Two ways to make a Jessica Simpson video.

Two ways to make a Jessica Simpson video.

Two ways to make a Jessica Simpson video.

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July 28 2006 4:59 PM

Fans on Film

Two ways to make a Jessica Simpson video.

The No. 2 video on the Yahoo! Music chart advertises Jessica Simpson's strangely tolerable new single, "A Public Affair." To be precise, it is the "fans-only" version of "A Public Affair." The original edition, which sits in 29th place on Yahoo!—the version met with the greedy delectation of the pink-and-canary faction of the entertainment press—is fairly laborious. A familiar video of the type that MTV will happily tell you it's been airing for a quarter-century, it features professional talent prancing around in a demigodlike fashion. The advent of the fans-only video, however, finds the talent acting both in collusion and in competition with its own worshipers.

The old-school edition of "A Public Affair" begins with Simpson—who has benefited as much as anyone from reality TV—preening in the rear of a limousine with Christina Applegate, Christina Milian, and Eva Longoria. The starlets each seem to have run up a four-figure bill at the hairdresser's and each expresses giddy longing to be ogled by the public eye. They pine for the paparazzi badly and bitchily degrade their unfamous chauffer. "I wanna be so famous that every time I fall in love Oprah does a special about it," says Simpson. (This material fails as self-satire, by the way, because it seems more or less congruent with reality.) The posse debouches from the limo into a roller rink. There, various figures go skating and indulge in dream sequences about the others on the scene, including one in which Simpson fellates an ice cream cone like she really means it. In conclusion, the heroine meets a cute boy.

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The fans-only version, on the other hand, is comprised entirely of footage of everyday Jessica Simpson fans dancing around. In general, the fans dance solo in front of cameras they've set up themselves in bedrooms or middle-class living rooms or dance studios. I'd guess that their median age is 17 or 19, though some are quite young—the diapered toddler, for instance, and the little girl in the tutu. The choreography is nothing special. Charmingly, the clip recalls those adolescent days of wholesome self-abandon. Less charmingly, its aesthetic recalls a synthesis of Calvin Klein ads of decades past and American Apparel ads of last week. Comparisons to MySpace photos are inevitable, but MySpace self-portraitists are trying to communicate ideas about themselves. Here, you only come away with a clearer idea of Jessica Simpson.

This collage of self-reflexive, self-abusing citizens—an entertainment experience on par with watching minnows in a fishbowl, something that's hypnotizing and mundane—is a three-and-a-half-minute proof of what should be obvious: Simpson is without style. The performers who seem to inspire the most captivating fan-generated clips are those with real power to their performances. When you click forth the fans-only version of Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie," you're at least watching regular people goof around in a recognizable fashion. While it's the same basic idea as "A Public Affair"—home-schooled divas of both sexes show off; headboards and mantelpieces and dinette sets cozily float in the background—everyone styles herself to create an unequivocally Shakiran facsimile. (Often, this involves rapid twitching; occasionally, a belly chain.) Likewise, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' fanatic-featuring clip for "Cheated Hearts"—a non-Yahoo! product that cuts footage of the arty band in with that of its arty fans—finds plain Janes playing it way up, emulating Karen O's practiced poses and ecstatic pogos. This seems closer to the true spirit of the fans-only fantasy—merging into both your hero and a celebrity unto your little self.

Troy Patterson is Slate’s writer at large and a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine.