So long, Paris

For years we've been paralyzed in the tractor beam of her brainless celebrity. Now it's time to kiss the creepy dollie goodbye.

Published December 11, 2006 1:00PM (EST)

You know that point in a Stephen King novel when you've sort of figured out that the creepy dollie -- the one with the plastic hair and serenely stupid eyes that roll in two different directions -- is actually an animate object wreaking havoc and destroying people and you wonder why the townspeople haven't cottoned on and crushed the damn thing under a truck or something?

I think it's safe to say we've reached that point with Paris Hilton. We need to acknowledge that Hilton is not simply a tabloid diversion but a malevolent blight on the pop culture landscape.

For too many years we have sat, paralyzed in the tractor beam of her wall-eyed celebrity, watching mutely as bad things happened to her band of D-list compatriots. We have witnessed the declining personal fortunes and liver health of her rotating cast of skuzzball BFFs, boyfriends and frenemies -- Bijou Phillips, Nicole Richie, Kimberly Stewart, Lindsay Lohan, Brandon Davis, Stavros Niarchos, Tara Reid -- because, really, who the hell were those people, anyway?

But then, a couple of weeks ago, Hilton started messing with Britney Spears, weighing down Spears' Phoenix-flight from her crapola marriage to grody Kevin Federline by dressing her up in tutus, taking her partying till all hours, and encouraging her to flash her whiskerless nether regions to paparazzi. Now, we all know that Spears is perfectly capable of attracting the interest of Child Protective Services all on her own. But this most recent visit from the state, as reported by Page Six last Wednesday, cuts deeper than any baby-dropping seat-belt infractions ever did. That's because we suspect that it has not been prompted simply by Spears' legendarily poor judgment or naiveté. No. Those unfortunate qualities just made her an easier mark for the pernicious influence of the world's most famous succubutante, and the rope line of gaunt, twitching bodies in Hilton's wake tips us off that it's unlikely to end well for her latest victim.

It's time to admit that Paris Hilton, that creepy dollie, must be destroyed. Metaphorically, of course.

Frankly, the time could not be more ripe for a recognition of Hilton's "Bad Seed" villainy. Even before her tabloid molestation of Spears, eyes were beginning to spring wide with comprehension. Three weeks ago, former "Saturday Night Live" head writer Tina Fey told Howard Stern about her antipathy for Hilton, calling the heiress a selfish, untalented, brainless "piece of shit" "SNL" guest host who is "unbelievably dumb and so proud of how dumb she is," and left "nasty wads of Barbie hair" on the floor of the studio. Meanwhile, conservative Manhattan Institute writer Kay S. Hymowitz wrote a piece in City Journal about the pervasive loathing of Hilton, summing up quite neatly Hilton's role as a "synonym for American materialism, bad manners, greed ... parochialism, arrogance, promiscuity, antifeminism, exposed roots and navels, entitlement, cell-phone addiction, anorexia and bulimia, predilection for gas-guzzling private transportation, pornified womanhood, exhibitionism, [and] narcissism." Hymowitz argued that while she "may be a composite of contemporary American sins," the act of hating Hilton is "a sign of lingering cultural sanity."

When Paris tore into Britney -- who, whatever inane decisions she has made, or been pushed into, during her decade in our pop culture consciousness, has retained an aura of pink-cheeked, creamy-bellied vulnerability -- she crossed a line. Spears fans, more frantic about the deleterious effects of Hilton than of the ghoulish Kevin Federline, swamped Spears' MySpace page with pleas, including one begging the singer to "please get away from the Parasite." On "The View," Rosie O'Donnell called Hilton an "idiot" and offered to adopt Spears, saying, "We don't want Britney hanging out with Paris." Hilton's face even appeared on the front of the New York Times "Week in Review" section, next to William Hamilton's headline "The Bar for Bad Behavior Keeps Getting Lower, Until It Doesn't." Hamilton's piece, about Michael Richards' racist tirade, O.J.'s canceled confession, and Spears' snatch shots, didn't even mention Hilton by name. But her image on the front was a tip of the hat to Hilton's role as devil on the shoulder, a bloodless specter of bad influence, a nipped and plucked incarnation of the kind of dark figures supposedly encountered by young girls in the Salem woods in 1692.

