So there’s this thing I love, and I absolutely have to talk about it.
It’s 2003. The Bush Era. Nestled somewhere between the Millenium Bug and iPod Nanos, the year is almost stagnant, an unsteady culture wobbling towards its true self. Somewhere within the pulsing heart of the midwest, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie are scooping manure into a bucket. Or maybe they are waitressing or ice-fishing or operating a barbie-pink garbage truck. Regardless, they have no credit cards, no cellphones, no cultural capital. Their manicures are filthy. Paris plays coy, monologues about how life was better in Ibiza (pronounced Ibitha). Nicole calls a newborn calf “fugly.”
It’s 2003, and in many ways, reality television as we know it has peaked.
The Simple Life, airing from 2003-2007, was a premonition towards every other true-life soap starring socialites. A reverse Beverly Hillbillies, the show featured the two socialites ditching luxury for the hardscrabble work usually assigned to the lower class. It was campy, art as sloppy imitation of life rather than life as serious imitation of art. The wave of docu-drama television, everything from Jersey Shore to Vanderpump Rules, finds its genetic footing in The Simple Life, a heritage of juicy couture joggers and wine fights.
This is not an essay about Paris Hilton or Nicole Ritchie, but rather about the vacillating nature of fascination. The Simple Life was a genre codifier. It was shallow, often classless, but it conceived a formula that has defined near-decades of programming to follow. But The Simple Life was overshadowed by its predecessors; its spot within the cultural zeitgeist was as fleeting as the duo’s ability to hold down a blue-collar job.
Lately, I’ve found myself unable to shut up about The Simple Life. I’m obsessed, and not just with the endorphin rush of Paris Hilton discovering Wal-Mart, but with the cultural mystery. How did we encounter something so compelling, so impactful, and collectively rejected it?
I say all of this to say that I am fascinated with what we’ve abandoned. This column happened by accident, a product of me brainstorming ideas regarding illumination and farsides while watching a rerun of Paris and Nicole’s working-class hijinks. A working definition of “Farside” is what is hidden from view, but what about the works we’ve hidden from ourselves? The content or ideas that were too frivolous or strange or uncool to be truly appreciated?
This column is designed to help bring light to what has blended in. We’ve asked our staff writers and guest contributors to write essays in defense of anything they feel is undervalued, illuminating the work we need to rediscover. This column dedicates itself to exploring the unexplored and appreciating the underappreciated. We welcome the arcane, the obscure, the good, and the “so bad, it’s good.” More than anything, this is a column centered around loving everything we feel deserves more love.
This column believes that just like Paris Hilton, the world is often much deeper than it appears, less simple. It believes that there is light, gorgeous light, still left to discover.
Christian Butterfield is an 18-year-old poet/essayist/totebag-enthusiast from Bowling Green, Kentucky. In 2019, he served as the National Student Poet of the Southeast, and his work has since been published/recognized by Best Teen Writing, the YoungArts Foundation and The Adroit Journal. He reads for EX/POST Magazine and was a 2020 Adroit Mentee in Creative Nonfiction.