Ave, Hitchens: We Who Are About To Gossip Salute You

June 13, 2007

So Christopher Hitchens is comparing Paris Hilton’s treatment by the media to child abuse: Hilton is, he says, “legally an adult but the treatment she is receiving stinks—indeed it reeks—of whatever horrible, buried, vicarious impulse underlies kiddie porn and child abuse.”

How so? Well, having gleefully consumed all manner of Paris-porn (the notorious sex tape, the paparazzi shots of tits-and-ass), the “dumb-ass TV addicted crowds” of the dissolute Western World are now jeering and roaring their approval at the spectacle of Paris – “a tearful child… a sobbing, helpless child” – being hauled in and out of and back in to prison. “Not content with seeing her undressed and variously penetrated,” he says, “it seems to be assumed that we need to see her being punished and humiliated as well.”

Right, so – the media coverage of Paris being incarcerated for violation of her probation has gotten ugly. This is, apparently, akin to the impulses underlying “kiddie porn and child abuse.” Except that it’s not, and the comparison offends me deeply.

Let’s address the most obvious mis-statement of fact: Paris Hilton is not a child. Perhaps from the gray peaks of senior citizenship occupied by Mr. Hitchens (and Jamie Lee Curtis, if we’re keeping tabs on the legions of those who feel sorry for the young heiress-slash-tabloid-fixture), Paris might look like a young’un, but by the standards of any modern state she is, at 26 years of age, an adult. So she cried out for her mommy – so what? I cried out for my mommy more than few times in my adulthood – notably, during childbirth, and most recently at the dentist - and I’m sure that Mr. Hitchens has cried Mommy in more than a few moments of unrestrained fear or, um, excitement. If crying out for mommy was evidence of age of minority, more than a few men would have trouble making purchases at the liquor store.

Paris is an adult – and a spoiled, shameless fame-whore of an adult at that. If the unwashed masses are jeering at her, it’s not without at least some cause. She has built her dubious career on the unsteady sandhill of attention from the masses, and deserves no sympathy when those sands shift and threaten to bury her.

And this is, I think, what is really bothering Hitchens: the unseemly behaviour of the masses. They’re showing their ugly side, as they invariably do. All of the jeering and taunting and hooting at Paris reminds Hitchens – he doesn’t say this, but it’s there between the lines – of the Roman Coliseum, of Christians being fed to the lions (a spectacle of which, ironically, he would probably approve), of slaves being thrust into combat with gladiators. Of blood and gore and violence and deafening cheers by ignorant crowds at same.

So it is that he paints Paris as an innocent. If this were a Catholic priest – if this were Mother Teresa - being grotesquely pilloried by the masses, he’d likely stand and cheer from the comfort of his box seats. The masses, it seems, are most offensive to Hitchens when they are satisfying their blood lust crassly, when they are calling for the blood of something or someone who has caused Hitchens no offense. Curiously, Paris Hilton falls into this category, and so Hitchens – unable to see what it is about Paris (couldn’t be the obscene flaunting of her wealth and privilege, nor the flagrant disregard for the laws than are obeyed by ordinary people, nor the unceasing fame-whorage – could it?) that so provokes people – labels her a child. An innocent.

I’m as discomfited as any thinking person by the circus that has surrounded Hilton’s arrest and incarceration. And I find the Coliseum-like displays of mob blood lust that erupt around any event like this (Michael Jackson’s trial, anyone?) positively disturbing. But I don’t translate that discomfort into sympathy for the participants. And yes, Paris Hilton is a participant in this spectacle, not a victim. She put herself at the centre of it, and she’s making damn sure that she gets maximum exposure from it (what other inmates are making calls to Barbara Walters from their cells? Wait – what other inmates can get calls through to Barbara Walters? Right.)

And this where Hitchen’s analysis of the situation falls most absurdly, most obscenely apart. Paris Hilton is not a victim of any abuse other than that she has inflicted upon herself. Children who are physically, emotionally or sexually abused are, however, most emphatically victims; the most heart-breaking, soul-wrenching victims of the some of the greatest evils that human beings are capable of perpetrating. There is no comparison. To even suggest the comparison is, to my mind, inutterably, sickeningly offensive.

