Monday, September 1, 2008

The Restoration of Paris

Let's just see what we've got:

Paris Whitney Hilton (born February 17, 1981) is an American celebutante, television personality, actress, singer, model, and businesswoman.

She is known for her appearance on the television series The Simple Life, her several minor film roles (most notably her role in the horror film House of Wax in 2005), her 2004 tongue-in-cheek autobiography,[2] her 2006 album Paris, her work in modeling, and her appearance in a sex tape in 2003. As a result of several legal incidents, Hilton also served a widely publicized sentence in a Los Angeles County jail facility in 2007.


Hilton has worked as a model, actress, musician, and engaged in sometime business pursuits.[8] According to Forbes Magazine, she earned approximately $2 million in 2003–2004,[9] $6.5 million in 2004–2005,[10] and $7 million in 2005–2006.

While I doubt she's managed to retain even as much as 5% of all that in an investment or annuity account of any description, I don't think Miss Hilton has anything to be embarrassed about in any of that. And then, there is this justly famous bit of video.

All in all, something to work with here, I think.

Given her remarkable history of reciprocating, and occasionally betraying, the trust of others, I suspect Miss Hilton wouldn't disagree with the contention that society is comprised of an extensive network of often-contradictory trust relationships. Unlike those of us not recipient to a famous last name, she has very publicly agreed to pursue reputation into the often demeaning and shallow side-track of celebrity. I say pursue because she could have chosen to simply stay home on each occasion instead.

That said, when you grow up "knowing" that others are attracted to you (or, as you painfully learn eventually, at least to your name), then a certain amount of responsibility for what follows also lies with those who profit in some fashion from your actions and ... how shall I put this ... less well thought-out decisions? We are each of us encouraged to do things by motivating influences in our lives. One aspect of celebrity, surprisingly well illustrated on the HBO program Entourage btw, is that of the effect on the celebrity's decision-making process by those trusted with intimate access to the celebrity (a recurring theme in the 2006 film Bottoms Up also). All of whom, it should be noted, receive some form of personal gain as a result of the celebrity trust relationship.


People of reputation, on the other hand, aren't necessarily famous in their own right. Very often the work, or other accomplishment, that they have performed is what's widely noted. Many people know the names Watson and Crick for example, but virtually everybody has at least heard of DNA. How many of them associate the former with the latter, I wonder? People of celebrity, however, are largely the product of the opinions of others, whatever the value of their actual accomplishments might prove to be. And, has been infamously noted long before this, opinions are as prevalent as the fundaments they sit upon (and just as subject to social acceptability it often seems). Of relevance to Miss Hilton is that she now finds her reputation judged as an aspect of her celebrity.

In her recent response to use of her image in a McCain For President video, Paris herself shows a flawed but insightful flash of a possible mechanism to repair her public image and reputation.

I say flawed for a couple of reasons. First, because it's obvious she was unable to sufficiently physically train to meet the visual requirements her choice of wardrobe and dialog demanded. Which is not to say she's fat, because she absolutely isn't. She simply wasn't as physically fit as that particular wardrobe choice required for an on-camera appearance, that's all. She would have been better advised to appear in a stylish cocktail dress or, under appropriate (read: more expensive) lighting in a night shot, in an evening gown that displayed her legs and skin tone to advantage instead. Either choice would have worked just as well with the written dialog, and without breaking the viewer's suspension of disbelief from the "I'm also hot!" message.

Second, while the serious political message was well crafted and delivered, the minor disharmony between the visual and audio celebrity sub-text detracted from any possible serious response the video - not to mention Miss Hilton herself - might otherwise have garnered. It's here that her less savory public history also detracted from any possible serious response to her efforts to influence the political climate. Simply put, her celebrity served as both cause for her having made the video at all and instant nullification of her otherwise acceptable political compromise message (however tongue-in-cheek it may have been intended to be) (which is not an obvious given, based upon the merits of the message itself).

There is a strategic opportunity present in all of this, both to renovate Paris Hilton's public personae and make a hopefully-less-than-minor contribution to that aforementioned annuity fund.

