By Edgar A. Rios
In the rhetoric of pop culture snobbery, the term “guilty pleasure” gets thrown around like a qualitative hot potato; the idea that particular musicians, artists, movies or television shows should never be considered alongside Bono, Picasso, Hitchcock or ER. As lofty as we claim our tastes to run, however, we’ll always chuckle at a good fart joke, shake our groove thang to disco and wonder who’s hooking up on The Real World; thus the guilt. When we, as otherwise socially conscious individuals, derive pleasure from, say, Paris Hilton’s unapologetically self-titled album, Paris, the guilt grows exponentially with the pleasure.
Paris’s musical debut is nothing more than another over-produced album. Unlike many of her gal-pals who attempt to come across as “punk,” or “rock,” or “hip-hop” (a.k.a. credible), Paris remains undeniably Paris. She doesn’t offer up much substance, but through her album an important message gets across. Whether in film, television or music, Paris Hilton always manages to be herself. It’s refreshing to be presented with something lacking musical pretension. With songs like, “Fightin’ Over Me,” “Screwed,” and a cover of Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” she’s not singing about anything we wouldn’t expect her to sing about; boys, fame, sex and friendship. She’s not expecting a Grammy nomination or to be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In the song “Turn You On,” her position is made clear; “Everybody’s looking at me/But that’s alright, I like attention.”
Paris, in her irreverent and over-privileged swagger, has become a pop-culture donkey that social critics take turns trying to pin the tail on. Her individual character flaws have come to represent national character flaws: a consumer driven and materialistic mindset; an obsession with celebrity; and a general apathy towards real social issues like poverty, women and minority rights, government corruption, the hole in the ozone layer, famine and war.
It’s hard to argue with that.
She has become a walking endorsement for anything that comes within a ten feet radius. Anybody seen with her is guaranteed their Warholian fifteen minutes. And she has yet to be spotted by paparazzi striking a pose outside of a political convention instead of a night club. Her lifestyle is something that no average person could possibly acquire, much less maintain, and that, above all else, has critics enraged. She presents an image and social standard that is unrealistic and unattainable. The average person, pressured into attempting to meet such standards of beauty and status, will never meet them, thus feeling inadequate, inferior and marginalized.
A valid argument, but is she the one to blame?
Despite it all, she’s not trying to be an over-privileged socialite, she is an over-privileged socialite. She was born into a family that is considered royalty in a U.S. capitalist aristocracy, and rather than bemoan her fate, she has embraced it.
The real issue isn’t Paris Hilton’s lifestyle. Who are we, as a society, to judge how any one person chooses to live? In qualifying Paris’s choice of lifestyle, we fall precisely into the mental trap we are fighting against, a mentality that presumes people are better or worse relative to their socioeconomic status. Paris Hilton’s privileged circumstance is not much different than the underprivileged scenario we are historically accustomed to. We are relegating her to an inferior cultural caste simply for being rich. This distinction is fundamentally the same as considering someone inferior for being poor.
The issues surrounding Paris Hilton are issues of society, not of an individual’s lifestyle. She’s not campaigning to change the world into the seemingly superficial and vacuous world in which she lives. She’s usually right next to us, laughing at the absurdity of it all; she is simply being herself. Isn’t that what we all ultimately want, the ability to live our lives how we choose? The time and effort spent scrutinizing Paris Hilton’s lifestyle would be better spent scrutinizing the media and American society, because both institutions, in promoting dollar bills over the Bill of Rights, have created a monster and allowed it to live.
Our society has come to idolize wealth above all else, and Paris is simply a product of that. In all honesty, we don’t hate her because she spends a fortune on designer clothes, name brand accessories, and top-of-the-line booze; we hate her because she can. Behind the deep concern for global warming and the state of the union, there exists a part in all us socially conscious individuals that wishes we could live just like her. The constant struggle to change the world is often burdensome and fatiguing. What we wouldn’t give to be able to throw our concern for humanity to the wind and party like Paris.
And that is the ultimate guilty pleasure.
Edgar A. Rios is a junior journalism/culture and communication major who argues that the Bill of Rights and dolla’ bills are not mututally exclusive. Email him at erios1 [at] hotmail.com.