April 04, 2007
Well Played, Olivia Palermo
As any regular reader of this site knows, it's a dramatic understatement to say that we love a good soap opera. We also love the Sweet Valley High books. So when a real-life soap with all the hallmarks of a bitchy high-school clique prank unfolded in the New York social ranks, we were, needless to say, totally fascinated and horrified and wildly entertained all at once. Screw the clothes! Show us a catfight!
To recap: A raft of prominent New York socialites received an e-mail alleging to be from young social climber Olivia Palermo, begging them for the appearance of their friendship or at least some acknowledgement of her existence. It was as painful a supplication as we've ever seen, ripped from everyone's worst high-school experience, nightmare, or diary entry. Have you ever watched the first 20 minutes of 13 Going On 30, when Young Jennifer Garner bends over backwards to make the cool kids like her and gets used and abused and hugely embarrassed in the process? And does that ever make you wince and cringe and want to bury your head in the couch cushions, because it's so painful and girls are so freaking MEAN and you are terrified to have daughters because you know they're going to get broken by something similar and the only bit of advice you can think of is, "Girls can be such horrible bitches at that age so just ignore them and let their souls blacken on their own time," and then you start to wonder if perhaps you're just not mother material? That's how this felt. The e-mail got forwarded around town, of course, because nobody can ever keep these things close to the vest. Olivia eventually denied it, but the whole affair sparked everything from a Page Six blurb to a debate between Socialite Rank and Park Avenue Peerage as to its authenticity. At any rate, it was embarrassing, whether it was a hoax or a heartfelt plea that bit her in the ass.
Now, we don't really know Olivia Palermo from Phoebe Price (except in the sense that we know a lot less of Olivia's sacred ladymysteries, if you get my meaning). Maybe she's annoying. Maybe she doesn't shave her armpits. Maybe she stole your boyfriend. Maybe she's a rare gem who's been clawed and scratched at by the queen bees of the giant high-school cafeteria that is the New York social scene. We don't care, really. Because at the end of the day, she had the stones to show up at an event -- the Dressed to Kilt fashion show -- that was chock full of the e-mail's recipients and the people who no doubt gobbled up every written word about her supposed ignominy, and she didn't flinch.
If that had happened to me, I would have flinched. In fact, I would be locking myself in the bathroom and considering entering a convent, or at least not leaving the house for another five years. Because even when you deny something, and even if you're accurately denying it, people still view that as a cursory and obvious response and assume you probably did it anyway, and then there's Eyes of Judgment and lots of whispering. It's just the way this stuff works. And yet Ms. Palermo did not pull a Claudia Blaisdel from Dynasty and run back to her room and light Candles of Hate that eventually burned down the entire place. No, instead, Olivia showed up. She beamed and looked pretty, even if the dress seems a little off-the-rack and unflattering to her boobs. Points for effort. Plus she posed for photos and walked the runway with as much flair and poise as she could muster. So what if the whole thing was a carefully choreographed PR gambit to earn her the kind of pity that turns into affection and a Phoenix-style rise from the social ashes. So what if it was just a misguided girl trying to get in with the In Crowd. Who cares if someone was out to get her and faked the whole thing. However you slice it, she's going to win, because she isn't burying her head in the sand, and stone-cold bitches like us are going to soften and say, "Well, you've gotta respect her moxie." Because we're easy, and the only thing we love more than a scandal is an underdog. Well, unless that underdog is going up against Joan Collins, in which case, we're betting on Joan every time. But until Joan decides to intervene here, we're content to give Olivia a pat on the back for not going on a boozy downward shame spiral.