This post is inspired by reality TV! Specifically Ananya Panday and Paris Hilton in context of their (successful powerful) families, and their social status as very attractive young famous women. But does that mean they accomplished nothing? Or we should treat them like they accomplished nothing? How do we make fair judgements?
Years ago I read an online comment about Gwyneth Paltrow, “born on 3rd and thinks she scored a home run” which I think is PERFECT. If you don’t know American baseball, a home run is when you hit a ball so well that you round all the bases in one go, first then second then third and finally home. But if you are Gwyneth Paltrow, you stroll from 3rd to home and think you did the same as the once in a million skill and talent effort of the person who hit the ball and ran all the bases. There’s probably a similar metaphor for other sports, I just don’t know it.
Anyway, the point is she wasn’t “born” on home. She had to do that last leg of the journey to success on her own. But she thinks that is all there is, she thinks because she did that last little bit she should be treated the same as folks who started with nothing and nowhere and made it all the way.
Gwyneth Paltrow I feel like I know how to handle. She is talented, yes. She has achieved success on her own merit, yes. But ultimately there is this sort of gloss of unawareness and floating above the commonfolk-ness that makes me think she truly does not understand how easy her life has been and how little of it she has earned for herself.
But let’s look at Alia Bhatt. She had a leg up in her chosen career, for sure. But I think she has worked and worked and worked and earned her own place. To go back to baseball, I would say she was born on 3rd but then after reaching home hit her own home run and rounded the bases again purely on her own merit. Like, she used her advantage as a jumping off point and then just kept flying higher and higher.
Both of these are examples of nepotism, but that is not the only privilege they had going into their career. Both women are white (Alia is “white” for India), both of them are naturally beautiful, both of them started their careers extremely young. The privileged beautiful young white woman. Second only to the White Man in being handed things they do not deserve.
And this brings me to Paris Hilton. And also Britney Spears, and Ananya Panday in India. Oh, and Taylor Swift! And Janhvi Kapoor! If you are a beautiful young white woman, it is very easy for you to be dehumanized. To become a punchline that everyone can stomp on because you are so enviable, because you have everything, because you never worked for it.
And now I am watching a recent Paris Hilton reality TV show, and following along the Britney Spears story, and seeing Ananya and her family in Bollywood Wives, and it’s making me go “hey! These are PEOPLE!” That’s disturbing. That I had forgotten they were people until it was forced in front of my face.
Paris Hilton is the one I am now fascinated with. First, in the past couple of years she has gone public with her advocacy against the “Troubled Teen” industry. And revealed that she spent 18 months at a school in Provo Utah that has multiple documented stories of horrific abuse, while she was a teenager, right before she became famous. If you are American and were around in the 90s, I assume you know about this? There was at least one kid from my church who was sent off to these camps, I was just reminded of it when he died recently at age 35. Parents were encouraged to send their children off to be “fixed” for such ills as smoking marijuana, using bad language, dying their hair black, or in the case of Paris Hilton, sneaking out at night. And these places were truly the worst of the worst. Emotional, physical, and sexual abuse was accepted, hundreds of kids died from things like dehydration or starvation, none of the teachers were trained, just a nightmare. And of course the kids were told their parents approved all this, and the parents were told to trust the system and not listen to their kids. Maybe there were some schools that were good and some teachers that were good, but if your basic business plan is “give me your child so I can scare them straight and you don’t have to deal with them”, abuse is kind of baked in.
So we look at Paris Hilton in the early 2000s, this thin blonde rich teenage girl who can’t say anything without using a baby voice and is constantly making faces for the camera and holding her toy dog and think “what a total caricature of a person”. And now I am looking back and thinking “she was 19! Why did no one wonder what was going on with her? Why was no one trying to help her?” And she herself is now explaining that she was terrified of ever saying or doing the wrong thing or revealing her true self, while at the same time desperate to gain independence so she didn’t have to rely on her parents. And, she didn’t say this but now I am thinking it, maybe that little toy dog we all laughed at was an emotional support animal?
And I’m looking at Paris Hilton now who is a freakin’ GENIUS. She’s quietly become a major business mogul, is fully independent of her family and everyone else, and essentially pulled an Alia Bhatt and ran round the bases again all on her own. Maybe the Hilton name got her noticed to begin with, but what she built it into is all her.
This is, in American culture, the ultimate in famous-for-being-famous, universal punching bag, no one cares kind of person. And now I am forced to acknowledge that she is way more than just famous-for-being-famous, and that she went through some real legitimate trauma, way worse than all those people who are making fun of her for being out of touch ever experienced.
Now let’s look at Jhanvi Kapoor. I find the goldfish like memory of the public so frustrating with her. When Sridevi died, everyone acknowledged that Jhanvi was completely traumatized, was in a horrible position, and rightfully deserved pity (yes, even though she was rich and young and beautiful). And then SO QUICKLY it turned back into being allowed to make her a punching bag.
There’s something about beautiful young “white” woman, there’s just an odd “fair game, not real people” vibe about them. I should say there is a similar vibe about lots of other groups as well, but specifically this group also has very specific vibe. If you can present yourself as “serious not pretty” you can get away with stuff. Or, “older than her years, really more of a mature adult”. Or, “off beat and artistic”. But just being someone who presents as “I am young, I am pretty, I like clothes, I like fun, and I am happy to make all these things part of my celebrity” leads to a very specific kind of backlash.
For myself, I am just going to try to be more aware of my attitudes in future, because I shouldn’t be dehumanizing anyone no matter their privilege. Britney Spears should have been released from the control of her father years ago. Paris Hilton should not have felt she had to wait to age 40 to start talking publicly about her trauma. The reason nothing happened was because they were getting a clear message from the world “we do not care about your pain, you are not real to us”.