On Living Life Philosophically: Getting All Eudaimonic with Paris Hilton

I wouldn’t normally confess to being a celebrity watcher. I think mostly because I have a philosophy degree and philosophers are supposed to be above That. I wouldn’t admit that I do more than glance over the pages of People, Star, or US Weekly. I have to admit, I do. I am one of the millions of willing/unwilling consumers of American popular culture. And yes, I probably know more about the stars han I know about people that I’ve known my entire life. It seems that no matter how hard I try, the lives of the very rich, fabulously famous, beautiful ones are unavoidable. But, instead of wasting valuable mental energy lamenting the fact that I am a devotee of the bling-bling world of celebrityness, I have decided that I would use the rich and famous as a source of life lessons and philosophic enlightenment. what have I learned from watching celebrities? My answer: how to achieve eudaimonia. My teacher: Paris Hilton. Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics addresses the type of character that is most conductive to living The Good Life. A virtuous character is necessary if an individual wants to conduct his life in a manner that is sucessful and satisfying. Virues such as self-control and temperance must be cultivated in individuals and in our social institutions. We must be steered onto the right path if we are to develop a virtuous character and achieve the life of philosophic fufillment or happiness. In short, we can only achieve happiness when we are virtuous. Now, one might say, “I am happy, but I am nowhere virtuous”, in which case, I’d probably agree with you. However, Aristotle does not define “happiness” in the same sense that we or the average celebrity ( is there really such a thing as an “average” celebrity?) means when we say that we are happy. Happiness, according to the popular definition, is often and almost exclusively applied in the material sense. We often say that we are happy if we possess material wealth, expensive car, a big, expensive boob job, or a big, expensive reality TV show. But, according to Aristotle, despite what we may believe ( or what we see on TV) these are not the things that make us Happy . It takes no strain of the eyes to see that, the Happy Life as seen on TV is not only devoid of virtuous people but missing real Happiness as well. So, what has this to do with Paris Hilton? The answer is this: Paris Hilton, despite what the average philosopher may believe ( and there is such a thing as an average philosopher), serves a purpose. If we can learn anything from Ms. Hilton, it is this: a big, expensive life is exactly what the eudaimonic life is not. I was enlightened to this fact while watching Entertainment Tonight. This is how: If you asked me what makes Paris Hilton famous, I would say that Paris Hilton is famous because she is famous. My fellow philosophers may scoff at this point, but fame, according to society’s happiness meter, is the first step on the path to eternal HAPPINESS. Popular belief holds that public adoration not only produces Happiness, but is HAPPINESS. Paris HIlton is not only famous, she’s rich, good-looking, and has a talent that extends to amateur filmmaking and a recording career. Paris Hilton’s life is filled with pleasure, and according to the average Joe (well, me anyway), the pleasured life is what makes us HAPPY. Aristotle writes that most people lead lives the equate happiness with pleasure. Unfortunately, Aristotle says that this kind of life is one of “the most vulgar type”. We might all agree that a person who spends their time pursuing pleasure– excessive drinking, all-night partying, or making DIY porn — is about the most vulgar life as one can live. Aristotle asserts that people who live their lives devoted to pleasure are “slaves to their tastes”, and live the lives of beasts. Now, how many of us has proclaimed that our dog has morse sense than the average famous person? How many of us notice that celebrities seem to follow every silly trend or crackpot religion, newest rehab fad, or get busted for DUI for the fifth time? How many of us have concluded that the life that is supposed to bring the greatest Happiness doesn’t seem to be happy at all? That is exactly my point. Although it may be tremendous fun, a life devoted to mere pleasure cannot steer us onto the right path. And, if Aristotle is correct, if we are not on the right path we cannot achieve a life of philosophic fufillment. Ultimately, we must conclude that despite all appearances, celebrities including Paris Hilton lead unHappy, un-eudaimonic lives. I arrived at that conclusion around the time the Paris experienced her own moment of (sort-of) philosophic enlightenment. I call this type “spending a little time behind bars”. Remember when Paris was released from a 23-day stint in a Los Angeles jail for violating the terms of her probation? I watched the TV coverage of Paris weeping in the back of a police cruiser on her way to the pen. It was