Its really hard to recognize what defines a decade when you are in it, but I would hazard a guess that mindless celebrity culture might be it. Obviously, celebrity has always been a huge component of culture, but recently it has become the dominant one. This has been a decade where America went to war and nobody paid attention because they were more interested in Paris Hilton’s court outfit.
There are three ways to become famous: create something, kill someone or take your clothes off in public. Paris chose the latter and, amazingly, managed to become a stable of mainstream TV, where you can’t say the word fuck, by actually fucking in front of millions. Paris Hilton is interesting because she wanted fame not fortune, she already had money. A person so utterly desperate for fame that she literally prostituted herself to bootstrap it, when she really didn’t have to turn any tricks.
I can’t get away with accusing Paris Hilton for her part in the downfall of Empire, like the decadents of latter day Rome, without a theory as to why that might be, so here it is:
It’s the Internet’s fault.
When you connect things together to make information flow more easily, you exacerbate the fame effect. No single theater actor had ever been as famous as Valentino had become, within a few years of the development of cinema. The Internet is an even bigger force for celebrity, but its not in the web savvy people’s interest to acknowledge, so people will automatically champion ideas of benign plurality like ‘the long tail’.
There is a long tail, but it is of finite size, the number of niches within it being defined by people’s natural grouping and competition for their attention. This fixed size is analogous to the distribution of species on earth which is incredibly constant. In other words there may be a place for a guy from Ohio who knows everything about folding bicycles to do very well on the internet, but only at the expense of the other folding bicycle niche sites. At the other end of the spectrum we have Paris Hilton, who occupies of of the niches that is larger than the entire long tail itself. Paris Hilton is a Gorgon monster whose fame is big enough to swallow whole, 99.9% of all the other niche celebrities put together by occupying the slice marked: mainstream.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, thankfully. The Internet will create a more bland YouTube, celebrity clip culture, but like the span of clips themselves, the lifespan and churn of mega stardom with be faster than ever before. Life will be hard for celebrities as they realize that the meritocracy of the Internet is not in the ability to be famous, but the fact that fame and fall from grace are in the hands of the masses, like never before.
In 2018 most people will never have heard of Paris Hilton. But her fall into obscurity will be as traumatic as being shown fucking on YouTube would be for all of us who will, thankfully, always be obscure.
Here is a documentary that examines this morbid reality.
44 min 11 sec Jan 3, 2008
tags: biography society