I (don't) want to be a Hilton

Kathleen Parker
|
Posted: Jun 01, 2005 12:00 AM

Nostalgia is probably premature for times as recent as 2003. Still, it is easy to miss the days when Hilton meant a second-rate hotel and Paris was a city of slender women and tiny dogs.

Now we glance across the breakfast table and mutter to our mates, "Remember when we didn't know who Paris Hilton was?"

These days, the invariably dubbed "socialite" is as inescapable as dust. She's everywhere: on the Net, on TV, on everyone's lips. A prospective intern appears at my office door wearing a micro-skirt displaying bronzed legs, her pretty face framed in a blunt, platinum coif.

"Don't you look fabulous," I say in my best motherly voice, whereupon she sees my ante and raises me several chips of self-awareness.

"Oh, thanks, I'm a big fan of Paris Hilton."

"Oh. How nice."

I haven't quite put my finger on the moment when Paris Hilton became a household word - whether it was her 2003 TV reality series, "The Simple Life," in which she and co-star Nicole Richie (daughter of Lionel) made fun of the rural poor by dressing down to "play" farm. Or whether it was her debut on the World Wide Web as the star of a home video in which she and her then-boyfriend, shall we say, share their love.

Nor do I have the nausea tolerance necessary to pin it down. Suffice it to say Paris is here, there and everywhere. A Google search produces more than 10 million links.

Most recently, she's the buzz as star of a Carl's Jr. TV commercial in which the barely swimsuit-clad Paris suds up and slithers around on a Bentley before chomping into a big ol' barbecue sandwich. The commercial has caused a predictable stir, especially among adults-with-children.

The Parents Television Council (PTC), which monitors programming and organizes campaigns to thwart inappropriate content during child-friendly hours, has targeted Carl's Jr., whose CEO, Andy Puzder, has declined to apologize for his taste in icons.

Puzder urged the PTC to "get a life" and to buy someone else's burgers, if they must. He also noted that ". there is (sic) no sex acts" in his commercial, and that he had shown the ad to his own children, ages 12, 9 and 7, who seem to have escaped corruption.

It's hard to guess what one might expect to see as an immediate response to Paris' cavorting, but my parenting experience suggests that the family car wash won't be the same for a while. Teenyboppers envious of the attention Paris is getting won't want to miss their fair share.

At least when the voluptuous tease in the 1967 classic "Cool Hand Luke" soaped a car for the amusement of convicts on work detail, we weren't confused about what we were witnessing. The Girl, as she's dubbed in the credits, was what we amiably used to call a "tramp" - fun for a romp, but no one to bring home to momma.

As long as we're feeling nostalgic, remember when a tramp was a tramp? In these liberated times, there's no such thing. Yesterday's trash is today's socialite, a jet-setting culture creature who just wants to have a little fun. What's so wrong with that?

Moral relativity makes explanation nearly impossible. Instead, we resort to a few simpler truths: sex sells, money doesn't equate to class, and - while we're wallowing in cliches - the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Throughout her so-called career I've often wondered, where are Mom and Dad? Born in 1981, Paris was barely out of diapers before she was publicly shed of her panties. Now, unfortunately, we know. Later this month, Kathy Hilton (mom), is starring in her own reality show, "I Want to Be a Hilton," with Rick Hilton (dad) co-producing.

In yet another display of material fecundity, the Hilton family promises to teach the less-privileged how to be "cultured" (pronounced "CUL-chahed," honey), though Webster surely will want to consider amending current definitions. Viewers will watch 14 wannabes learn about haute couture, etiquette and, yes, even how to handle the media.

Each week one poor slob will be eliminated for failing to meet the Hiltons' high standards. The winner will be awarded a year of high life in "glamorous Manhattan" and, natch, a $200,000 trust fund.

It isn't clear whether the show, which premiers June 21, also will include lessons on the virtues of modesty and humility, which we once associated with "class." Or whether Paris' mother will teach these money-hungry hicks that ostentation is a sign of poor breeding and that flaunting wealth, especially the inherited/married variety, is the worst kind of faux pas.

That may be too much to hope. Alas, one can only teach what one knows.