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13 Jun

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

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.