View from the Pop

Blonde Ambition

If you could ask the smartest person alive one question, what would it be? While we probably won’t be faced with that prospect anytime soon, Mary N. Naam ’05—one of the contestants slated to compete in Jeopardy’s College Championships—is in a unique position to do so. Some might expect her to hit Trebek with questions such as “Who is Antigone?” or “What is the Maginot Line?” (as she should, given that money and a Volvo are at stake), but I wish she’d ask him some of life’s more important questions: why Britney sells more records than X-Tina, or why the Olsens have taken over the world while Uncle Jesse has contributed little more to the American popscape than Rebecca Romijn’s second surname. Or perhaps, in Double Jeopardy, why I even know who Paris Hilton is. The answer might prove elusive even to Trebek: the allure is in the blonde.

Take Britney, who debuted as a borderline blonde in “…Baby One More Time,” quickly adapted to pop life and reemerged permanently blonde in “Sometimes.” Okay—perhaps “permanent is a bit of an exaggeration.” In the British Elle recently, she described her 2003 relapse into brunette-hood in classic Britneyspeak: “I was having a huge brain fart when I did the dark hair.” A huge brain fart, indeed. Britney, let me explain something: your career hasn’t stayed afloat on the strength of your voice or the profundity of your lyrics (see “Sometimes”). You’re still relevant because your “Satisfaction” striptease is forever in my Shared Folder and fantasy file, because my stomach still plays Double Dutch when I hear “I’m a Slave 4 U” and envision the shocking pink lace on leather. It’s the videos, the performances, the packaging that bring us to our knees and you to the pages of Forbes. Props for losing the brown before we lost our collective erection.

Not to imply that blonde hair is Britney’s only asset. Starting at the age of 17 in a black push-up bra, she has exposed said assets with increasing frequency on the cover of Rolling Stone. Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, on the other hand, displayed far more decorum and less flesh than Spears in their recent cover photo. This is certainly to their credit, but it skirts the issue of why Michelle Tanner was even on the cover of Rolling Stone in 2003. Did anyone seriously think the Olsens would be the break-out stars of Full House? As captains of a multimedia empire projected to gross $1.2 billion in revenue this year—enough to make even J. Glow’s jaw drop—the girls are certified teenage multimillionaires. And for what? Does anyone even remember Two of a Kind?

To be fair, Mary-Kate and Ashley aren’t the only child stars who have attempted to forge teenage careers. Raven Simone, the youngest Cosby, dropped a record of her own a few years back. But as That’s So Raven languishes in a K-Mart bargain bin somewhere in Omaha, we must accept the sad truth: absent the blonde, former child stars haven’t a prayer of retaining their fame. Sorry, Pete and Pete, the masses have spoken: 10 million girls of America want Olsen movies—and clothes and makeup and books and posters and pez dispensers—today.

But let’s not be too hasty in discrediting Britney or the Olsens. While accounting for their fame absent the blonde locks would be difficult, it’s theoretically possible (each is, after all, a triple threat in her own right—singer, dancer and actress). No such alternate explanations exist for the fame of my latest blonde obsession, hotel heiress Paris Hilton. She is so devoid of talent that she inspired equally talentless B-list comedian Jeffrey Ross to announce at Carson Daly’s Roast how proud he was to be on a stage “in front of all these extremely talented people—and the Hilton sisters.”

Ross raises a legitimate point; Paris Hilton is vacuous. She appears to have eating disorders that have yet to be documented, and she’s reportedly racking up enough bedside notches to make even Wilt Chamberlain blush. But I have a confession: her outfits make me want to do a cartwheel. If I had to die and be reincarnated, I probably would come back either as Jesus or as one of Paris Hilton’s handbags. So let’s forget about brunette Alice Walton, Wal-Mart heiress and divorcee, who probably spends her Friday nights at home eating Tostitos and watching Meg Ryan movies. It’s nothing but Dior and red carpets galore for the elder of the fabulous sisters Hilton.

So, ladies, come close and I’ll let you in on a secret. Success in this country doesn’t come from an “A” in a Mansfield class, or from an Isis punch, or even from an invite to Jeopardy (my apologies to Naam). It comes from a bottle. Do yourself a favor: run to CVS, pick up a bottle of Herbal Essences Amazon Gold, and let the sound of success ring out.

—Crimson Arts columnist Dan Gilmore can be reached at dgilmore@fas.harvard.edu.