What kind of culture would embrace Paris Hilton?

Posted: Jun 01, 2005 12:00 AM

Paris Hilton is at it again. The 24-year-old hotel heiress is the feature attraction in Carl's Jr.'s new Spicy Burger ad campaign, aimed at the horny male TV-watching population. Scantily clad in a one-piece leather outfit plunging down to below her navel, Hilton struts into an empty warehouse, licks her finger, then suds up herself and a Bentley automobile, as a stripper-styled "I Love Paris" rendition slowly plays in the background. At the end of the spot, Hilton bites the burger and sucks her finger clean. The commercial closes with Hilton's tagline flashing across the screen: "That's Hot."
The spot is pure, soft-core pornography, beginning to end. The website for the commercial, spicyparis.com, touts the "too-hot-for-TV spot." And while Carl's Jr. CEO Andy Puzder defends the ad as "a beautiful model in a swimsuit washing a car," it is clearly designed to capitalize on Hilton's target audience -- porn watchers.

 As I explain in my upcoming book, "Porn Generation: How Social Liberalism Is Corrupting Our Future," the plain truth of the situation is that Paris Hilton would be a relative nobody today were she not incredibly rich and profligate with her favors. Hilton made perhaps the most infamous porn video outside of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee. That hard-core work, starring then-boyfriend Rick Solomon, brought her international fame. At least nine other sex tapes are said to be floating around somewhere, including a lesbian sex tape with Playboy playmate Nicole Lenz. The sexually uninhibited Hilton became a target for Larry Flynt of Hustler fame, who released pictures of Hilton sharing some lesbian tongue at a nightclub. As Conan O'Brien observed, "Hustler magazine announced that it will feature photos of Paris Hilton making out with another woman, while the woman fondles Paris' breasts. So the search continues for a photo of Paris Hilton not having sex."

 Because of her pornographic involvement, Hilton has grabbed an endorsement deal as the Guess? Jeans girl (the New York Observer reported that "her bad-girl image jibes with the clothing company's porn-lite ad campaigns"), endless tabloid headlines, and now, this deal with Carl's Jr. As Brad Haley, marketing chief for Carl's Jr., stated, "Paris was chosen to star in the ad because she is an intriguing cultural icon and the 'it girl' of the moment."

 Here's the big question: How, as a society, did we allow Paris Hilton to become a cultural icon? Clearly, no one likes her very much. Liberals and conservatives alike agree that she is vacuous and silly. Media commentators all over the map label her "spoiled" and "stupid." Maureen Dowd, hardly a cultural right-winger, lumps Hilton together with "vacuous, slutty girls on TV sitcoms."

 No, Hilton is today's "it girl" for one reason and one reason alone: Individual scorn, though that opinion may be shared by a vast majority, does not control the river of a culture. It is those who push the envelope who do. Over the past few decades, we have implemented a "live and let live" culture whereby abhorrence for immorality is seen as illegitimate if promoted through governmental means. Instead, we are supposed to let our culture be poisoned slowly -- and if we protest, we are told that as long as we turn off our own TV's, all will be well.

 That's why it should come as no surprise that Hilton's spicy ad has ardent defenders, who proclaim that just because you don't like pornography doesn't mean that it can't make someone else very happy. One man's pornography is another man's means to happiness. And so Keith Olbermann of MSNBC ripped the ad's detractors: "I'm reminded tonight of H.L. Mencken's definition of Puritanism: the haunting fear someone somewhere may be happy. Is that at the bottom line here, I mean, that the people who have to protest crap like this ad -- and it's crap -- but are they afraid it will corrupt somebody, or are they afraid somebody will enjoy it?" Paul Begala labeled the offended "the sanctimonious Republican right." And Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times simultaneously condemned the commercial as "a new high (or low) in television crassness" and slammed the ad's opponents as members of the "manufactured outrage industry."

 This is the new pattern: individual condemnation and societal acceptance. The moral among us have been forced into tolerance of immorality. Paris Hilton is a cultural icon because of it. As long as the moral majority is impotent, the lowest common denominator will continue to define us.