'It' Girls Work Hard at Playing Dumb

Britney Spears (search) hasn't heard of Yoko Ono. Paris Hilton (search) thinks Wal-Mart sells "wall stuff" and Jessica Simpson (search) doesn't know her tuna from her chicken.

All of these head-smackingly dumb comments have left fans wondering about the brains of these beauties. But are they really dopey, or just purposefully blundering all the way to the bank?

Pop culture expert Nancy Snow leans toward the latter theory.

"People at that level are always 'on' — they know what they're saying," said Snow, a communications professor at Cal State Fullerton. "I think it's kind of a sweetheart deal between them and the media. It really helps to feed the publicity machine."

But not everyone believes these starlets are clever enough to plan their intellectually challenged images.

Spears' ignorance of John Lennon's widow led to media mockery; Hilton, "The Simple Life" star, was accused of being simpleminded; and Jessica's apparent cluelessness (she thought Chicken of the Sea tuna was actually chicken and believed Buffalo wings were made of buffalo meat) even led some to speculate that she might be illiterate.

"While watching all 10 episodes this season, it became clear that Jessica can't read," Stephen Falk, who recaps "The Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica" for the Web site televisionwithoutpity.com, told The New York Post. Simpson's publicist denied the claim.

Snow thinks the ditzy behavior is a throwback to an old act, a la Lucille Ball.

"They're not the first women to do it. George Burns' wife [Gracie Allen] always played the real dummy. It garners a lot of attention, and these are major attention-seekers," she said. "And it's funny — ditziness takes a lot of intelligence, timing and slapstick humor."

Glamour magazine deputy editor Alison Brower said it's unfair to judge the IQ of these women on a few isolated comments when their success speaks for itself.

"I don't think you get to be where Britney is without knowing what you're doing and being very smart about it," she said. "She's calling her own shots in an industry that's still mostly male-dominated. And Jessica was pretty hilarious in ‘The Nick & Jessica Variety Hour.' She is obviously a strong comedic performer."

Brower added that the performers' blunders — real or staged — have only helped to increase their time in the spotlight.

"The tuna thing, [Jessica] just turned it around to take that show to the next level of popularity. And Paris turned a negative moment into a positive," Brower said, referring to the public release of a videotape of Hilton having sex with her ex-boyfriend, a scandal that only seemed to fuel ratings for her reality show.

Then there's the fact that what the masses consider everyday knowledge is not necessarily commonplace to young, rich superstars, who spend their time drinking champagne in limos and sailing on yachts in the Caribbean.

"Simpson said she didn't grow up cooking. There is no Wal-Mart in New York City, where Hilton grew up," Brower said.

As for Britney's Yoko no-no, Snow called it a "generational difference."

"Ignorance is not the same thing as [a lack of] intelligence," she said.

But there remains the question: Why do people seem so eager to point out what's lacking in these young stars?

Brower blames the public's general ill will toward the rich and famous.

"Why do people feel compelled to attack Martha Stewart? I think it's envy — schadenfreude," she said.

Snow agreed, citing a classic dilemma of beautiful women.

"These women have sex appeal and beauty — there's no room left for brains. Imagine how threatening they would be if they were smart on top of it."

But whether the ignorance is feigned or not, New York City resident Mary Prabhaker, 23, said there's no excuse for it.

"I think it's really sad. My brother's little friends look up to these women as role models. For them to put out this kind of image of themselves, it goes back to the olden times when women didn't have strong personalities," she said.

Prabhaker said playing the dim-witted damsel is OK when you're 16, but that Britney, Paris and Jessica — all in their early 20s — have a responsibility to know more.

"So many little girls grow up and think you just have to look good — that's the message they portray."