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We'll Always Have Paris

Russell Crowe is famous. Steven Spielberg is famous. Valerie Bertinelli is famous. Donald Trump is famous. Ted Koppel, Josh Groban, Richard Hatch; famous, famous, famous. Trent Lott, Lizzie Grubman, Tonya Harding, Jeffrey Dahmer – famous, too. You can be famous because you live your life in the public eye; you can be famous because you've achieved something; you can be famous because you were on TV. You can be notorious. You can be a celebrity. You can be wealthy. You can be Jim J. Bullock. (As ARCC Joe Mulder pointed out, watching PenÚlope Cruz in the trailer for Captain Corelli's Mandolin, "Remember when you had to be famous to be famous?" By the way, I think it would be fun to nickname Joe "Arksie" in a crude pronunciation of his acronymic label. If I have a broken nose the next time you see me, you'll know I tried it in person.) The point is: no matter how you come to it, fame is there. It's a pool, and once you're in it, you can get back out but some of it will always stay with you. For some, fame is a benefit. For some, it is an exploitable opportunity. For some, it is a responsibility, a hurdle, or a nuisance. For Princess Diana, it was a killer.

You don't get a special manual that outlines what to expect. Fame treats no two people in the same way. In our current pervasive media culture, the famous "belong to the world" and – whether they struggled to attain fame, aware of its advantages and disadvantages, or simply were born famous – once famous, nothing will ever be the same.

Paris Hilton is famous.

Paris Hilton was theoretically born famous, heir to the monstrous Hilton Hotels fortune. But she didn't really attain fame until she became a hot, teenage heir to the monstrous Hilton Hotels fortune. For all we know, her parents (and/or nanny) struggled to indoctrinate her into fame as responsibly as possible. Explaining that she will never have the same privacy as her school chums, that wealth and power also mean accountability, and that there are many, many people who will try to take advantage of her fame and influence. It's entirely possible that everybody looked at the parties and the suggestive clothing as healthy, innocent elements of adolescence. Plenty of girls her age don't have to work and can devote full-time to recreation. It's easy to jump to the conclusion that she represents Idle Rich Run Amok, but it isn't necessarily true.

There's a natural inclination to try to defame those who seem to have it better than we do. To make ourselves feel better, we focus on their flaws – inventing them if necessary. Jessica Simpson is a bimbo. Bill Clinton is a philanderer. Tom Cruise is a gay Scientologist. George W. Bush is a bumbling, unsophisticated stooge with the cognitive capacity of a dishwasher knob and the leadership skills of a moldy Teddy Graham. The man can't even – sorry, I got carried away. With every personality trait subject to evaluation on the largest imaginable scale, it's easy to find something to malign in every famous person, and it's fun because it proves they're not so great. For Paris Hilton, as for so many attractive, wealthy young blondes, it's stupid, dependent, and slutty. It's these perceived traits which are set to be parodied in Fox's The Simple Life which debuts tonight.

For the reality TV producer, it's easier to simplify Paris (and Nicole Richie) into these stereotypes than to try to portray a nuanced and real personality. Maybe she's compassionate, friendly, and intelligent. It's an easy punch line to show a toddler knowing more about Colin Powell than she does. I can appreciate that. I think it takes a pretty good sense of humor for her to agree to be on the show. She certainly doesn't need the exposure; she certainly doesn't need the money. Within the show, whatever humiliation she suffers is part of the deal. I'm sure she understands that. But that's not what we're here to talk about. Because that's not what anyone else on the planet is talking about.

No, attention is focused on another of Paris's bows before the camera. Video footage has surfaced which depicts Paris Hilton enjoying sexual activities with then-boyfriend Rick Solomon. The video footage isn't particularly exciting. It's muddy, unfocused, and squashed into a zero-depth grey-green mash by the camera's "night vision" feature. Most of the the action and dialogue relates to Solomon's efforts to make sure he's in the frame. (What a sweetie.) Hilton is essentially unrecognizable; we only know it's her because we were told beforehand. But everybody wants to see the tape – everybody's talking about it. Because she's famous.

I'm not disappointed in people for wanting to see the video. People can want to see whatever they want. I'm far more disappointed in people who want to see Lord of the Rings, quite frankly. (Or Whoopi. God.) I'm disappointed that the situation represents a "scandal." Because Hilton's people make it so. Paris Hilton isn't running for elected office. She isn't trying to promote a movie or broker a deal with another hotel chain. Her "character" is not an issue of concern. (Personally, I don't think this merits a scandal even if she were running for office, but that's just my way of looking at it – not particularly easy to defend.) She's not married; she hasn't done anything illegal. I'd venture that the vast majority of well adjusted adults who have ever concurrently had access to a video camera and a sexual partner have made similar movies. (Hell, even I have, and I only fit one of those three requirements.) It's nothing to be embarrassed about, and it only becomes a big deal if you make a big deal of it. Nobody watching the video is outraged at Paris. Maybe they're aroused by it; most likely they're amused by it. It's water cooler fodder. Nobody's calling for Paris to be banished from famedom.

Rick Solomon is a stooge and an idiot. He's a glommer-on. (He married Shannen Doherty, so you can understand the depths to which he'll sink in order to be fame-adjacent.) It is his responsibility to safeguard the videos. He made them, with Paris's consent, and his reward is that he gets to have them. It's his keepsake from the special encounter. But he doesn't get to leak them onto the internet or share them with his friends. He should be a gentleman. It can be very, very tempting to want to share the videos, but his integrity as a person should be more important. In his case, it's not, because he's a sleaze. And it's a shame. But it comes with fame; Paris should be careful not to give anyone an undue advantage to exploit her. But, now that it's happened, she should also be able to see the situation in its proper context. Hiding her face and slinking away from interviews is the wrong approach. She should stand up, proud and defiant, and say, "What? Everyone enjoys sex. I've done nothing wrong. Certainly I'm embarrassed that my private moments can be viewed by the world, but does that make me a bad person? Who are you to judge?" She's still rich and hot, with or without anyone's approval. No votes or ratings required. People are embarrassed every day; it's nothing to freak out about.

Paris Hilton was scheduled to appear on David Letterman's Late Show to promote The Simple Life, and as a result of her team's decision to treat the sex video like a scandal, she canceled that appearance. Letterman has been very vocal about this – decrying the decision in nightly rants, they way he used to with Oprah. Although, in this case, he's mostly serious. He actually believes in Paris's innocence and he truly does want to help her by having her on the show. (It would be negligent not to acknowledge that Hugh Grant's post-sex-scandal appearance on Jay Leno's Tonight Show was the catalyst that earned Leno the #1 spot in late night from that moment forward. Certainly, if she shows up, both parties benefit.) He's absolutely right. And he's passionately protective in a way that perhaps only his newfound fatherhood could muster. (He ranted about it for about a week, but his first was his best – a transcript can be found by following the link at the top of this page.) It's a shame that she doesn't see the error that her publicity team is making, because this really isn't the sort of thing she should be allowing to shame her. There's no such thing as bad publicity, they say, and in this case even the badness is really not that bad. Press reports indicated that Letterman's monologue jokes about the Hilton situation did not contribute to the cancelation, but Letterman insists that her publicist did threaten him about the jokes. Which is also pretty ridiculous; the man is just doing his job. If Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, even Dr. Phil, can have a sense of humor about themselves and come on the show despite gentle ribbing from Dave, then Paris should be no different. I have to agree with Dave: she's teamed up with a goon publicist, and he's making decisions that are all wrong for her.

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