A few months ago I wrote a blog post about Paris Hilton and felt kind of dirty afterwards. Really, I couldn't care less about her. I was only inspired to comment on her after reading Rebecca Traister's amusing Salon article in which she says Hilton needs to be killed--metaphorically--because of Hilton's noxious influence on other celebrities who are even weaker-minded than she is. Now Christopher Hitchens finds himself slumming in the lower depths of popular culture where Paris Hilton trolls looking for victims, but he actually cares what happens to her. He's distressed about the media coverage of her time in the slammer for doing something bad while behind the wheel of a car--driving drunk or with a Chihuahua on her head, or maybe the Chihuahua was in the trunk. Anyway, last weekend she got sent back to jail after her initial prison term of about half an hour. She cried and the media got pretty nasty. After last week's media spectacle Hitchens wants to know, "So, you finally got the kid to weep on camera? Are you happy now?" Well, yes.
It could be worse: instead of laughing at her we could be increasing the inheritance tax, which was created specifically to prevent social malignancies like Paris Hilton from occurring. That said, I must admit I find her sort of admirable, for lack of a better word. By all accounts she's spectacularly stupid, but I'm surprised she hasn't run herself over with her own Ferrari sooner than this. She has a genius for publicity--a low talent, to be sure, but a talent nevertheless. That's why Hitchens' plea to leave her alone is so problematic. If only she would go away. He also suggests that we treat her as a person rather than as a symbol or a metaphor. But why would we want to do that? If Paris Hilton could be said to have a job, it's clearly to turn herself into a symbol.
If we think of popular culture as a realm of utopian desires, the saga of Paris Hilton represents a collective wish for the peculiar brand of morality once found in Jacobean comedy, with its vengeful yet cynical moral sensibilities. If Paris Hilton has an allegorical counterpart, it's a character in Ben Jonson's comedy The Devil Is an Ass (1616). A sort of assistant Devil named Pug is sent to earth to tempt people into evil. Pug faces a challenge because people's vices have grown so sophisticated, so he zeros in on the rich and idiotic Fitzdottrels, a socially well-connected couple in London. Pug sets in motion a series of schemes that play on the couple's greed and vanity, until the dim-witted Mistress Fitzdottrel finally has an epiphany that could apply to Paris Hilton herself:
I am a Woman
That cannot speak more wretchedness of myself,
Than you can read: match'd to a mass of folly.
The sight of a sobbing heiress may be the last act of the morality play called Paris Hilton. Let's hope so. Then we can really leave her alone to her eternal punishment: anonymity.