Sliving and Cooking With Paris

Paris put the P in pop culture.

Ask any early adapter of the internet in India and you’ll know that Paris Hilton dominated the virtual space all through the noughties.

She always has.

Knowing about Paris was the first base of the cool part of the internet— where the kids lurked and the adults jerked. Any gay person worth their time will tell you that Paris practically invented all possible devices of nuisance including but not limited to reality television, Kim Kardashian West (and the family), selfies, influencer culture, personal brands and the 21st birthday silver dress, and proceeded to make each of these look cool. Unarguably, Paris was the biggest cultural icon for teenagers and non-consenting adults in the noughties.

I was no different. Towards the end of middle school and all through high school, I was obsessed with what Paris was doing. I was a part of an online group named “Suck Fuck Duck Paris Hilton” on Orkut that was created by a friend in school who hated her and didn’t understand the dafuq was she on. Much like we were taught on the internet in our language of being cool, we loved to hate her and obsess over her outfits (that none of us could wear) and talk about her lifestyle which seemed more of an extension of a fairy tale on acid and use her face as that of our profile picture (cause people who posted their photos on the internet were looking for trouble, better known as #IndianParenting 101). Some of my tightest friendships in adult years were forged upon knowing all the words to her famous single Stars Are Blind, which still makes our ears bleed collectively. 

None of us knew at the time that this form of despising by constantly following her through the gaze of a camera and reading updates about her on the internet was our first foray into understanding how influencer culture is built to create digital legacies. To this day, the brands that touch them and the people who surround these influencers turn to gold, case in point, Paris Latsis, Nicole Richie and even Tinkerbell.

Between our dependency on influencer of the year obsession that persisted and the need to feed the monster with famous for being famous appetite, Paris Hilton launched a line of perfumes, became a DJ, created satire by selling water and broke each of her engagements. While she was doing all this, we found ourselves with influencers across platforms, mediums and countries. Paris best articulated this phenomenon, “anyone with a cellphone can be an influencer”,  aka what she was in the 2000s, way before its time.

Since Paris Hilton has always been a step ahead of the curve, she has become the trending topic in ’21 once again. Cooking With Paris is not just a reality TV cooking show where she takes the viewers through her individual relationship with some of the biggest pop-culture and digital media icons who have survived the test of time; it is a social commentary for those of us starved for quality internet content from the noughts to see how far have our childhood influencers have reached since the last decade and how are they coping with the pandemic.

Watching Cooking With Paris felt like reaching out to the 12-13-year-old Anisha on the internet, reading badly written gossip articles and checking out Myspace, and aspiring for a Motorola flip phone, just like the cool kids on the internet had. The only difference is that Anisha from the past gauged the disparity between herself and Paris, and for the most part believed that she could get there. However, Anisha from the present knows that to even aspire to have kitchen utensils like Paris from the present would require the salary that any of the Ambani kids draw monthly.

If you think you’re going to learn actual cooking by streaming Cooking With Paris, you’re sadly and badly mistaken. Anyone with half a brain cell and internet access would know better than to not take Paris Hilton’s cooking show seriously, including Kim Kardashian West who subtly eye-rolled and looked exasperated at Paris through the first episode (where they actually did delectable looking French Toasts, Slivin’ Marshmallows and Frittatas). Keep the smarty pant friends, kitchen fiends, painfully straight men with no taste, and your mom away from this show. Chances are they will either have a gag reaction or judge you for actually watching this one. In my case, my mother had to yell at me to stop living in a “fantasy” (rude, ma) and look for a day job.

As someone who has binged the show twice since its release in India (and if you haven't guessed already, obsessed with Paris), the show is an absolute comfort to watch for the teenager in me who grew up watching India grow up around me. Paris introduced me to the concept of consent in sex (and revenge sex tape) when I was a teenager and as an adult, she has taught me that it’s okay to buy a unicorn plushie when you go grocery shopping before your friend arrives for a meal. Paris also taught me to keep everything Kawai and be a rebel instead of going by the book. It's okay to be frivolous. We are all in a fucking pandemic anyway, that isn't ending cause people are choosing to not get vaccinated. I digress.

The show features guests including Demi Lovato, Saweetie, Nikki Glaser, Lele Pons, and wraps with Paris cooking for her mom Kathy and sister Nicky. Paris buys the ingredients for the menu in advance and preps ahead of her guest's arrival (always a good thing regardless of whether you're an heiress or not). She fails once (and that's a spoiler if I give out at what) and misses a few but each of the episodes makes you want to order in (you can't cook a steak in India, I'm sorry) so bad.

