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Posted at 10:43 AM ET, 06/11/2007

Celebritology 101: Parsing Paris

By Liz Kelly

Photographers wait to feed our feeding frenzy with more Paris Hilton pix during her brief respite from jail last Thursday. (AP)

A year ago we named Paris Hilton the most over-hyped celebrity. We'd had enough of the ditzy blond pout, the brain-dead gaze, the entitled ennui -- this celebutante scion of a hotel empire who had found fame as a party circuit and reality show star had already worn out her welcome with we astute observers of celebrity culture. Of course, we had no idea that we were engaging in premature condemnation -- about as effective as pooh-poohing cigarette smoke in 1947 or feeling a bit skittish about Vietnam in 1959.

And like those two insidiously defining plagues of recent generations (lung cancer and the fog of war), Paris Hilton, too, has transcended her rightful place as a tabloid tart to become a cautionary tale for millennium, the kinkajou in the coalmine of an empire teetering on the edge of oblivion.

Or has she?

We who are so quick to assign meaning and trend-setting status to the merest wisps of starlet misadventure have our pick when it comes to Paris's plight: Do we hand wring over the buffet of bimbettes currently reigning as role models for teen girls? Do we engage in a little societal self-loathing for paying attention to this petulant party girl? Do we join the cacophony clamoring for reform of a joke of a justice system? Like the good disciples of Comedy Central-brand news that we are, do we join Jon Stewart in non-attention and craft mash-ups of Paris Hilton/Gitmo stories? Or, like The Post's Gene Robinson, do we tip our hats to this 26-year-old's status as the "uber-celebrity?"

You tell me.

Forget how you feel about Paris's punishment (or lack thereof): Today, let's talk about her place in our world order. To break this exercise down to it's most basic form: How would you describe "Paris Hilton" to an alien culture curious about her ability to hold major news networks hostage for hours on end?

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P.S. Lest I be accused of feeding the Paris frenzy by writing about her here, let me remind any potential scolds that here in Celebritology any focus on Paris is not gained at the expense of "real news" (the war in Iraq or global warming or the hundreds of other vital and important stories that make up 98 percent of what you read here on washingtonpost.com). Even Paris Hilton understands that a little perspective is needed: "I would hope going forward that the public and the media will focus on more important things like the men and women serving our country in Iraq and other places around the world," she said over the weekend in a written statement. For anyone who feels tempted to opine that they don't care a fig about Paris, please redirect your outrage here.

By Liz Kelly  | June 11, 2007; 10:43 AM ET
Categories:  Celebrities, Paris Hilton  
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Next: Morning Mix: Paris Says God Has Given Her a New Chance

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