Paris might not – might not – deserve the jeers and the taunts. She might not even deserve -according to the strict letter of the law – the prison sentence that she received. I don’t know, and I don’t care.

What I do know is this: there are great, great evils in our world, some of our own creation, some not. This is not one of them.

This is so not one of them.

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    { 50 comments }

    kittenpie June 13, 2007 at 1:51 pm

    You know, I must say, I think the reason people are pleased is the sense that the rich and famous get to escape the rules evryone else lives by so often, and when we see one of them actually have to serve time like a normal person (Martha?), people are really pleased. And what makes for even more reaction is her statement before going in that she wanted to show she could do it and do it properly – and then she lasts three days. I think that really pissed people off. So yeah, I think most of this is totally of her own making what with the DUI and driving without license a couple of times.

    I would say, though, that she wasn’t part of the inital release of that sex tape, and I think she was upset about that coming out. It did, though, launch her into a household name, and she has certainly made her lemonade, so to speak.

    Lisa Gieibtz June 13, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    THANK YOU!

    I read that article yesterday and was also put-off by that particular comparison, but really couldn’t articulate why.

    I must confess that my first and visceral reaction was, “THROW HER BACK IN JAIL!” But I also understand why. It’s no crime to be rich or famous in my book (and I don’t follow celebrity gossip in general). But being rich and famous and not doing really a thing to earn either, then *flaunting* it to garner more attention? It’s like your neighbor getting a new car and blatantly rubbing it your face. That’s in poor taste to say the least and to me what Paris Hilton does is much worse. In a country obsessed with material gain, status and physical appearance, she rubs everyone’s face in the fact that you’ll never be rich, powerful, or pretty like her.

    So naturally, people are going to cheer like mad at her ANY misfortune that befalls her. They can tell themselves, “Well, at least I’m not in jail” or “Well, at least there’s not a tape of me having sex floating around”, etc. The behavior may be ugly, but it shouldn’t come as unexpected.

    My personal opinion (meaning I could be totally wrong) is that if people didn’t put so much stock in the nigh-unreachable standards of wealth, status, and beauty we’re sold by the media and our culture, this kind of Roman circus wouldn’t happen. I know – wishful thinking. :)

    Chantal June 13, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    On the mark! You took my outrage, the thoughts I couldn’t express and put it on the page. Thank You!

    Mary-LUE June 13, 2007 at 2:17 pm

    Having been bemused to say the least by what I can only consider Hitchens’ evangelism of athiesm and his calls for the obliteration of religion, I–a card carrying, Jesus-loving, Bible-toting, flawed, human-being, have chosen to avoid reading too much more about him and what he has to say. So, you can say, quite appropriately, that I am somewhat predisposed to disapprove of the man.

    After reading this, I am appalled. I think you hit the nail on the proverbial head when you call out his distaste for the crassness of the masses. (That’s awkward phrasing to say the least, but…) This kind of intellectual elitism and brazen superiority just… just… Argh!!! I can’t even express my feelings and thoughts about this. I’m so glad you did so–with much insight, passion and really, really good words!

    Phoenix June 13, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    Right on! It’s sad to me how much coverage this is getting. Truthfully I don’t want her driving on the same streets and highways I do. It makes me unsafe. Personally I hope they keep her in jail.

    And hey, every time I come here, your site goes back and forth. One day it’s the new design and the next it’s green. Is it having an identy crisis?

    Blog Antagonist June 13, 2007 at 2:40 pm

    I think the paparazzi are going to be the downfall of Western Civilazation. I really do. Paris would be just another spoiled heiress if it wasn’t for the media.

    I agree with every word, as I usually do when you wax philosophic.

    Great post.

    slouching mom June 13, 2007 at 2:41 pm

    Ugh.

    What an asshat Hitchens can be.

    Julie Pippert June 13, 2007 at 2:45 pm

    I realize that profanity is the hallmark of a lack of creativity and vocabulary (and possibly rearing) but…

    Are you shitting me?

    People are saying this is akin to molestation and abuse of children?

    It’s akin to, as you said, bloodlust at public executions, or sporting events.

    But anything else is…well, as bad that group protesting at Harvard because the rape seminar didn’t include a talking point about abstinence. (What were these people’s SATs again?)