obvious that she wasn’t happy — in any sense of the word. I wondered how someone who has everything that should make a person happy (and HAPPY) end up in such a miserable situation? Aristotle’s answer came to me loud and clear: Paris Hilton was not a virtuous person. Despite the fact that she’s happy by popular standards, Paris lacked the proper character that would have kept her from breaking the law. Paris Hilton’s lack of Aristotelian virtuous moral character not only led her to sully her reputation, but also lead to her legal troubles as well. Aristotle might have said that, if Paris had spent more time developing the right moral character, she might have been living the eudaimonic — if not jail free life. Instead of being seen as a empty-headed “celebutante”, her name might have been uttered with the same reverence when we say the names Plato, Kant, and Spinoza. What we learn from Paris is that the material things that we think will make us happy — fame, wealth, adoration — do not, and more importantly, cannot make us happy. But, Paris may have found enlightment after all. Following her release from the bighouse, Paris appeared on the Larry King Show, where she announced that she was giving up her life of partying, and devoting her life to philanthropy. She said that she had read the BIble during her time in the poke, and that she had learned (i.e. gained wisdom) from her time up the river. I don’t think that I’ve seen Paris feeding the poor or building schools in Africa lately, but she’s announced her intention to change, and I know that change takes time (none of us got our philosophy degrees overnight, did we?). I know that recently she sought out a new BFF, and I know that finding new friends is often a sign of change. I’m sure the one she will find will undoubtedly be philosophically inclined. I know that once a person has experienced philosophic enlightment, that it is nearly impossible to turn away from it. One knows that devoting one’s life to philanthropic causes is something that virtuous people do. So I say that Paris is on the right path to The Good Life. So get ready my friends, Paris Hilton may indeed become one of us — a philosopher! All I can say is kudos!

Divine, Icon of Feminism

Like many women of my generation, I tend to shy away from the moniker “feminist”. I think it has something to do do with the successful characterization (some would say smear) of feminists as man-hating, non-shaven pits having, too fat that no guy would date you, so you’re resentful and bitter because you sit at home with your cats while the hot chicks get dates, so you’re better off dating other women, but not the “lipstick” lesbians but the women who look like truck drivers just like you sort of ladies. By the way, I own a dog, not cats. Anyway, some women feel uncomfortable with the idea of calling themselves feminists because of the stygma associated with the title. It seems to, by it’s definition, radiate a certain hostility to men. I think it was Gloria Steinem who said that a woman needed a man like a fish needed a bicycle. But then, she was hot enough to be a Playboy bunny. Some women, on the other hand, feel that the so-called feminist “icons” don’t quite fit the type of woman that they feel represents them, either ideologically or physically. I must say that I (think I) fit in the latter. I’ve been watching the films of John Waters for some time now. Although John Waters is gay, and therefore assumed unable to understand the mindset of the typical heterosexual female, I think that he and the late Glen Milstead created the greatest feminist icon of all time — Divine. Not only is Divine an icon of feminism, but a sterling example of Existentialist feminism. Before I start my argument as to why I feel that Divine is an example of Existentialist feminism, I’d like to get this one thing straight: I’m not an expert on the history of John Waters’ Dreamland studios, nor on the evolution of the character Divine. Nor am I an expert on Existentialism ( This is strange, because I’d most likely say that I am an existentialist. I am an existentialist who hates reading existentialist philosophy. It’s boring). But, as a casual observer of popular culture and a part-time philosopher, from the point of view of my half-baked analysis, the persona created by Glen Milstead and feminism, in particular, the Existentialist feminism of Simone de Beauvior, seem to fit. Both challenged our perception femininity itself and demanded that we ask “what is a woman?” In her book The Second Sex, de Beauvior states that women needed to overcome the barriers inposed on women by society and psychology. Women, de Beauvior writes, have always been defined by the male-dominated society as “the other”, a role which women accepted, often against their own best interests.. Women were attached to men for their identity, and identified not with other women, but with the social class into which they were assigned by men. According to de Beauvior, our identity, who we are, is a manifestation of the role