"This is the end of Western civilization as we know it, and we’re watching it live."
Harvey Levin, TMZ. com
This weekend, as July 4th looms and the bodies pile higher in Afghanistan and Iraq, putrefying in the sweltering heat, our nation’s warrior dwarf will return to the family manse at Walker’s Point, just down the road. The press will assemble. Attack planes will cruise the skies overhead. They will shatter what little silence there is here a few mile north of The Compound. Helicopters will patrol, adding to the din. From my perch on the tractor or squatting among the plant rows I will salute them with my customary rude gesture. They won’t mind. People without power or influence are allowed bad attitudes. That’s what makes this country great.
Serious media will converge, and furrow their collective brow. Miles of video tape and digital photography will record the boy king and his foil, the rascal Putin, as Vlad calls on our favorite serial killer to discuss matters of State. Journalists will visit local businesses to detail the effects of the Plunderer’s proximity on sales. Then they’ll all leave and we can return to the serious work of terminal downward mobility.
On our way back to 19th century peonage we are encouraged to revel in the sundry distractions which our betters spread before us. Which, of course brings me to my favorite subject of late—Paris Hilton. I know. It ill-befits a toiler on the vineyards of failed causes to waste time or newsprint musing on the crimes and punishments of a "celebrity jailbird." And yet….
Who are we kidding here? Universal health care? Not a chance. Bringing the assaulters back from Iraq? Not ’til the oil’s gone. First World-style rights to food and housing? In your dreams. Majority rule? Sorry, that’s unconstitutional. Free education? Too expensive: Bomb now, study later. A democratic media system? Media control—like justice—is for the rich. They know what’s best. And they know what the little people want. What, after all, is the point of writing about fantastical notions of economic and political justice when anyone paying attention understands the profound futility of such struggles.
And so, dear reader, into this pathetic void, sashays my favorite GED recipient, Ms. Hilton. Paris was simply doing what came naturally, browsing the verdant green of Los Angeles and providing happy diversion to a people without hope and desperately in need of somebody rich they could relate to. This was no Sam Walton who busied himself screwing industrial and retail workers and forced his (food-stamp-eligible) employees to cheer him every morning in the bargain. This was no Bill Gates who made a fortune ripping off government investment and creating a Generation X-box of zombie droids.
The foreign press seem a bit perplexed by the Paris phenomenon. Leonard Doyle observed, somewhat uncharitably in London’s Independent that while "She is neither talented nor clever; her only claims to fame are her egotism and her inherited wealth. Yet to millions she is a heroine." (6/27/07) Leonard , Leonard—- "neither talented nor clever???" She has played out her young life, affecting a pose which she understood would be welcomed. In her first interview as an inmate she revealed to Barbara Walters the "queen of US media" that she was far from the un-sharpest tool in the shed. "I used to act dumb," she said. "It was an act." But for a young woman who understood the US media’s (hard-to-miss) fascination with institutionalized violence, ritualized dehumanization and the policing of women’s behavior and appearance (not necessarily in that order) it was a natural enough gambit. Cut her some slack.
Doyle reports that while in the slammer, Paris worked the important media, preparing the ground for her release. In a self-portrait and note sent to one Harvey Levin she "depicted herself at a pay phone inside the jail with (of course) a television playing in the background. ‘Dear Harvey,’ she wrote in what could have been a child’s handwriting, ‘I just wanted to thank you for your fair and unbiased reporting in my case. I truly appreciate it.’ "
So who is Harvey Levin? He’s The Cheese at TMZ.com, an outfit that the New York Times picks as representing the "future of celebrity journalism." Doyle observes that "TMZ.com now dominates celebrity news in America—its name stands for ’30-mile zone’ or the area of Los Angeles where celebrities congregate." Mr. Levin will co-host Ms. Hilton’s premier post-release interview on the Larry King show.
The celebutante cum entrepreneur got the money up front for her international interview. Huffed US Weekly editor Janice Min, "She symbolizes everything that’s wrong with celebrity behaviors," most notably, it appears, getting paid for the King/Levin gab-gig. Media queen Barbara Walters is miffed, USA Today reports. Upon learning that Paris wanted to be "paid to play" Walters hissed that, "I suddenly felt this was not up to my standard."
This is the same Barbara Walters who regularly hosts mass-murderers and kleptocrats and only months ago devoted an hour to a tawdry slime-fest feasting on the rapidly chilling corpse of Vicky (Anna Nicole) Smith. Hey Barbara. You do some time in stir. Navigate the cavity searches, no cable, and the conspicuous finger-sandwich deficit. Then see if you don’t want the ratings-ghouls to pony-up. Paris got the money in advance. She’s an American girl. People like that.
When Nancy Cleeland (one of only a handful of labor beat reporters nationally) left the LA Times recently, she cited the paper’s disinterest in covering working people’s economic issues. She noted wryly that the paper was even then advertising for writers for what it called the "Celebrity Justice" beat. Stories about celebrities and their petty offenses are safe distractions for a people with diminishing hopes. In a world made cruel by their own selected leadership, Paris is just "what’s on."
RICHARD RHAMES is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine whose place is just north of the Kennebunkport town line. When the swaggering cod-piece king is in town one dreams of Paris. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org