Posted by Brad @ 7:48 pm on June 9th 2007

America Fiddles While Paris Burns

Also: I don’t care about Paris Hilton.

This will be the first, and last, post about her, hopefully in the entire run of the blog. She’s imminently ignorable, and unless she does something like assassinate Barack Obama, I don’t see much reason to talk about her. But, since it practically can’t be avoided at this point, here are some thoughts, after the “more” divider, so you can ignore them entirely if you wish, and I don’t blame you a bit if you do.

I have sympathy for her. My mother, who is addicted to celeb rags and Entertainment Tonight-esque television programming, has watched every bit of minutiae surrounding the case, so I’ve peripherally become fairly well informed on it. It’s hard to read about her recent breakdown and not put, say, one of my sisters in her shoes. It’s tough, I feel for her.

I’ve served brief jail stints myself for mostly the same constellation of offenses (plus some drug stuff), so I also know the stress of that sort of thing. The system, by design, isn’t really geared towards comfort.

But I also know you have to take your lumps. Jail sucks, but it isn’t horrible, certainly not the sort of time that Paris will be serving. The overarching emotion of it—after the shock of intake wears off, which it does—is oppressive boredom. It’s not like they’re going to throw her into genpop at Pelican Bay. Prison time, often enough, sounds a lot worse than it is, at least, again, for well-off white people convicted of minor infractions and serving stints of less than six weeks.

It also sounds like she bears the entirety of responsibility for it. The decision to release her and then retake her was badly handled, if you ask me, and I would raise holy hell about that in itself if I were her, but the actual jailing of her, though probably instigated, Martha Stewart style, because of who she is (I’m sure the sheriff’s decision more accurately effects how he would handle anybody else in her circumstances than the judge’s) is perfectly justified (and, as an afterthought, “unfair but justified” tends to describe a lot of how the criminal justice treats people). She had a DUI, failed to take the action that her NOT serving jailtime in the first place required (attending an alcohol treatment program), and then explicitly violated her probation not once, but twice. Like the Libby sentence, the outrageous thing would have been had she NOT been jailed at that point. The medical excuse doesn’t wash with me either. She’s already operating in an entirely different justice system than that provided to 99.9% of the inmates in the LA county prison system, probably a third of whom have mental and physical problems that would make anything her lawyer can come up with seem insulting. Shut up and do your time, Paris.

But really, the bigger issue at play is why this is a story in the first place. That’s the entire narrative of Paris Hilton’s life, at this point, and I don’t say that in a personal insult way (she seems like a nice enough person, if cheap and shallow, in what little glimpses of humanity you can glean), or as a cursory brushing-off of the whole thing, not even in a snobby finger-wagging at th Oprah Culture of America. I’m about as big an advocate for pop culture, and the inherent goodness in the organic tastes of people, as anybody. But the way this country views celebrity, fame, is, I think, deeply sick and corrosive. There’s always an element of starfucking in ANY culture, I don’t care how primitive, but it’s on some levels begun to become the defining attribute of American culture, and the trend is only accelerating. It’s taken over. Not just celebrity rags, but journalism, politics, economics, and perhaps where it concerns me the most, in core psychology.

It is, I believe, a primary culprit in the sort of culture of self-esteem Gone Wild that Rojas has talked about, and tackled, from an education perspective before (I hope he revisits the topic from time to time). It was well described by, of all people, Chuck Palahniuk (which is ironic because there are few working writers as in love with literary celebrity as Chuck) in Fight Club. We’re creating generations of children who believe that self-actualization lies in celebrity or, failing that, notoriety. As the sway of religion fades, the only advertised immortality left is that of fame. We teach kids that they can be anything they want, and alongside that, give them the message that that means they can be somebody powerful and famous, which is what we really mean anyway. And, when, in 99.9% of cases, that doesn’t pan out, you leave generations of disgruntled nihilists lost in the woods and with no idea of where else to look for meaning. At least the generation coming-of-age in the 80s had love of money. From Generation X on, though, what’s largely been left is a void. And in a thousand subtle ways every day, our culture assaults us by insisting on that void.

I would estimate that at least two thirds of people 40 and under secretly harbor dreams of being a celebrity in some fashion. And probably half of that number don’t much care what they’d be celebrities for. It becomes an end unto itself, self-justifying. I would guess that I know more people who want to be famous than people who just want to be decent. I would also guess that the vast majority of those people believe, on some level, that they’re ENTITLED to that fame. They DESERVE it. That, even if we don’t say it, some kind of nebulous injustice is at play when that doesn’t pan out (or, we’ve just screwed ourselves somehow). That sort of core belief and drive messes with people. It fucks with their heads. It’s fucking with tens of millions of heads a day.

And Paris Hilton, in her way, and mostly entirely outside of any self-consciousness of it, is kind of the great example of all of this.

I don’t care about Paris Hilton. But in many ways I care deeply about the cultural currents that create her, drive her, justify her, elevate her, and all of us who nibble our fingers and giggle in glee and schadenfreude when she falters and burns, and we do so for the satisfaction that a sentence is being carried out, a karmic sentence handed down solely for the spiritual crime of her not being us.


  1. What surprises me is that, no matter how she felt about it, she thought that breaking down, crying and calling for mummy was OK. I mean, for christ’s sake, show some spine.

    Comment by Adam — 6/9/2007 @ 8:14 pm

  2. Well, my mom’s take on it was that most middle to upper class girls would have probably reacted similarly. Getting sentenced to a month and a half in jail is scary; must seem more so to somebody that’s never worked a day in her life and has never had a need untended to.

    Comment by Brad — 6/9/2007 @ 9:38 pm

  3. Paris Hilton is not a Libertarian hero.

    Comment by weltschmerz — 6/10/2007 @ 4:20 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.