, made a career out of saying outrageous things on camera. Mallika may not be the best-looking actress around or even the most talented, but she knows how to make a splash. And sometimes all you need is name recognition when Jackie Chan comes looking for a new heroine. (And sometimes one half-naked appearance on the red carpet is worth more than a dozen good roles.)
But instead of knocking these women down as dim-witted vulgarians, I think we should admire them for their ability to make the most of whatever assets nature bestowed on them. They have enough self-knowledge to know what works for them, and enough drive to work that to their best advantage.
It’s time we recognised that no matter how many dumb blonde-type jokes we crack about them, the laugh is really on us.