Hilton first came to national attention eight years ago, the teenage heiress to the Hilton hotel fortune. She was a wealthy party girl who liked to pose for photos and dance on banquettes at the tail end of '90s New York's boom days. And why not? The sun had risen and set on many a wifty socialite with no discernible skills, talents or opinions. What grated particularly, perhaps, even in those early days, was Hilton's open vapidity -- the unapologetic blankness of her stare, her affected Valley Girl upspeak, the fact that she didn't even bother to try to disguise her own lack of intellectual or moral ambition. But still -- another decade, another spoiled child pictured in the papers and in the pages of Vogue.

But Hilton's fame mysteriously increased as her coming-of-age coincided with a booming Internet gossip culture and an explosion of weekly magazines in need of trashy characters to keep their serialized narratives chugging along. Hilton saw an opening and took it, gaining enough steam for simply being rich and divertingly dumb that she landed a feature profile in Vanity Fair and a snail trail of photographs tracing her moves from nightclub to movie premiere. She became the star of a night-vision sex tape in which she left an impression not by showcasing one smidgen of eroticism, but by answering her cellphone mid-act.

She starred in a reality show, "The Simple Life," with her friend Nicole Richie, in which she got to showcase her rich-girl indifference and rock-bottom stupidity about class. She created a mini news cycle by losing her Chihuahua, only to later discover she had forgotten she left it at her grandparents' house. She has trademarked her catchphrase, "That's hot," and been unashamed to admit that despite all the educational advantages her family's vast fortune could provide her, she is not aware that London is in the United Kingdom. This has been Hilton's whole shtick: I'm dumb and badly behaved, but it doesn't matter because I'm rich.

And that's really it. That's what she's famous for. The press, often at a loss for words as to how to explain what, exactly, Hilton is or does, describe her as an "It" girl. But given that even her fashion sense is abysmal by every possible standard, it's impossible to argue that Hilton has "It" unless "It" means a hairless hooch and the willingness to expose it.

In some ways, Hilton's presence on the celebrity scene is troubling because of the suspicion that she is a straw woman for all those who like to think of young women as dumb floozies. We keep her there, as a mortifying symbol of American womanhood -- yes, she is famous overseas -- in part because she is a satisfying punching bag for anyone with women issues. This year Keith Olbermann felt free to call Hilton a slut on air and speculate about whether anyone had ever ejaculated in her face. One of her former conquests, Elijah Blue Allman, has said that he used Tilex to clean his genitalia after their unprotected encounter. As Hymowitz observed in her piece, "slurs like 'tramp,' 'tart,' 'slut,' 'skank,' and 'skanktron' have suddenly become acceptable again, as long as Paris is their target." Indeed. Unable to choose between politically incorrect punch lines, the New York Post recently ran a photo of Hilton, Spears, and Lindsay Lohan under the cover headline "Bimbo Summit" and the inside headline "3 Bimbos of the Apocalypse"; the piece concluded with the sentence, "Skanks for the memories!" And it was funny! Which is part of what is so dangerous about our attentions to Hilton. It's easy to suspect that it is because she offers gratifyingly inappropriate opportunities to lash out against femininity and sexuality (outbursts to which few object, because there is literally no one who wants to defend her) that she has remained famous at all.

