Jessica Simpson: Accidental Anthropologist–To the Stars!
March 24, 2010
I’ve now seen two episodes of the Jessica Simpson “Price of Beauty” show, and I have to say that I don’t quite know what to make of it. (Make what you will of my watching it.) It’s generally lighthearted, though every episode features a segment with a woman permanently scarred by pursuing beauty at all costs. These bits come comfortably in the middle of each episode, before and after various revelry. I also don’t know what to make of her friend “Cacee” (pronounced Casey, she seems to be testing the bounds of signifiers), while Jessica herself comes across as likable if bland. This is better than likable and stupid, although traces of idiocracy abound.
But mostly I like the show as an experiment in accidental anthropology. Jessica sets out to see how the rest of the world views beauty, documenting her experiences. She’s refreshingly unburdened by the critique of Western definitions set out in Said’s Orientalism: Jessica documents her others without worrying about her own complicity in the enterprise of representation. Nor does she worry about the Spivakian critique that her representation obscures cultural diversity. Instead, she happily recognizes that beauty is culturally constructed–and that even she isn’t beautiful in all parts of the world (She’s too short and curvy to make it as a full-time Parisian fashion model!)–and sets out to document difference. It’s not a grand statement in the cause of cultural determinism, though it is a return to an earlier type of ethnography, and a great start for Cable TV.
I can’t help but thinking, though, that the best part of the show is that success could lead to other celebrities accidentally taking on the roll of academicians. Maybe a show with David Cross as an accidental sociologist, deliberately sending out comical surveys to document responses; or Larry David as an accidental deconstructor, challenging the clear meanings of literary texts? Hey it could happen!