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Rachel Shteir Headshot

June in Paris

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Hey Paris,

As everyone knows by now, thanks to violating your DUI probation, you are now headed to jail, where you'll do half of your time or less.

As everyone also knows, your mother and your entourage have already made themselves ridiculous by complaining that you were "being singled out for who you are" to the Judge, a strategy that tanked, by the way.

There's nothing surprising about your starring role in the spin cycle of humiliation and redemption that keeps our country clean.

But I'm not writing to scold you about your behavior or dissertate on how stars have it all. I don't want you to donate your hair to sick children, agitate for global warming or even give up pole dancing. It's decades too early to play the Good Girl. But the way you play the Bad Girl does not cut it. If there were a Bad Girl Academy, I'd send you there because, frankly, my dear, you need some pointers.

Why am I going to help you? Because I believe you're an icon-wannabe. You're a poor little rich girl with an icon struggling to get out. You once claimed that you were the "iconic blonde of the decade." The fact that you retracted that claim shows that you're getting bad advice or even worse, you're suffering from a case of icon-wannabe disorder.

But now now, en route to the big house -- or in your case, the small house- -- you have the chance to make that dream come true. At least as much as anyone on American Idol does. If you follow my advice.

Full confession: whenever I give anyone who wants to be an icon advice, I always think of Bad Girl Extraordinaire, Mae West. I ask myself: "What would Mae do?"

But before we get to the advice, I have some bad news: Paris, I don't want to be a downer, but in the world of icons, you have a big strike against you: your family. Mostly, our icons come from nowhere and then their stories are of the rags-to-riches variety. Your story is more of the "decadent debutante" type and even in our money besotted era, no one has sympathy for that character.

If you work hard, maybe you can overcome that. You did get arrested, which is practically in the Icons for Dummies manual. But as the kids say today: "use it or lose it."

Okay, now for the advice. I only hope Mae would approve.

* I'm sorry to keep striking a negative note, but next time could you try for something sexier than parole violation?

Mae was arrested for obscenity for a play in 1927 after she wrote a hit play called Sex in which she starred. I know it's harder to be obscene than it used to be, but you did release and star in a soft-core porn DVD.

* Don't let your mother speak for you. The people on your team need street creds.

Mae's bootlegger friends and their lawyers couldn't get her off, either. But they did "strike a pose," to quote another blonde icon, and she was released early for good behavior anyway.

* Use your time inside to build your fan base.

Yes, in those days, riding in the "Black Maria," as they used to call the paddy wagon, meant more than it does today. But although Mae got preferential treatment because of "who she was" -- she ate with the warden and cleaned the library, which the authorities later named after her -- because she had what used to be called "the common touch," that never diminished the prisoners' adoration.

"Hello, Mae, glad to see you," they screamed as she walked by. Or did she strut by?

I know I said I wasn't going to tell you to "do good," but the Ultimate Bad Girl helped the female prisoners she met. She asked her attorney to represent one of them. Ten years after she was released, she was still helping them.

Of course, Mae was "no angel," as the title of one her movies went. She published an article in a tabloid about her time inside. (Is "The Simple Jail" in your future? )

But Mae got away with it because she became a social critic, informing Americans that prison makes poor women's lives worse. You should try it some time.

* Reinvent yourself. After prison, Mae went to Hollywood and became a mega star by writing roles for herself. At least you could try for better movies than the House of Wax.

* You could start tossing around witty sayings. (No, professing to not know what Wal-Mart is, which you once did, doesn't count.)

*Save a studio or two. Complain about the fact that you can't wear silk lingerie, both of which Mae did.

What I'm describing, you see, is the insouciance with which icons are made. Being born with a silver hotel in your mouth has nothing to do with it.