    It is disgusting, which is why I have done my level best to avoid it (yes, you nailed it, the MJ debacle burned me permanently).

    Well put! And you so skillfully made me think of your coming point.

    Lawyer Mama June 13, 2007 at 2:46 pm

    THANK you. As much as I hate to waste another minute of thought on Paris Hilton, I can’t realy feel sorry for her. Yes, some people are enjoying her downfall a bit too much. But casting PH as a victim just infuriates me. There are so many people who are truly victims in many more ways – victims of poverty, drug addiction, racism – who end up in jail every day. And unfair sentences? Happen to people every day in U.S. federal court under the mandatory sentencing guidelines. And no one protects them with jailhouse isolation or allows them their Blackberries in prison.

    ByJane June 13, 2007 at 2:49 pm

    I think Hitchens is doing a bit of the old projective identification here. He is in his own way as much of a press whore as she is….! He’s weeping for himself, poor poor Christopher.

    BOSSY June 13, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    When we gossip about Paris, Paris wins.

    Awesome Mom June 13, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    Amen to that!

    Mrs. Chicken June 13, 2007 at 4:01 pm

    Amen! Do you know that Hitchens smokes in the shower? God, that guy needs to get a life.

    At least, that’s what I read somewhere.

    Uh-oh, did I just commit Hitches abuse by gossiping? But if it’s in the New Yorker, is it really gossip?

    Begs to be examined.

    metro mama June 13, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    Great new look! I’m going to tackle mine this weekend before life gets super busy again.

    Beck June 13, 2007 at 5:51 pm

    Christopher Hitchens is an attention-seeking ass, so of course he defends his ilk. I believe my reaction at the Paris sentencing was a very Nelson Muntz-esque “Haw haw!”. But then, I’m just one of the little people.

    sam June 13, 2007 at 6:41 pm

    You’ve addressed this so well C. I totally agree with you. To compare Paris’ “treatment” as of late to that of child porn is very irresponsible and disgusting.

    Geez, that pisses me right off.

    P.S.
    LOVE LOVE LOVE the new site design!! Absolutely LOVE!

    flutter June 13, 2007 at 9:28 pm

    hallelujah, seriously.

    Jen June 13, 2007 at 9:54 pm

    He is a moron. She drove drunk and got caught – more than once.

    I think that covers it.

    Austrian Dyspeptic June 13, 2007 at 9:59 pm

    Lucidly said.

    Hitchens took aim at Mother Teresa without any qualms — someone who tried to address the needs of those outcast and forgotten — he pilloried her as almost a common criminal.

    There is something perverse at work here. Hitchens is little more than a contrarian rather than a thoughtful commentator, a veritable whinge artist whose only aim is to gain the the ire of people who actually think. C– he got under your skin because you are thoughtful and call bullshit for what it is —

    Did you read Lynne Crosbie’s bit on schadenfreude — in reference to the “Hilton Case”? It’s downright pornographic the amount of ink that she is generating when people are being put to death in Darfur with nary a front page story addressing it.

    Is it any wonder why so many people despise the West given its predilection for “news stories” on Wankers composed by Wankers and consumed by the denizens of Vacuumland?

    Ugh.

    Christopher Hitchens is a Wanker. Let’s start selling the t-shirts NOW!

    Girl con Queso June 13, 2007 at 10:32 pm

    Brilliant.

    PunditMom June 13, 2007 at 10:37 pm

    Hear, hear, HBM. Thank you for your voice of sanity.

    Kara June 13, 2007 at 11:41 pm

    Well said and I am so sick of hearing about Paris Hilton. She’s in jail – so what! I have so many more important things to think about and do!

    Damselfly June 14, 2007 at 12:06 am

    Where are the media reports saying how her jail time might just be saving someone’s life by keeping her off the streets?

    Bobita~ June 14, 2007 at 12:50 am

    Spot on.

    the weirdgirl June 14, 2007 at 2:46 am

    Preach on, sister! Sometimes it scares me how much people have their heads up their butts. (Or maybe that’s just the people in charge.) I suppose it must be hard to find perspective up there… what with the smell and all.

