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The Simple Life Aint so Simple

Nicholas Powers Sep 22, 2004

Is life simple? If your answer is yes or no, you’ve thought about it too much. Buddhism teaches that to answer a question is to already assume its reality, thereby trapping oneself in an illusion. If that’s true, then Fox’s “The Simple Life 2: Road Trip” is pure Dalai Lama as Nicole Ritchie and Paris Hilton, two blissed-out blondes, embark on a mission to educate the American Bible Belt on the futility of work and obedience.

Impossibly thin, they wobble on high heels through swamp and farmland, causing chaos with a single flirtatious wink. I was prepared to hate them, but after a few episodes, I began worshiping them. In New York one encounters many gurus with serene smiles and spine-cracking yoga positions who promise nirvana, but none I’ve met have the focus of Nicole and Paris. Our blonde Buddhas find the loopholes in any work schedule to order pizza, go on joy rides, bake in tanning salons, shop, and giggle at the gawking bystanders left behind. Where do they go? Into the camera, where mortals are magnified into minor deities. You can see their divinity in the way girls are ready to up and follow them, leaving home or disobeying their families for a chance to wear the halo of fame that glows around Nicole and Paris.

I was about to leave my own family to follow them when I read a line by Karl Marx: “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” That spoiled it. “The Simple Life” purports to portray two rich girls who simplify their lives and work the grimy toilet-cleaning jobs that most of us have. Of course, they never actually do this work. The joke instead is on the working class, who host Nicole and Paris show after show, unable to control them or even make a contract with them. If they are supposed to peel shrimp, they order it fully baked from a store. If they are supposed to clean a tub at a hotel, they pretend to be guests, calling in a maid to do the work for them. It is funny. Except when the Latina maid comes in, she is old and shy and tired. She moves with a slow weariness that is frightening because it cannot be hidden. She tries to quietly do their job but the weight of her exhaustion is so obvious that the giggling of Nicole and Paris sounds like sadistic insane glee. Of course scholars have traced the connection between the mad and the holy, neither of which live in the human world, neither of whom answer to us. We love them, hate them, worship them and imprison them because they don’t. The ruling elite sent Nicole and Paris to journey through the rural working class, to film the rich and the poor rubbing elbows, not to re-arrange the hierarchy but to re-affirm it. The show’s humor is supposed to lie in the dichotomy between their carefree antics and the strained playalong angst of people who must live with the consequences. The show asks, is life simple? I guess it is if, like Nicole and Paris, you aren’t forced to answer the question.

—Nicholas Powers