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Tuesday, November 8, 2005

The Two Best Summations of Ashlee Simpson's Existence We've Read This Month
Michael Idov on Slate: "Whereas sister Jessica has managed to elevate a sort of honed vacuousness to the level of physical comedy, Ashlee appears to harbor no ambition more specific than to be photographed with a microphone."

Adam Radwanski in the Post: "Sipping on a Red Bull and offering confident, polite and possibly well-rehearsed answers, she is neither especially witty nor as famously ditzy as her sister Jessica, the singing, tabloid-topping reality-TV star whose fame preceded hers. She is neither warm nor cold; neither unattractive nor unusually striking; neither as edgy as her early marketing sold her nor as sexy as the more recent efforts would suggest. She is just ... there."

Exactly.

If Joe Simpson is to be remembered for anything (though he should probably be remembered as one of the more fiendishly clever minds in the fiendishly clever world of pop music), let it be this: his recognition that a post-Watergate, post-Vietnam world dominated by reality TV and weekly tabloids is one ruled by the culture of lowered expectations.

Politicians are no longer expected to inspire (contrary to newspaper headlines, no one was really that surprised by Gomery or Scootergate). Professional athletes aren't heroes. Pop stars are rarely sources of profound inspiration and/or worship. Journalists are just opportunistic ego-maniacs (hey, wait a minute...).

Now, there are those who would suggest, of course, that this is all because culture is degrading and coarsening. That, essentially, the world is going to shit.

Of course, this is ridiculous. The world is not going to shit. The world is just getting less and less naive.

Politicians have always been corrupted by power. Professional athletes have long been fond of willing women. Pop stars have rarely been of any inherent consequence. Journalists have always struggled to reconcile their exact relationship with the truth. JFK cheated on his wife. DiMaggio hit Marilyn. Elvis died on the toilet. And so forth. Beliefs to the contrary are based on myth-making or willful blindness.

People just know better now (as a general rule, people are never given enough credit). As a result, people are more cynical. But as a result of that, people, we would wager, are also generally more willing to tolerate basic flaws and mistakes of judgment. It's not quite that people expect less. It's that they expect something closer to normal. You still have to do something admirable (cut taxes, run fast, prolong the career of Mary Hart). But you needn't be an infallible genius.

So maybe your team's wide receiver smokes a lot of weed and regular wears women's underwear. So long as he still catches a touchdown or two on the weekend, all is forgiven. So maybe your favourite pop tart can't actually sing and has been known to drunkenly accost McDonald's employees. So long as she's interesting (read: distracting and/or easily mockable) and puts out the odd hit single, everyone's a winner.

Joe Simpson, an indisputably awful father, just knew enough to take advantage of this - his daughters probably the first two modern pop stars to properly manipulate this reality.

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