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Barbara Lippert's Critique: Let Paris Be Paris

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The last time I saw Paris, she was in a Guess? print ad, sunbathing, thighs akimbo, Tinkerbell between her legs (that's her miniature hairless Chihuahua, not the fairy beam of light). Pardon the snarky tone, but I seem to become a weirdo sexist pig when I write about Ms. Hilton. I suppose that's because I have Paris envy—who wouldn't be jealous of a high-school-dropout heiress who gets paid in the five figures to show up at parties in Japan? In the past three years, she of the long, lean body and fabulous hair extensions has built a multimillion-dollar empire and brand—a book, perfume, restaurants, an album, a starring role in House of Wax (even if it is with a pole through her head) and her own Fox TV show—all from performing a single signature sex act on a home video that she claims was stolen. (From little acorns, mighty oaks grow.)

As such, she might be the feminist anti-Christ, but it's wrong to say she's famous merely for being famous. After watching this much-heralded Carl's Jr. spot, it becomes clear that this Simple Life intern does have a discrete talent. She's been in TV spots before, but they were forgettable—she was just another annoying B-list celebrity. The genius of this spot is the way it zeroes in on her very real skill set. I think it's fair to say that rubbing, licking, hosing, soaping and getting down on hands and knees to eat a whopper of a burger is the woman's métier in a nutshell. Here she's the Einstein of gorging on all fours, and Jenna Jameson couldn't do it better.

But this is not merely Porn Lite. Clearly, an attempt was made to "class up" the joint in a way that would make Hugh Hefner (who himself recently starred in a series of Carl's Jr. ads) proud. She's washing a Bentley, after all, in a designer bathing suit with rhinestone clasps that's really more for evening—she wears a diamond necklace, and it's the real bling. (Still, the thong-suit is to practical swimwear what J. Lo's famous scarf dress was to burkas.) And the act was choreographed by Robin Antin, one of the creators of the Pussycat Dolls, the postmodern burlesque act that is all the rage these days with the L.A. celebrity crowd, and has included guest performances by Pamela Anderson, Carmen Elektra and, for some reason, Kelly Ripa. (In contemporary pole-dance culture, Ripa would seem to be a regular Gloria Steinem.)

I'm straining to talk about the action in these 30 seconds in a way that's not dripping with double entendres, but the truth is, it fits neatly into both the history of Carl's Jr. ads and that of female car-washing scenes.

In the 10 years that Mendelsohn Zien has been on the account, Carl's Jr.'s business has improved mightily, as it became the bad boy of fast food with spots that were the TV equivalent of the laddie mags. (Maxim even did a spread on the women of Carl's Jr.) Targeted at motorcycle-riding, beer-drinking young men, the humongous, artery-clogging burgers are as mightily un-P.C. as the blatant provocation used to promote them. One recent ad showed a young woman riding a mechanical bull, rocking back and forth as she scarfed down the burger—licking the drips on her hand, etc. Another featured a woman demonstrating how she could put her entire hand in her mouth. Shocking, yes; offensive, some of them; but what made them bearable was a certain knowingness in the way they were done—that client and agency both acknowledged the joke.

As for the car-wash scenes, of course the woman who started it all was Joy Harmon, who wielded the buff rag in that iconic scene in Cool Hand Luke, a superb movie starring Paul Newman. He plays an anti-hero/prisoner in the still-segregated South of the 1940s, and while the movie conveyed some brutal truths about the nature of rebellion and the individual, it also included some great entertainment, such as this supremely voyeuristic scene. Old Joy knew how to polish a bumper—in a skimpy (and later, very wet) dress, she lathers up not only the dirty sedan but the entire chain gang watching from across the road. The camera lingers lovingly on every sexual metaphor, from her drinking from the hose to the final soapy, well, you get it.

The scene set the stage for countless soft-drink spots (sanitized fun with hoses was big in the late '70s and early '80s) and, not surprisingly, was recreated by Edie to get the plumber's attention on Desperate Housewives. The difference here is that Paris is not out in broad daylight—she's in a garage, and the opening shot is all legs, as she comes through the door and drops her fur boa.

The music, a sped-up cover version of "I Love Paris," works perfectly with the film, especially the "drizzles" and "sizzles" parts. But the cleverest choice of all here is that Paris never speaks. When all the washing and self-hosing in the name of sex and spicy burgers with jalopeño sauce is done, we get a title card that says, "That's hot."

And that's what makes this spot a classic. It's the beautifully directed, lit, cut, wardrobed, makeuped and scored version of her home video, which is what put her on the map originally. Is it successful? Well, it's getting tons of attention, and in advertising terms, to paraphrase the line from Cool Hand Luke, what we have here is no failure to communicate.



Carl's Jr.

Agency

Mendelsohn Zien,

Los Angeles

Executive creative

director

Jordin Mendelsohn

Copywriters

Mick DiMaria

Art director

Marcus Wesson

Executive producer

Melissa Salzer

Director

Chris Applebaum, Partizan