More Than Fair
The case for Jessica Simpson, who anchors a suddenly striking county fair lineup.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Blond hair the way God meant it to be, blond like Clorox sunshine. A caviar body, if you like your caviar lacquered in barbecue sauce. Breasts like plucked guinea hens, undercooked and overstuffed. And those legs, like those of every coed in every early-’80s corduroy skirt, waving across the quad at the guy just behind you. Cheerleader legs. Jackknifing legs that split the air like seesaws. In the “Dukes of Hazzard” music video, those legs are in cowboy boots, moving like joysticks across your screen. She’s got that dumb-fox, high-maintenance pout. She’s got her own money: She can buy your house just to use the toilet. She’s one of those Easy-Bake celebrities, up from Abilene, Texas, with a fizzy pop beat on church-choir training wheels. She’s hot as fresh milk and has an OK voice, and the rest just happens around her. Luck on Red Bull.
It’s what you might picture. Sitting on the couch in her parents’ home in Encino, Calif., she’s clutching a pillow to her stomach like a kid at a sleepover. A lot of what she says echoes what you’ve heard. You ask her which star of the silver screen she most identifies with, and she says Dolly Parton. Tee hee. She’s got the oh-my-gosh nuh-uh of the small-town Texan.
Sure, Jessica Simpson is a lot like you would expect.
But look close.
Blow her off if you want. Say she’s not even that hot. Yesterday’s news. Last year’s pinup.
Now look even closer: She may have come from the same Mickey Mouse oven as her pantyless comrades, but unlike them, she is not melting. She is not checking in and out of rehab. She is not squeezing out babies like wet gremlins. She is not selling night-vision sex tapes on the Internet.
Now look north, into her eyes: Jessica Simpson is the future face of the new American job of celebrity, the first of the self-made, small-talent applicants who’ll last a Liz Taylor lifetime.
Like a good soup, it all starts with stock. Her daddy tore off his preacher cape and wheeled his Holy Roller act to Hollywood. He saw in his eldest daughter all the elements: a good body, a sweet pout, a rack you could lay an easel on to Bob Ross the Hollywood Hills. He dressed her up in sexy-doll clothes, painted her hair obvious and turned her into the ultimate prototype.
But underneath it all, the preacher’s daughter held on to her New Testament.
“I’M A NAUGHTY SWEETHEART BUT I WON’T GO INTO DETAILS.”
Maybe that was the wild card. Whereas the second the rest of the screen-strutting schoolgirls hit 17, they spread their self-tanned legs and stuck out flashing neon signs of perpetual vacancy, Simpson kept the cheerleader skirt on. She didn’t give in whole naked hog to our imaginations.
Because she wouldn’t put out, her buildup to celebrity was slower. But also steadier. She’s still here. And yes, it has to do with sexuality, but it’s a certain brand of sexuality that keeps her current. She’s sexual in a virgin-prom-queen kind of way. “I’m a naughty sweetheart,” she drawls, “but I won’t go into details.” She conjures the sensation of palming the cheerleader’s ass behind the bleachers on unwilted September afternoons. You can see it in her girlfriend face. A face that lets men know she will one day be a good mother, with the promise of postpartum sex in her eyes. She says her lips are chapped from kissing. Maybe if you got close enough to kiss them you would see the reflection in her eyes– a football flying past the iris, a cheerleader pompomming in the back of the retina.
Another reason she’s going to last: Jessica Simpson bares herself like a country song. That’s what America likes in its celebrities. Access. “I’ve come to realize that the more I censor myself, the less people relate to me,” she says. “I went through a period in my life where I kept to myself, this last year and a half. And this is the first time, as I’m making my country album right now, I’ve had to just lay it all out there and go to that place where I’m comfortable saying, ‘Here’s my world, come back in.’ I’ve tried to fit in other shoes, and it just doesn’t work out.”
Simpson seems to have learned that she may as well open up and be herself. And so she does. Asked about the most romantic thing a guy has ever done, she spills about a song John Mayer wrote for her, even though you can tell she’s foreseeing a shitstorm. She recites her favorite lines, even though boyfriend Tony Romo might go into jock shock. She talks about kissing her friends’ boyfriends.
Ask Simpson who she’s the most jealous of in Hollywood. She’ll take an excruciatingly long time to answer. You’ve touched a nerve. She blinks. Then she names another busty blond, albeit one who’s been anointed with Woody Allen’s magic gumdrop juice: Scarlett Johansson. “I really respect her, and I think she’s an unbelievable talent at a young age. Unbelievably beautiful. Plus, she gets to work with the best of the best. The best directors… ”
Yes, she wants to move up the ranks, sit with the curds of cream at the top of the hierarchy. She wants to be accepted for talent. Ask her if she can have that and she’ll give you a faux-bashful winking-deer look and say, “Um, I hope so. I hope so, one day. I’m not a person who gives up, so I’ll fight it to the end!”
You believe her. She’s in for the long haul. So she’ll continue playing the part, working her way up. She’ll be Daisy Duke, she’ll wear short shorts, she’ll be a blond and act like a ditz on camera. She won’t bitch about not being in a Woody Allen film or try to write a postmodern novel about canned tuna. Nothing will be handed to Jessica Simpson.
A late, low sun is shining through the window, an amber glow splashing across Simpson’s tawny cheek, and she’s talking about her favorite bra. She’s saying that she is wearing it.
“What is the damn name?” she asks the ceiling. She rustles around under her sweatshirt. “I can’t ever… Watch me, I’m gonna take it off… ”
Simpson knows how to kick up her accent, knows when to let her Texas twang part the chintz curtains and bare its chicken-fried leg. If you mimic her a little, if you drop your g’s and force some h’s, she’ll know what you’re doing and she’ll call you for calling her on it.
She starts removing the bra under her sweatshirt. “This is so something I would do… Um.” The bra is off and in her hands. “It’s this. I Love this.” Love is always in italics, capitalized. Bold-faced, underlined, drop-shadowed. She turns the bra over in her hands, and you know she is not thinking of the bra but of the boyfriend who likely unhooked it himself over the weekend. “This store is unbelievable. Kiki de Montparnasse. I’m definitely black lace. Red lace is cheesy but black lace, hmm… ”
This is Jessica Simpson.
Just a normal girl, a 27-year-old preacher’s daughter with a good-sized heart.
Sure, she’s a celebrity for less of a reason than some struggling genius songwriter in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., who plays to a Tuesday-night counter of overfed hicks, but at least here we’ve turned a real-live girl into something more: the lost American metaphor. A blond from Nowhere, Texas, holding a $200 bra in her hands. She knows she doesn’t deserve it because of who she is. Rather, she deserves it because of what she’s done, and there is nothing in the world more American than that.