One of the long-time staples of the cable TV channels was the program Connections presented by historian and author James Burke. Now, imagine a program examining the historical and current development of a concept, that further examines the future development possibilities and their impact on society, presented as part of the personal continuing education from her GED, by one Paris Hilton.

Call it Haught Thot (delivered in as snootily upper-class a British accent as can be hired).

The general theme of the program is to present Miss Hilton as a role model for the unorthodox education of the individual. Playing on the more unfortunate public aspects of her celebrity will be an ongoing programmatic theme, as will her on-camera failures to get things correct (to the extent these spontaneously happen during the course of recording an episode - think "out takes" as a deliberate part of the program narrative). She will ultimately get it right, of course, and "show her work" to the camera while doing so, upon occasion.

Such a program doesn't have to concentrate solely on technological developments, of course, but it should stick as strictly as possible to those topics that can be clearly documented and displayed in graphic fashion on both a television screen and computer monitor. Given Miss Hilton's demonstrated skill with viral video, that too should be a deliberate market for the program's content. Between these two principal targets, television (either broadcast or cable) and viral video (which offers it's own revenue potential), I believe the two objectives of this exercise can be achieved, quite possibly for a number of campaigns (aka: programming seasons).

The arrival of Gov. Sarah Palin on the US national political scene is also going to have the effect of "raising the bar" as it were when it comes to measuring the accomplishments of other (particularly female) objects of public interest, I believe. To the extent such proves to be the case, this can be turned to Miss Hilton's personal advantage by emphasising the professional responsibility and intellectual development her researching the program's content represents. Harking back to the trust issue from earlier in this treatise, she would have to be believably seen to be actually doing the intellectual heavy lifting at various points during the programing season(s).

One possibility for achieving this result would be presenting these as a version of test which she has to pass. Involving the program's contracted academic researchers working with her on camera is yet another mechanism for convincing the audience of her actual trustworthiness. There are other possibilities, of course, probably better too, but the issue of being perceived as trustworthy is extremely important, both for the program's potential success with the audience as entertainment, and it's financial success as a marketing platform for potential advertisers and sponsors.

However much in jest she may have been at the time, Miss Hilton made specific reference to her candidacy for the office of President in her video. Miss Hilton doesn't yet qualify for that office due to her tender years of course, but Gov. Palin's example makes less of a joke of Miss Hilton's brash claim than was percieved to be the case following her video's first release. If Miss Hilton is willing to fully commit to transforming her celebrity into reputation, that is.

While it seems extremely unlikely to me that Miss Hilton will ever seriously consider pursuing that or any other elective office, making the very thought of her doing so into something other than a sick joke doesn't seem at all unworthy of the effort required either. Respect has a little recognised effect of extending benefit to those not directly the cause for it's expression. Any sports fan implicitly knows this and experiences it through public association with the athlete or team in some fashion. I find something intrinsicly admirable in the idea of Paris Hilton using her celebrity to develop herself into something other than a public spectacle and embarrassment. The respect she would earn as a result would alter the status quo of American society in some small way all on it's own, and possibly in some totally unpredictable fashion through the shared benefit effect referenced earlier.

There must have been less likely sources of inspiration to self-improvement over the course of human history, I suppose.

Finally, I hope this little intellectual exercise in examining various applications of the strategic principle of individual positional advancement will prove as useful to someone else as thinking it through has proven to be for me. Paris Hilton is not the only one going through life with a GED. Learning has always been as much a product of my pursuit of my own intellectual interests as it has been the result of some other's deliberate efforts to instruct me.

I hope Miss Hilton finds her path to personal fulfillment. Maybe the famously byzantine connections of the Internet will allow this thought experiment some measure of influence in her doing so (though I personally doubt it - I can't imagine the extent of searching necessary for someone of her degree of celebrity to discover this effort via Google). I have more realistic hopes that I can find application for what I've learned from writing it a good deal closer to home than that though.

If I do, I'll have exceeded my expectations, which is good.

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