But aside from the creepiness of what she says about a not-so-latent American desire to have a stupid and sexualized woman around to degrade and humiliate, what makes Hilton horror-movie scary is the evil that she spreads. It's the poisonous effect she has on people and how long it's taken anyone to really catch on. Look at the trail of consumptive, addled, brokenhearted, humiliated bodies she's left behind her: Hilton's most famous friend Nicole Richie has suffered from an "inability to gain weight" so severe that the 25-year-old woman has recently appeared on the verge of death. Kimberly Stewart, Rod Stewart's daughter and an early Hilton home-girl, was recently revealed to be suffering from some sort of liver disease precipitated by partying too hard. Paris' younger sibling Nicky was inspired to get into a quickie -- and quickly annulled -- marriage while partying with her sister in Vegas. Oil-heir Brandon Davis, egged on by Hilton, was moved to go on a Looney-Tunes tirade about actress Lindsay Lohan, in which he was videotaped calling her "firecrotch"; his grandmother soon packed him off to rehab. While he was dating Hilton, shipping heir Stavros Niarchos insulted a homeless man by offering him money to pour a drink over his head while Hilton and their other friends laughed. And Lohan, an arguably talented young actress who keeps on-and-off company with Hilton, appears closer to serious, party-ravaged collapse every day.

As for Spears, it took less than two weeks of exposure to Hilton before her vagina -- and C-section scar -- was hanging out all over the Internet, before she became the thinly disguised object of a gossip column blind item about drug use, and before she was back on Page Six for having Child Services breathing down her neck.

It is surely fair to say that Hilton is not sticking her own finger down anyone's throat, or blowing drugs up their nasal passages, or pouring drinks down their gullets. She's certainly not the word-wizard behind the offensive and troubling -- but oddly poetic -- "firecrotch" epithet. But her proximity to the scene of every misfortune is enough to send frissons of exquisite terror down a spine.

The other almost-supernatural aspect of Hilton's reign of harebrained horror is the way that she herself remains intact while those around her wither. Hilton is like some kind of Dorian Gray cockroach. While her buddies waste away and collapse and see their careers flushed down the celebrity toilet after having been in her presence, she grows stronger: appearing on more magazine covers, getting bigger record contracts, attracting more attention, sleeping with more of her fading friends' boyfriends. Even her Plasticine exterior seems unravaged by her excessive behaviors.

She is, frustratingly, indestructible. Hilton has been caught on tape referring to two black friends as "dumb niggers." She has been arrested for drunk driving. She has peed herself in a taxicab in Hawaii. She has vomited onstage while singing her own songs. She has laughed like a retarded hyena as boyfriends like Davis and Niarchos have embarrassed themselves and ruined their own reputations. And yet, she has never had to go on Letterman to apologize; she has never had to meet with leaders of a community to make amends; she never even had to clean the taxi that she befouled. As a completely non-achieving celebrity, there are no higher moral, spiritual or intellectual expectations burdening the heiress. So she's a moronic, racist, boyfriend-stealing, talentless twit? Surprise. We never thought her anything better.

There is no question that we are culpable, as readers and writers and photographers and Web surfers and consumers -- addicted to the empty calories and steady buzz of hating on Hilton. And though, like cigarettes or smack, most of us wish in our heart of hearts that we knew how to quit her, there's no realistic way to make that happen. Some have tried. Lloyd Grove even banned the heiress from his gossip column, but it didn't make her go away, not one little bit. So instead of unrealistic exhortations that we put down the crack pipe, perhaps it is more practical to push for simple recognition of what she is: Bad News.

Paris Hilton is more than a punch-line-rich pest. She is poisonous and culty and insidiously evil, and her tyranny must end. Last week, as she spread like a rash to Spears, the scariest image was not Spears' nude lady-parts or the weird fishnet-trading Toulouse Lautrec get-up that Hilton arranged for the pair. It was a picture of the young women walking hand-in-hand, Hilton in a T-shirt that read "I'm Paris Hilton, I can do whatever I want." Next to her, Spears wore a shirt reading, "I'm Paris Hilton, I can do whatever I want."

She must be stopped. Before she kills.

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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Britney Spears Celebrity Paris Hilton