Jonah Goldberg

"I paid off a poker debt with sexual favors, and I fell in love," former "Baywatch" star Pamela Anderson told Ellen DeGeneres of her new beau earlier this month. "It's so romantic. It's romance."

Indeed. What a shame Audrey Hepburn isn't available to turn this hooker-with-implants-of-gold story into the date movie of the year.

In case you don't know the story: Pamela Anderson, who made her name as a centerfold and faux lifeguard with built-in flotation devices, has gotten hitched to Rick Salomon, whose greatest accomplishment was surreptitiously videotaping himself having relations with Paris Hilton. The film, "1 Night in Paris," was seemingly timed to coincide with the launch of Paris Hilton's new TV show, "The Simple Life," which featured the millionaire heiress trying to comprehend how working-class people get through their lives without the benefit of a publicist, chauffeur, stylist, etc. A new edition of the tape, complete with "collectible prison packaging" to take advantage of her recent stint in the Stoney Lonesome, recently hit the market. She reportedly gets a director's credit.

Anyway, to show that there were no hard feelings, Paris sent the newlyweds a video camera as a wedding gift with the note, "Congrats Mrs. Salomon, but be warned ... love Paris." Pam has good reason to be sensitive about such things. Anderson's pornographic home video of her and her first husband, rocker Tommy Lee, largely started the celebrity sex-video craze in the first place.

I could go on, but I already know what you're thinking: Classy people.

So let me switch gears and share with you the plight of the cultural conservative. If I were to write a column condemning the commodified harlotry of all this, I would be the bad guy.

It seems like the entire culture has adopted the "turn-ons" and "turn-offs" from one of Anderson's centerfold bios. Turn-ons: kids, animals, good food, good times. Turn-offs: uptight squares, scolds and all-around "meanies."

Every few years, I write a column about Madonna, not because I'm a particular fan or foe, but because she typifies the bind conservatives are in. Madonna pioneered a certain kind of slattern chic in the 1980s and early 1990s. But as she got older and had kids, she grew up - a little. She said she was embarrassed by some of her earlier exploits. To a sycophantically sympathetic press, she announced that she was going to be a good mom, not "the Material Girl."

Actually, she made these announcements fairly regularly, perhaps because she kept falling off the maturity wagon. In response to one such revelation, ABC News proclaimed: "She was in the pages of Playboy, published her own book on sex, and kissed Britney Spears in a live stage performance, but Madonna tells ABC News' 20/20 she may be through with propelling her celebrity with sex."

When a woman pushing 50 who looks like she's been working out in a Bolivian prison yard declares she won't use her sex appeal as a marketing tool anymore, maybe it's a tad less courageous than all that? I hear Abe Vigoda just announced he won't be touting his buns of steel to peddle his line of Old Man Pants either.

Anyway, I'm straying from my point. For years, conservatives criticized the likes of Madonna for proselytizing commercialized decadence, and conservatives routinely came out the losers. The press, generally being liberal, disliked the perceived censorial uptightness of conservative "culture warriors." The press, also being professionally and personally infatuated with celebrity, instinctively defended stars over the meanies, because stars boost ratings and get you into glamorous parties. The meanies stay home with their kids.

But here's the thing: Conservatives were right about Madonna, and even Madonna has partially admitted as much. The problem is that Madonna - like Hilton and Anderson - is irrelevant. These celebrities can afford their sins or, if you prefer, their mistakes because they're rich and famous. Madonna told one interviewer that she's never changed a diaper. How many "working moms" can say that?

What matters is the signal such people send.

Forget the question of "bad" versus "good" for a second. These people got rich by glamorizing behaviors and values normal people simply cannot afford. The working-class teenage girl who tries to follow in Madonna's or Paris' or Pam's footsteps isn't going to follow them into the pages of People magazine. She's going to follow those footsteps straight off a cliff. And yet, the bad guy in our culture is the person who says so.

I don't want to restore Puritanism. But would it really be so terrible if more people pointed out that prostituting yourself over a poker debt and then marrying the John isn't merely unromantic, it's not even something to brag about?


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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