Originally Published: June 14, 2005 5 a.m.
Like it or not, Paris Hilton has turned herself into the "It" girl of the Bush II era.
Through a shrewd combination of shameless self-promotion and self-promoting shamelessness, the hotel heiress, "reality" TV personality, horror film actress and home-video porn star gets more attention from the E! Network and Us magazine sector of the news media than Laura Bush and Condoleezza Rice combined.
Her impending nuptials to a Greek shipping heir also named Paris likely will draw more TV coverage than the investiture of the pope, as will their inevitable divorce. For sheer prurient interest, only the Michael Jackson trial rivals her exploits. How long, I wonder, before bootleg videos of the happy couple's wedding night show up on the Internet?
But why all the attention? Even with all the surgical enhancement, the woman's not superficially attractive enough to make the cut in the kinds of beer commercials shown on ESPN. She just hasn't got that scrubbed, wholesome, "let's have half a dozen cold ones and watch the ballgame with the guys" look. She can't sing, can't dance. As for acting, the acerbic DCMediagirl.com characterizes her as "a rich bimbo who, had she not been born with the last name Hilton, would probably be churning out (low-budget porn) videos in the San Fernando Valley about now."
Times have changed. Today's fairy princess dresses and acts like a courtesan. The message: Anybody can have her, except you, because you can't afford her. But she will let you watch, because she's an exhibitionist who gets a charge out of titillating the peasants.
The media love Hilton for the same reasons. Consider the flurry of indignation over her latest escapade, a ludicrously over-the-top commercial for Carl's Jr., a California hamburger chain.
Almost needless to say, the ad provoked a media controversy, precisely as it was designed to do. CNN, FOXNews, MSNBC and most of the rest jumped in with coverage of what "critics" said were the ad's excesses.
"This commercial is basically softcore porn," Melissa Caldwell, research director for the Parents Television Council, told the Los Angeles Times. "It's inappropriate for television."
We owe it all to Kenneth Starr. Like many innovations in the art of propaganda, the technique was perfected during the Bill Clinton years, when broadcast scolds learned to titillate and infuriate their audience simultaneously through endless repetition of the magical phrase, "oral sex."
(E-mail Gene Lyons at email@example.com)