we are assigned by society. De Beauvior states that the tradtional or classic view of women gave women “no past, no history, no religion of our own”. De Beauvior insisted the the differences between men and women were rooted in our sociology, not in our biology. De Beauvior states that we must make a distincton between gender and sex (gender, according to de Beauvior, is a social convention. Sex, on the other hand, is biological), and that the social perception of “gender” dictated the role that women are assigned — wives, mothers, servants of men. De Beauvior held that the biological distinction between sex, was insignificant so far as our sex should dictate what social roles individuals should or can occupy. De Beauvior’s existentialist view held that individuals determine the meaning of their own lives and reality, and that our true potential can only be sought if we are free to choose for ourselves. Assigned social roles such as gender interfere with the individual’s ability to choose for their own lives. Because gender is a social construct, de Beauvior says, we are left to ponder the nature of feminity itself. Femininity, according to de Beauvior, is connected to a social construct of what it “means” to be a woman. De Beauvior asks, what, then does it mean to be a woman? If what is feminine is purely socially constructed, de Beauvior asserts, then some females are not women. I hold that, if womanhood is a social construct, then some males are or can be women. As the influence of Postmodernism on popular culture spread during the 1960s, the rise of feminism and growing gay rights movements challenged the conventional notions of gender and sexual identity. The Velvet Underground, the New York Dolls, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Alice Cooper, and David Bowie all featured male frontmen wearing make-up or dressed completely in women’s clothing. Feminists burned their bras, demanded abortion rights and took the pill, thus allowing them the same sexual freedom previously (exclusively) enjoyed by men. As the 1960s came to a close, the lines between male and female social roles began to blur. By the 1980s, it was not uncommon to see moms at work and stay-at-home dads. Now, as the 21st century gets underway, we’ve seen the emergence of the female equivalents of the “dirty old man”, the MILF and the cougar, older women who actively pursue younger men. But what does this have to do with Divine? Divine, like de Beauvior, sought to deconstruct the traditional role (and expectation) of womanhood. Each suggests that we ask ourselves to challenge and abandon our own perceptions of femininity and womanhood. Like de Beauvior, Divine challenges what is socially, aesthetically ( and even biologically) acceptable of women, and once again leads us to ask, what is a woman? John Waters said that before Divine, drag queens were “squares” who were trying to imitate the “traditional” image of womanhood and femininity. “They were trying to be their mothers or Miss America”, Waters said. Waters stated that he wanted Divine to defy the notion of what a drag queen was supposed to look like. Waters stated that he wanted Divine to be the “Godzilla of drag queens” and that he wanted other drag queens to “run in tears”. Like the heterosexual community, the gay community, including drag queens, were suject to the same gender role expectations. Despite the fact that they were not women, drag queens, even as they defied what was expected of men, were still bound by what they believed was expected of women. They wanted to conform to what a “real” woman was supposed to look like — namely, that, despite the fact that they were men, they were expected to look like beauty queens and act with grace and femininity. Beauty queens , by convention, are not fat. The late Van Smith, who created the look for Divine most notably in the film Pink Flamingos, stated that the style he created for Divine was “aggressive, in your face” and that he was not interested in having Divine pass for a pretty girl. Just as feminists of the late 60s and early 70s were defying the tradtional perceptions of womanly beauty by refusing to shave their underarms and legs, taking on male-dominated occupations, and wearing unisex clothing, Divine not only challenged traditional heterosexual standards of beauty, but drag queen perceptions as well. What Smith created instead, was a woman who, despite her weight, despite the fact that she would never be mistaken for a real woman, flaunted her body with tight-fitting clothes, peek-a-boo dresses, and eventually, according to Waters, scars. “Rather than consealing fat, there it is”, Smith stated. According to Smith, Divine’s fat was sexy, “depending how you look at it”. In Waters’ movies, Divine is unapologetically sexual; she knows that she is sexy and is unhindered by either her non-feminine looks or her weight. Divine lives by her own rules on her own terms, whether she commits crime for beauty, lives in a trailer with her mentally infirm mother (proudly proclaiming