Even if Paris Hilton and her antics aren’t your jam and you don’t care much for cooking or food, Paris’ kitchen utensils and her range of cookware that she has personally used throughout the show can put any aspiring reality TV show star to shame (sit down Julia Haart, you have a lot to learn sweetie). When Paris cooks, she cooks in style, and in her case, in couture, and is self-aware to mock herself down. The most likeable part about the show is the personal digs it takes at every step, and knows when to crack a joke on herself, including the text instructions (“Cook till Fries are tanned”) and tips (“This is a whisk”) on the screen for people like Paris who have no clue about the language of culinary arts.

What edible glitter is to Paris, Ajinomoto is to me, and I get her wanting to cook everything in her style, more than wanting to make a recipe authentic, carry out the family's legacy or even be culturally relevant while cooking. Paris cooking food is a culture in itself that she is writing for those obsessed with the influencer herself and her defining what it means to break the rules. Whether it’s with her ruthless clubbing days or using melted ricotta cheese filling in a cannoli, Paris tries to be a deviant— both inside and outside the kitchen in the most damaging way— with her larger than life outfits and heels that are non-functional. It’s as though she is challenging the rules set for her that you must domesticate yourself in the ways articulated for you and partying stops when you grow old and that unicorns are for babies. Surely, none of what she does is practical or doable, but she takes one for the team who want to look good and make sure the food looks good too (Kim Kardashian is still rolling her eyes at her white outfit from the pilot as I write this).

For more than one reason, I believe Cooking With Paris is a heck of an empowering show despite being an exercise in public relations management. For one, you actually see how far Paris Hilton’s come in her life. By that, I do mean in terms of cooking bacon between iron to actually prepping Vegan Fries McDonald’s style, by herself. If that doesn’t induce confidence in you to take on the world, nothing ever will. For another, Paris was a result of a moment in time exploding in all our faces. If Komal Pandey screams for empathy and a kind gaze upon her posts when she is trolled, it is because she is living the moment of hard judgement due to her nature of work.

Paris Hilton, always known to be famous for being famous, was written off as a skanky, rich brat, a dim-witted party girl who the world was obsessed with. Her entire existence was reduced to shaming her for her sexual encounter that made her famous outside of her modelling and partying lifestyle, in addition to villainizing her life for being a victim of revenge porn. Nobody was once cancelled, or asked to stop with the jokes they pulled on her for all these years, simply because she came from money and was begging for attention and trouble, and I don't recall her having a weekly meltdown despite being the butt of all jokes, like our darling Indian influencers do when you call them out or crack a mean one at their expense. The internet loves to hate Paris Hilton and continues to do so, and maybe, this memory revisionist exercise is another brick in the wall for her to get un-cancelled after all these years.

Part of this realization occurs when you watch the documentary This is Paris on YouTube. Again, a PR exercise in distinguishing Paris from Paris Hilton, the film emerges as a commentary on our lives in the noughts and how Paris was caught in the centre of it. What the KarJenners and the subsequent participants of the reality television circuit in the world talk about today— Paris survived that alone, in an age where cameras were shoved in your face,  and gossip columnists along with the paps controlled your narrative. Paris emerged unscathed to own a reality television show on Netflix where she claims to want to start a family and expand her culinary knowledge. What’s not to like?

For me, watching Cooking With Paris felt like hanging out with old friends over a meal and a joke, none of which has happened in my life since February 2020, and yet the show filled my heart with laughter, joy and light moments as I fussed over Paris’ fingerless gloves (fill my heart with Chanel) and her larger than life outfits corresponding with the theme and the décor she commissioned for each meal in every episode. It felt like everything was okay, and everything was back in 2003, where life meant spending a designated time on the internet, catching up with your friends online after school and doing your homework. Cooking With Paris felt like a balm on my anxiety of “WHAT THE FUCK ARE THESE PEOPLE DOING?”, mostly because it was Paris doing things, and only she can get away with doing anything.

Give me a season two with Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and I will never complain about Netflix commissioning sub-par side characters with their own reality TV shows (aka Bollywood wives).

Loves it.

 The series is available for streaming on Netflix in India.

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Anisha Saigal

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Pop-culture omnivore. Survived publishing, academia, film school. Struggling with the pandemic.