Why Does America Hate Paris Hilton?


Over at the Manhattan Institute's City Journal (and via the great Arts & Letters Daily), Kay S. Hymowitz lays into Paris Hilton with the passion of, well, Paris Hilton eating a Carl's Jr. hamburger onscreen.

Arguably the most interesting motif in the long article is the nod to Osama Bin Laden's moral compass when it comes to talking trash about celebrity skanks. This idea will likely only gain ground among conservatives as Democrats take office in January, the same month that Dinesh D'Souza will make a book-length argument in The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11. Here's Hymowitz on Paris:

You don't need to share Osama bin Laden's view of America to see that Paris mirrors us at our contemporary worst. But something still doesn't compute: Why, if Paris says so much about us, do Americans—not just college professors and the commentariat but celebrity watchers and tabloid junkies—hate her so much? And why, if she is so offensive, is she so ubiquitous?

Well, hating Paris Hilton is fun: Americans always enjoy a good sneer at the undeserving and decadent rich. Paris Hilton is our communal dartboard; skewering her gives the American public a chance to reaffirm who we are.

And yet Hymowitz realizes that there's something more to Hilton than The Simple Life star says explicitly:

The only thing complicating this picture of dissipation is that Paris Hilton isn't quite the airhead she plays on TV. She created her persona of Paris the Heiress with an instinct for America's suspicion of the idle rich. Confession of an Heiress: A Tongue-in-Chic Peek Behind the Pose is the title of her best-selling book. It's the title of a woman who is in on the joke.

Whole thing here.

A few years back, Tyler Cowen wrote a book, What Price Fame?, about the changing bases of celebrity. We excerpted it in Reason but didn't get rights to put the excerpt online but Cowen's conclusion is worth thinking through in any discussion of celebrity culture, especially such as Hymowitz's, which is heavy on moral invective and pretty light on thinking about the pleasures of the audience. Cowen:

"Contemporary stars are well-paid but impotent puppets….These market-based heroes are truly meritorious in one essential way: The serve their fans rather than making their fans serve them."

More here.

And for a dilation on the joy of celebrity watching from the old Suck days, go here.