    MotherBumper June 14, 2007 at 8:52 am

    If crying out for mommy was evidence of age of minority, more than a few men would have trouble making purchases at the liquor store.” – *snicker*

    I think we are headed straight back to the times of public floggings/feeding the Christians to the lions (we are already there I think) but the arena is in our living rooms via the TV.

    jchevais June 14, 2007 at 9:07 am

    I am standing and clapping.

    Can you hear me?

    Laural Dawn June 14, 2007 at 9:34 am

    What bugs me the most about this is that so many people miss the point here (not you, Hitchins). She went to jail for driving drunk – well specifically for breaking probation she got for driving drunk.
    I have NO sympathy. Not only does it stink to drive after drinking, but the girl has the money to afford taxis or her own personal driver – while on probation and while drunk.
    But, I agree with the commenter above – I think we are headed back to public floggings. People eat that stuff up now. It’s scary.
    Anyway … off my pedestal. I’m not so perfect myself.
    I just don’t expect sympathy when I do dumb and/or illegal things (well, I don’t generally do illegal things)

    Queen Heather June 14, 2007 at 9:40 am

    I agree the comparison Hitchens made was in poor taste.

    I think everyone is a participant in this spectacle called Life.

    I don’t feel sorry for Paris, though not in a you-asked-for-it-you-got-it way. She is her own creation and I think it’s great for her to feel ALL sides of the the life she created.

    Sarah June 14, 2007 at 10:09 am

    Paris Hilton is famous simply for being famous, and she seems to thrive in that. This jail thing will not hurt her celebrity one bit, so I could care less.

    J June 14, 2007 at 10:25 am

    Well done post!

    Diane June 14, 2007 at 10:29 am

    Hear, hear! The girl made her own bed, and while I do feel sorry for her and find the media attention totally over the top and sickening, Paris has set this up from Day 1. It has been her goal to be in the media’s spotlight, and while she may not have counted on the ugly side getting so much attention, she’s gotten all that she set out to do. Commenter Sarah here says Paris is famous for being famous. Very true. All on her own, of her very own making. That comes with some consequences.

    Mrs. Chicky June 14, 2007 at 11:03 am

    Fantastic.

    The media helped to build Paris (with her help) and the media will tear her down. It only seems fitting. But to compare it to the rape of innocent (important word there) children (also important) is disgusting.

    Rock the Cradle June 14, 2007 at 11:07 am

    I saw the photo of the crying Paris and spared one thought for her:

    Welcome to the world of accountability.

    PinksandBluesGirls June 14, 2007 at 1:50 pm

    I am only a few months older than Paris and I grew out of that type of behavior when I was… wait a minute, come to think of it, I NEVER ACTED like that.

    Perhaps it was having parents who instilled a sense of pride, accountability and self-respect in me. Yeah, that may be what she needed.

    Feel sorry for her? Not I!

    Jane, Pinks & Blues Girls

    Absolutely Bananas June 14, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    You say it so well… totally my thoughts if I knew how to organize them succinctly!

    painted maypole June 14, 2007 at 2:31 pm

    good post. I am so sick of paris hilton, and I think in this whole mess she has seen that being famous has it’s down side as well (most people would have been out of that prison in a few days with no uproar at all, but she’s being made an example of, and I have no problem with that. If you want the glories of fame, then you have to expect the pitfalls of it as well)

    Redneck Mommy June 14, 2007 at 3:30 pm

    Steam began to pour out of my ears immediately upon reading your first few lines. However, since you have so brilliantly ripped apart this twit’s theory (thank you and well done) I will focus my energy on commenting on your new look.

    Love it! Izzy did a great job. (Not surprisingly!)

    And loved the Budge post. Thanks for sharing.

    Tracey June 14, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    Wow. Can you feel the speed with which I added you to my bloglines? I know I’ve read your blog before, but this post rocked. Rocked so much, that I am hooked.

    Tracey June 14, 2007 at 3:58 pm

    Oh, and thanks for stopping by. I promise to have something more exciting in a few weeks. I’m in full on packing for vacation oh MY GOD mode…

    stella June 14, 2007 at 4:34 pm

    i also read this article, linked from dooce’s blog…and he totally lost me.

    i wasn’t so impressed with anything he had to say, and completely disagree with his statements.

    i was rather surprised after reading, that dooce would have posted it. perhaps for the sake of conversation???

    i wasn’t feelin it.

