The Hilton-Warhol Files

Andy Warhol’s ideas of fame are manifested in the popculture role of Paris Hilton

Keri Carlson

Fame’s a funny thing, no matter the age you live in.

Imagine this scenario: You are wearing a Strawberry Shortcake T-shirt you bought at Urban Outfitters, and you pass by a bus stop where Paris Hilton and Andy Warhol sit side-by-side on the bench.

You ask them, “What do you think of my shirt?”

Warhol tells you, “It’s great.”

Hilton says, as you might expect, “That’s hot.”

So instead, the real question becomes: Do they actually like your shirt?

Warhol, according to those close to him, would describe almost everything as great. Hilton, as seen on the popular television program “The Simple Life,” has used her coined phrase to describe anything from a Fendi bag she finds truly desirable to a muumuu dress, an item she feels is aesthetically repulsive.

And that’s what is rather genius about their responses. Maybe you genuinely like Strawberry Shortcake. Or maybe you think the cartoon is stupid and you wear the shirt precisely because it’s so girly and childish that it becomes funny.

But regardless of which is true, Warhol and Hilton’s responses fit either way. You can believe they actually like something or you can believe they find it ironic.

It’s a win-win situation.

Calculated images and responses

Hilton is often portrayed as a bimbo. Though the girl finished high school at home and won’t be attending any Ivy League schools in the near future, she deserves a bit more credit.

By all appearances, Hilton possesses a self-awareness that makes her ditziness seem at least partly calculated. There’s a reason “that’s hot” has become Hilton’s catchphrase; it lets her adore and hate something at the same time.

Like Warhol, Hilton has discovered ways to get attention and ways to get fame.

This seems especially true when comparing Hilton and Warhol’s sex lives.

Warhol was obsessed with sex in his art, especially in his films, yet he was known to be almost asexual in his personal life. He has said that he found sex to be too much trouble.

In a Rolling Stone interview, Paris told the magazine, “I’m not a sexual person, really. I don’t really care about sex. If I’m in a relationship, we don’t ever do anything really. We just watch TV. I’m too lazy.”

Both Hilton and Warhol use sex heavily in their images for the public to consume. But it is an image only for show. Both know (or knew, in Warhol’s case) that even if they are not necessarily sexual, sex is the easiest thing to sell in the public space.

As message boards will tell you, even though she is featured in an infamous sex tape, the footage shows Hilton uninspired and rather bored – she actually answers her cell phone right in the middle of it!

Creator-and-created relationship

Hilton and Warhol are far from the same person, yet their similarities do give the impression they share a creator-and-created relationship.

Warhol would probably think Hilton is great. Hilton might not even be famous without Warhol.

Warhol not only tapped into America’s obsessions, but he also changed the way our culture looks at and regards fame. More importantly, he manipulated celebrity culture into something that he could control, whether turning Jackie O into kitschy chic or giving 15 minutes to a transgender friend in one of his films. Warhol proved fame is desirable and, though not necessarily easy, still very obtainable.

“She’s famous for being famous” is often what’s said about Hilton. Now, Hilton is found on television and in movies, owns nightclubs, wrote a book, and is soon expected to release an album. But these things are a product of Hilton being famous – they did not make her a celebrity. She already was one and needed her celebrity to obtain these opportunities.

Maybe Warhol predicted this, and Hilton is the ultimate manifestation of his 15-minute notion of fame.

A celebrity is no longer limited to a single reason for his or her fame. Instead, it has reached the point that remaining fixed on a single “talent” or niche limits fame. To really be a celebrity today, you have to go beyond the old-school-Hollywood “triple threat” concept (being able to sing, dance and act) and literally do it all: sing, dance, act, write, juggle, balance spinning plates, walk over a pit of hungry lions, etc.

Hilton probably should have been regulated to her 15 minutes, but perhaps celebrity culture has advanced beyond something Warhol could have ever envisioned.

If everyone now enjoys 15 minutes in the spotlight, it simply means you have to be extra famous, with looks or money to boot, to rise above the pack.

Hilton is hated quite fiercely because she embodies this idea more than anyone. She’s not only famous for her name but for her sex appeal, catchphrases and an ever-growing multimedia empire.

Rather than getting frustrated over celebrity obsession and adoration, it’s far less stressful to simply think of Paris Hilton as great.