that she is the filthiest person alive), or is sexually ravished by a giant lobster. Freud states that all women are motivated by a want to have a penis of their own. Freud’s theory of female “penis envy” creates a strange question when thinking about Divine. I feel that it through the removal of a penis (not Divine’s but another character), that Divine becomes de Beauvior’s vision of feminism. First, Divine is biologically male. But, the characters Divine plays in Waters’ films are undoubtedly female. His characters Babs Johnson, Dawn Davenport, Francine Fishpaw, and Edna Turnblad are all mothers (in fact, we see Dawn Davenport give birth to her daughter “Taffy” in Female Trouble). Yet, in Pink Flamingos, Divine participates in the castration of a male character, and gleefully laughs at his cries of pain when he is emasculated. I wonder, could this be interpreted as Divine’s total rejection of his own masculinity? (not Glen Milstead, mind you, but Divine). It seems to me that the emasculation scene in Pink Flamingos was, perhaps inintentionally, a declaration that Divine is female. No man in his right mind, would ever participate in the removal of another man’s sexual organs. As the butler, “Channing” pleads for mercy, Divine shows him no mercy. There is no sly wink at the camera. No suggestion that Divine is in reality a man. In the film, Divine sides with the two female prisoners in the pit, not with the butler. She allows the two prisoners to remove the butler’s penis as an act of solidarity with her fellow women. Through this act, I believe, Divine not only assumes the mantle of a full woman ( a truly existential act) but also commits an act of true feminist defiance, striking a man down at his source. She allows the emasculation not because she wants a penis of her own (and not because she already has one of her own), but because the butler deserved that particular punishment. Like many feminists, Divine has no need for a penis herself, she is completely at peace with herself and her womanhood ( that she defines on her own terms). She is a woman, criminal, a mother, and as Dawn Davenport describes herself, a “shitkicker”. Whether she is wearing a tight hot pink fishtail dress or mystic heel pumps, or scars on her face, Divine is a real woman, undefined by what is is expected to be. As she declares in Pink Flamingos, she will be queen one day, and her coronation will be celebrated all over the world. And that she is, in a single word, Divine. And that, is what every woman is.

Post-twenty, Teenage Poetry

I used to write really atrocious poetry when I was in high school. I mean, really bad. I think it’s a phase that every teenager who takes himself way too seroiusly goes through. You know, to seem deep or something to that effect. Navel gazing as a sign of wisdom and maturity…To be called an “old soul”. The problem is, though, is that even though I understand that, when I was 18 I was angry for absolutely no reason at all, I’m still holding on to a fair amount of cynicism. To be honest, I’m holding on to alot more than a fair amount of cynicism. Last night, I was thumbing through some of my old philosophy term papers, looking for something to write about. I was thumbing through a epistemology term paper when I noticed a single page of looseleaf notebook paper sandwiched between a couple of pages of my term paper. It was the last poem that I wrote. I wrote it while that whole unpleasantness about hurricane Katrina was going on. And, typical to form, it was atrocious. But, I thought that I’d put it here. So, in lieu of an actual blog entry, I present crappy poetry: “if you can’t, don’t” i’m not gonna talk politics. I’m not gonna protest, or walk out, or demonstrate I’m not gonna sit-in And I’m not gonna write a letter, or send an e-mail, or make a phone call. I’m not going to do anything. I’m going to sit here in my comfy chair Look at my unused Ab-Rocker, and Be utterly, entirely AMERICAN. I’m gonna overeat and not get sleep And watch too much TV. And not give a good goddamn about anyone who hasn’t been On Extra! or on Entertainment Tonight Or seen on YouTube. It’s an E! Entertainment Television world out there And it don’t matter If it ain’t beautiful. therefore, I’m not going to do a damn thing. NOT ONE GODDAMN THING I’m not gonna care while the war is raging I’m not gonna care while children are starving Or when women are being gang-raped in Bosnia Or mutilated in Sudan, or while people are being Ethnically cleansed, bunker bombed, collaterally damaged, Or shocked or awed or otherwise wiped off the face of this earth. ‘Cause it just don’t matter to me anymore. Or just that it never did. I can watch floods in New Orleans And pretend to pity the so poor and the so black. I can watch genocide in Darfur And not even offer a piss-poor prayer to GOD in hopes that Maybe he’ll watch over them… Ican stare at the TV for hours And turn it off and still Have a nice day. I can do this because an American can do this. And besides, I live in a pretty good neighborhood.