    Bahrageous June 14, 2007 at 8:40 pm

    Honestly…anyone who feels sorry for an obscenely rich socialite who has publicly aired just about every private thing possible, is an absolute idiot.

    I wonder what the same people would be writing had she killed someone while driving drunk with a suspended license. Hmmmmm….

    Daisy June 15, 2007 at 9:41 am

    I decided I’d had enough when the headline on CNN said, “Paris Hilton upstages Buzz Aldrin’s Return to Space.” Good heavens, people. Let the “kid” grow up and serve her time. Let the rest of us see some real news.

    sara - The Estrogen Files June 15, 2007 at 9:19 pm

    Sing it, sistah!! So totally with what you’ve said here.

    Bon June 16, 2007 at 10:49 am

    i know i’m late contributing to the choir here, but amen. sure, we’re showing our crass schadenfreude side, and it’s ugly. but the comparison to child abuse is far, far uglier…

    Veronica Mitchell June 17, 2007 at 5:45 pm

    Certainly his comparisons are ridiculous, and his standards for who should receive sympathy and who derision are baffling, at best. But I think you may be posing an unecessary dichotomy here.

    Hilton is an adult being punished for a crime she committed. She has (apparently) exploited the popular fixation on shallow trivialities for her gain, and now suffers from that same fixation. Her suffering is deserved and of her own making.

    But why does that alienate her from our compassion? Don’t get me wrong, I find it easy to hate parasites and the willfully stupid. But you seem to be arguing that every deserved suffering is unworthy of compassion, and I don’t think I’m comfortable with that standard. Quite frankly, I don’t want to be judged by it.

    Her Bad Mother June 17, 2007 at 9:02 pm

    Veronica, you’re right to state that desert of circumstances shouldn’t necessarily alienate someone from our compassion, and I probably sounded too harsh with the make-your-bed-lie-in-it assertions. Paris is certainly deserving of compassion, as a human being, BUT… my point here is that Hitchens seems to be demanding an extraordinary degree of compassion. I can feel icky – and badly on her behalf – about the media bloodbath (as I certainly do about Britney Spears, poor tart, and did about Anna Nicole) – but I’ll still remain critical of her complicity in her circumstances. So I guess what I’m calling for is some constructively *critical* compassion, if there is such a thing.

    But I would say too, that not all deserved sufferings are created equal, and deserving of comparable compassion. The humanist ideal – and Christian ideal – is to love all of our fellow creatures, even those that might be hateful. But that’s a pretty difficult ideal to hold to. Do I feel compassion for mass murderers? Prolly not as much as I should, as a good humanist. And my compassion for Paris is certainly tempered by my awareness that she’ll exploit her circumstances, and seek to manipulate our compassion (witness the Barbara Walters phone call) for her own gain. That provokes the cynic in me, and the cynic in me has been known to bitch-slap my inner humanist from time to time.

    nancy June 18, 2007 at 7:13 pm

    I agree completely. Paris is brilliant at the self-promotion game, and she has mostly been a willing participant as she throws herself in the public eye. I don’t know if her outbursts are intended to invoke sympathy and outrage on her behalf — perhaps it worked with Hitchens — but for me it just smacks of the girl who cried wolf. Sorry, Paris, you made your bed and now you should lie in it.

    Speaking of media attention, have you heard the story of Allison Stokke (the high school pole vaulter)? That, to me, is a case where the poor girl is getting lots of attention that she really hasn’t asked for.

    Anonymous June 18, 2007 at 10:43 pm

    catherine my friend of the great blogosphere i bow down to your greatness and wisdom.i couldn’t have said this better myself.so true and to the point.LAVENDULA

    Her Bad Mother June 18, 2007 at 11:51 pm

    Thanks, L, but I’m actually not all that great. I’m just *good* ;)

    The funny thing is – I actually usually like Hitchens. And I AM usually the first to say that we should have compassion for mad dogs and celebrities. But this whole thing sent me careening off my usual course.

    Am still sensitive about having been a bit harsh on poor Paris. But then again, kinda not.

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