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Fox cashes in with 'The Simple Life'

<strong><font face="Arial">But is Paris Hilton really as dim as she appears to be?</font></strong></p>
/ Source: Reuters

There is little that we as a culture appreciate more than chopping a celebrity down to size — particularly when said celebrity is an impossibly rich, seemingly dense, uncommonly spoiled heiress who apparently doesn’t know her backside from a hole in Wal-Mart.

So it is that the country has so embraced the plight of the pampered Paris (Hilton, that is). “The Simple Life,” Fox’s divertingly contrived, quasi-reality, comic take on “Green Acres” that finds Hilton and best friend Nicole Richie (daughter of Lionel) forced to rough it for five weeks with an Arkansas farm family, drew some healthy numbers out of the starting gate last week.

It turns out the response to the show was more than a bit predictable. For one thing, there was the 3-year-old clip of Hilton having sex with her then-boyfriend being forwarded all over the Internet last month. For many forms of TV, that kind of prepublicity might have proven disastrous. But not this one.Was this a messy coincidence — or something far more choreographed? Whether the notorious vid and its timing was designed as a de facto promo vehicle for the series is less important than the fact it transformed Hilton overnight into an icon of lifestyles of the rich and famous, 21st century-style.

“The Simple Life” is everything we might have expected, and less: Hilton and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Richie taking giggly pride in being ignorant of even the most basic workings of the outside world.

Besides somehow being unfamiliar with the world’s biggest retailer — which is perhaps a bit like having never been treated to the sight of water — Hilton was also not acquainted with the term “generic,” as viewers discovered in the first two episodes of “Simple Life” last week.Hilton’s guess that Wal-Mart sold things for “walls” was an instant sound bite du jour, and one has to presume that the gaping knowledge gap is genuine. I mean, who would agree to appear this dumb?

On the other hand, Hilton has surely generated more mainstream press attention for her little primetime bonbon than it had any right to spawn. So perhaps the joke is on all of us.

Does rich equal stupid?
At least Hilton appears to come by her ignorance organically — unlike model-turned-heiress Anna Nicole Smith, whose unwieldy, stuporous act made one fear for her health (mental and otherwise). Hilton’s brand of common-sense shortfall really is God’s way of saying that her family has too much money.

It also seems to be endemic of the upper-class species. MTV’s new reality-based series “Rich Girls” similarly follows the exploits of a pair of filthy-rich femmes fatales, in this case Ally Hilfiger (designer Tommy’s daughter) and luggage heiress Jaime Gleicher. Like Hilton and Richie, they seem to be in a state of perpetual cluelessness, as if their privileged existence has somehow sapped them of the ability to absorb.

There is apparently an inverse correlation between the amount of money to which a young woman has access and the speed at which her neurons are permitted to fire. In that sense, “The Simple Life” is positively educational.

At least we can laugh at Hilton’s cow-milking, chicken-plucking dilemmas without anything akin to guilt. That isn’t so with Anna Nicole, whose antics have produced at least as much unease as it has laughter.

This is the same reason why CBS’ “Real Beverly Hillbillies” project is unlikely ever to emerge from development limbo. It was a misguided idea to begin with, because making a mockery of hayseeds is as un-American as dipping your french fries in mayonnaise.

By contrast, slicing the rich and famous into bite-size morsels is considered good wholesome fun and an essential part of a balanced entertainment diet. So in other words, all is as it should be down on the farm.