Betsy Hart

Paris Hilton says that being in lockup for a few weeks was traumatic. I think being shot at in Iraq would be traumatic — not taking a little time off from having every whim satisfied on a whim. Nonetheless, different folks have different levels of trauma-handling ability. She apparently reached hers. (The lovely Paris was sent to jail for driving on a suspended license following a DUI charge. And good for that judge.)

The fact that Paris Hilton takes herself seriously — she once spoke of "retiring" (and I wondered: "From what?") — is not what's offensive. Socialites have been doing that for decades, I suppose.

What offends me is that anybody, sometimes it seems everybody, takes her — and, for that matter, her "sisters," Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan — seriously to the point of obsession.

And so while the young heiress whose claim to acting fame comes from starring in a TV reality show about herself — her real claim to fame is accidentally starring in an Internet sex video — was in jail, we regularly heard about her schedule, her meals, her outbursts. Just before her sentence of some 23 days was up, one headline read: "The World Awaits Paris' Release."

Please tell me the World has better things to wait for.

Then she got a prime spot on CNN's "Larry King Live" this week. Or rather, King got her for a scripted interview. In the world of media, Paris Hilton, especially Paris Hilton right after jail, is what's known as a huge "get."

Why?

Thanks to media saturation and the Internet, we can see every (ugly) detail of a celebrity's life. In particular, gone are the days when Tiger Beat ruled magazine picks of young girls (and we read upbeat stories of our favorite young crushes). Now it's Paris in jail and Lindsay passed out and drooling in a car, almost in real time. Surely at least some young girls are thinking, "Wow — you can act like that and be rich and famous and have fans? Note to self ..."

Society has always been obsessed with celebrity and celebrity shallowness; now this is all just easier to get ahold of. In that sense, the Internet gossip sprees are not unlike pornography. The latter has always been there. But when I was growing up, a teenager might get ahold of a Playboy magazine and it had to last the entire neighborhood of high-school boys about two years. Today with the Internet, the floodgates have opened and it's 24/7.

In an earlier age when the gossip rags had limited pages and television limited channels and news minutes, Paris, who can't sing or act, might not have made it onto them as easily. Now, the almost infinite media of television and the Internet are aching for content. And she and her cohorts provide it, well, 24/7.


Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart is a nationally syndicated columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service. Her column on cultural and family issues, “From the Hart,” is distributed each week to hundreds of newspapers cross the country. Betsy’s first book, "It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting out Kids – and What to do About It," was released in September, 2005, and was a top seller for its publisher, Putnam Books.