Fair warning: If you’ve come here looking for a Paris Hilton beatdown, you’re not going to get it. I come not to bury the fair Ms. Hilton, but to offer some small praise for a young woman that many of us love to hate.
The 26-year-old star of both House of Wax and 1 Night in Paris was released from jail this week and promptly appeared on Larry King Live. While I am normally unable to summon up any enthusiasm whatsoever for the activities of Paris – pro or con – what I saw Wednesday night prompts me to come to her defense.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a fan. I’m not crazy about her activities and I certainly don’t approve of DUIs or driving with a suspended license. But what the hell did she ever do to anybody to earn the scorn that has been flung at her in recent months?
When she received her sentence back in May, the reaction was remarkable. People were very happy she was going to jail – not for the DUI or for driving without a license – but for the crime of being annoying.
I’m not saying I disagree. Paris is part of a crowd of young folks who clog up the gossip pipes on almost a daily basis. (You notice that it’s almost entirely young women?) But if she’s so annoying, why do we keep following her exploits? And as much as members of the media have enjoyed scolding Paris, not just for her behavior, but for her entire life, you can notice they do so while holding their noses and riding the Hilton gravy train.
After Larry King’s clunky exploration of Paris’ soul (conducted in a manner that was part grandfather confessor and part Oprah-as-NY-Jew), fellow CNN-anchor Anderson Cooper looked genuinely pained at having to devote an hour to Paris Hilton although he could have presumably let someone else anchor the program if he was so offended. Cooper’s chief criticism of Hilton was that “someone who has the privilege of being born into a wealthy family and opportunities of great schooling” did not try to make more of her life. Cooper is the son of railroad heiress and designer Gloria Vanderbilt and it’s safe to assume he knows a thing or two about such situations. But then he would also know that New York and Los Angeles have plenty of trust fund babies running around town not doing much more than having a good time. Many are being encouraged not to break out of the pack.
In contrast, Paris has worked. She’s modeled professionally for years, she has acted in movies and TV shows, she’s done multiple seasons of a reality show, recorded an album, is paid lucrative fees for appearing at clubs and events. According to Forbes, she earns $7 million annually.
No, she’s not doing much for the world, other than providing amusement. She doesn’t appear to be smart, but she has long seemed shrewd to me. She knows the game, the ins-and-outs of the celebrity machine, and she’s played it well. In fact, compared to some of her tabloid sisters (I’m thinking of Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears), she seems to have largely sought the spotlight over the last five years as part of a planned career as a professional celebrity, not as some moth hovering self-destructively around the flame. She seems to party, but not to the excessive levels of others and not completely out of line with many women of her age and status in Los Angeles.
Hilton’s image as a shallow party girl and a dim-witted socialite may have finally bitten her in the ass, and I would be pleased if she shifted her life now. She has spoken of doing charity work following in the footsteps of generations of young wealthy women with time on their hands. I was particularly interested to see her speak during the Larry King interview of the issue of recidivism – or as she put it – the way that these young woman leave prison only to fall right back in, due to a lack of a support system.
Who knows what she’ll do? I don’t think she owes us anything, certainly not explanations, nor an obligation to live life the way others think she ought. You don’t like it? I don’t blame you. I find the “OFF” switch does wonders for jangled nerves.