Originally published in Boulder Weekly

May 2008

“I hate Paris Hilton,” he said, while chewing on a mouthful of Corn Nuts. “She has absolutely no redeeming qualities, and if there is a hell, I hope she burns there for all eternity after dying in a painful knife-juggling accident.”

I was on a bus to the airport when the man sitting next to me made that statement. We’d been talking about a wide range of topics: professional tennis, Billie Holiday, reality television and serial killers, just to name a few. I forget the man’s name (it was one of those three-letter monikers: Dan or Jim or Tom), but I do remember that his favorite serial killer was Jeffrey Dahmer. This stuck out in my mind because we talked about his interest in Dahmer less than five minutes before he declared his hatred for Paris Hilton. His demeanor had been affable and somewhat excited when talking about a notorious murderer who killed 17 people and made their skulls into ashtrays, but his voice dripped with venom when he began to discuss a blonde hotel heiress who hangs out with two yappy, annoying bitches (her Chihuahua, Tinkerbell, and Nicole Richie). Cannibalism he could understand, but The Simple Life was unforgivable.

I would estimate that about 73 percent of America currently shares Dan’s/Jim’s/Tom’s feelings toward Paris Hilton (if not his affinity for crunchy, high-sodium snacks and postmodern psychopaths), and I would never try to dissuade them. In fact, I can’t think of a single reason to like her. By all accounts, she appears to be a completely vapid human being, contributing absolutely nothing positive to the world whatsoever aside from pornographic fast food commercials and the occasional beaver shot.

On the other hand, I can’t really think of a reason to hate Paris Hilton, either. She has never done anything harmful to me personally (e.g. kicked me in the testicles) or to society in general (e.g. passed a law legalizing testicle-kicking). She hasn’t advised little girls to join the KKK or expressed a desire to punch newborn kittens. In fact, aside from a few traffic violations, the worst she can be accused of is pathological narcissism and bad manners, both of which are essentially endemic in Hollywood. Therefore, it would seem logical that we as a society would have no feelings about Paris Hilton at all.

But that’s not the case. Not since Yoko Ono yodeled her way into the zeitgeist has there been such a despised celebrity icon in Western culture. This is because there is absolutely no guilt involved in hating Paris Hilton. As Dan/Jim/Tom suggests, she has no redeeming qualities; hence, there is no glass ceiling on how much we are allowed to loath her.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that Jeffrey Dahmer has no redeeming qualities either. However, hating serial killers does not serve a purpose in our culture. We are not expected to glorify or idolize serial killers (which, of course, is (at least partially) why we often do); senseless murders are considered evil by definition. Celebrities, on the other hand, are constantly demanding our adoration. They flood our radio stations and dominate our televisions. They have perfect skin and perfect bodies. They are talented. They are charming. They are everywhere, all the time, and they are supposedly better than us in every way.

Except for Paris.

She is none of these things. She can’t sing. She has a lousy personality. Unless you’re into freakishly tan anorexic women, she is not very attractive. And she is such a horrible actress that even her homemade porn movies are stick-a-fork-in-your-eye boring.

It’s not just that we like to hate Paris Hilton; it’s that we need to hate her. She represents everything we secretly despise about celebrity culture but are not allowed to express.

If you want proof of America’s dysfunctional, passive-aggressive relationship with celebrities, look no further than the check-out line at your local supermarket. Every King Soopers and Safeway in the country has the same collection of entertainment magazines near the cash register. Half of them have covers that display beautiful, air-brushed photos of Cameron Diaz and Vince Vaughn aside gushing, pseudo-clever headlines, such as “Just Diazzling” or “InVINCEable!” and the other half are out-of-focus, unflattering tabloid photos of the exact same celebrities passed out on the sand in California like beached manatees. Sometimes, I see middle-aged mothers acquiring both types of periodicals at the same time, and I’m always amazed by their schizophrenic aesthetics. Do they a) adore Cameron Diaz, or b) detest Cameron Diaz?

Of course, the answer is really c) all of the above.

We want celebrities to be inhumanly attractive and glamorous, but we also need to know that they’re fat, disgusting sluts just like the rest of us. However, it’s difficult to properly express hatred for the very same people you’ve been socialized to admire. For instance, even if you can’t stand Tom Cruise’s smarmy smile, it’s impossible to completely separate him from the romantic, devil-may-care pilot in Top Gun or the pants-less teenager who won our hearts in Risky Business. To over-simplify the point, Tom Cruise symbolizes something more than Tom Cruise.

That’s why Paris Hilton is the most important celebrity in the world at the moment. She has never established an identity beyond the spoiled, vain media whore that she appears to embody; therefore, she serves as a type of resentment lightening rod for the general public. Instead of denouncing her as the bane of American culture, we should be thanking her for providing an invaluable service to a celebrity-saturated generation. She’s kind of like the pop culture version of Che Guevara. (I have no idea what that means, but I still think it might be true.)

Of course, not everyone agrees with my brilliant cultural analyses. When I finished explaining my theory to Dan/Jim/Tom at the departures gate at DIA, he threw away his empty Corn Nuts bag and smiled at me. “I understand what you mean, and it all makes sense,” he replied. “But nothing you just said changes this one, simple fact: I hate Paris Hilton.” And then he boarded a plane to Dallas, and I never saw him again.

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