The Last Time We See Paris

The most recent news item about Paris Hilton involved the hotel heiress trying to steal a book, or a newspaper or something (my brain deletes the details of all Paris Hilton stories after 12 hours, or I have a seizure) because it contained images from her infamous sex video, or puppy-eating video, or whatever it was. The fact that a multi-millionaire / model / TV star would shop-lift was greeted by a collective shrug by most of the media that doesn’t begin with “E!” for one big reason: Ms. Hilton is an amoral, self-centered goofball, and everybody knows it.

That very obvious fact has not stopped television and the print media from making Hilton and her gal-pal, the somewhat cruder but equally useless Nicole Richie, major celebrities, complete with fashion covers, commercials, guest spots on otherwise respectable television programs, and, of course, their own “reality show” on Fox, a show that consists of the girls shamelessly displaying their ignorance, incompetence, arrogance, and infantile values.

Suddenly, a few columnists have typed “Enough!” and declared that they will no longer chronicle the exploits of Paris. One of them (I knew his name once, but it was inadvertently deleted in my brain along with the Paris story) explained his boycott by noting that

…the arc of Paris’ “career” – from rich, witless party girl to rich, witless party girl with a hit television show – is an insult to the American sense of fairness: the idea that you get ahead by working hard, playing by the rules and acquiring a skill of some sort.

Well, as Nicole Richie says (a lot), “Duh!” That was obvious, oh, five years ago, and it’s bothering people now? Now, it is true that America has a long history of fascination with rich debutantes who do nothing but embarrass themselves, dating back to the 1920s at least. But until Paris Hilton came along, these characters were regarded more like entertaining aliens from another planet, and their misadventures were enjoyed as persuasive evidence that the rich weren’t really smarter or better than the rest of us.

In the 21st century, however, America’s sense of its core values is far less sure … especially young America. Scores of pop culture consumers from the ages of 12 to 30 have come to believe that what matters in life is one’s clothes, weight, abs, breast size, sex life, bank account, and ability to get into trendy clubs, and that is it. These are the same people who parade before Jay Leno’s camera giggling and unfazed as they fail to identify Mount Rushmore and place the Civil War in the 1950s, while Jay does “What a moron!” takes to the audience. Paris Hilton is the universal validation of this attitude, proof positive that knowledge, wit, and character are not worth the time to acquire, because if you’re beautiful, thin, sexy and rich, it all falls into place. The heck with the library: hit that Ab-Scissors!

It is so simple, truly the A-B-Cs of building an ethical culture. Celebrate (the word is celebrities, after all) people who represent values that we want to encourage and spread in American society. There are so many of them! And don’t celebrate the exploits of people whose values are corrosive, destructive, and shallow. Don’t make these individuals seem glamorous, admirable, or even successful. They are, in fact, failures, if we really examine what constitutes a successful life. Is that so hard to grasp? 

Sigh. It is, isn’t it…Fox, E!, People, ET, Joan and Melissa…it is hard for you. Perhaps the best approach is to start changing in small increments. And the best small increment would be to make sure that America never has to look at, read about, listen to, or hear about Paris Hilton until Old Sol is a blackened cinder smoldering in space.

Let’s start with that, shall we?


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