You have probably heard about Jessica Simpson’s tangle with canned tuna. It happened during the premiere episode of MTV’s “Newlyweds,” a reality show chronicling the early days of pop semi-diva Simpson’s marriage to Nick Lachey. As Jessica pondered the meal she was enjoying in front of the TV,
she asked her husband, “Is this chicken, what I have, or is this fish?” As it turned out, she was confused by the label that read, as she recalled it, “Chicken by the Sea.”
JESSICA’S APPARENT STUPIDITY has now spawned a secondary phenomenon: the armchair analysis of whether it’s possible that she — or anyone — is as dumb as she looks. She recently showed up on “The Late Show with David
Letterman,” admitting to being a ditz but chalking it up to a brand of appeal she tried to sell as reminiscent of Lucille Ball.
Clearly, this is not the case. It’s not as if tuna is the only food to trip her up. She once declined an order of Buffalo wings with the fairly grave statement that she doesn’t eat buffalo.
Jessica is also distinguished by the appalling depths of her inexperience. Sometimes watching her is not so much like reading a tabloid as it is like watching “The Jungle Book.” If it were possible for a little girl to be isolated from society and raised in the wild, not by wolves but by a pack of French poodles, she might turn out something like Jessica, who simply has no
concept of what happens during the daily life of a normal person.
Tired of having to hang up her own towels, she asks a friend whether there are special “maids for celebrities.” Called upon to empty a vase of dead flowers into the trash, she falls apart. She can’t imagine hanging pictures on the wall of her own home without the help of a designer.
In fact, when Nick does a little low-key decorating in the new house while she’s away, Jessica is irritated primarily because she is unable to figure out whether she likes it or not. She takes the position that she and Nick are unqualified to decide what should go where. They don’t know what looks good, she argues. She returns to her mantra, which she repeats over and over
in a variety of situations: “Can’t we hire someone?”
It’s true that reality television is often little more than an opportunity to watch a fool act like a fool, and Jessica is no exception. Still, this kind of entertainment is never as tempting as when it indulgently hints to us that we are right about everything. Yes, the nice person does often
finish last. Yes, if you don’t scam your fellow man, he will scam you first.
Yes, some people will do anything for a buck. Yes, the nice guy does often get dumped for the creep.
And in the case of “Newlyweds,” we are reassured that celebrity is not a meritocracy. That fame at 16, had we experienced it, might have twisted us into freakish balloon animals until we couldn’t so much as buy groceries without a personal assistant. That it’s just as well we never hit it big.