Some years ago I started getting spam emails inviting me to look at pictures of Paris Hilton. At first, I wondered why on earth anybody thought anyone would want to see pictures of the Hilton Hotel in Paris; I deleted the emails without opening them. Then the spam emails started touting nude pics of Paris Hilton. Ah, now I get it--some porn star I never heard of adopted the name of a fancy hotel to make herself sound glamorous; I continued to delete the spam unopened. Finally, somewhere along the line, I realized that Paris Hilton is the heiress to the Hilton Hotel chain. So what?
It really hadn't occured to me that someone would be famous for the simple accident of birth to a wealthy family. I mean, that makes even less sense than someone becoming ruler of a country just because his or her parents were. After all, I'm an American, I don't believe that royalty is ordained by God. Paris Hilton is pretty, but she's not that pretty, and she's done nothing to merit fame--other than being filty rich and moderately pretty, and that's hardly something she earned. So I went on, blithely ignoring all spam and news media mentions of Paris Hilton--which became harder to do as time went by and her antics were reported more and more frequently in mainstream news media.
Now she's been arrested and jailed for a parole violation on a previous conviction for DUI--drunk driving. All well and good, except the sherriff let her out into house arrest after she spent less than one full day in lock up. And that created a great hue and cry.
Some say the 45 day sentence she was given was far too harsh for her minor crime, that she got that sentence only because she's a celebrity. Far more say that she got out of jail because she's a celebrity. The judge seems to have agreed with the latter opinion, as he ordered her back into jail for the full length of the sentence he'd imposed in the first place.
Why does any of this matter? Some spoiled rich kid got busted for continuing to drive after getting arrested for drunk driving and having her license restricted. So what?
Paris Hilton's past behavior indicates that, while six weeks of house arrest will cramp her style for that length of time, it won't teach her to consider the personal consequences of her actions, or convince her that she's not above the law. Harm can come to others if she doesn't shape up and stop acting like a spoiled brat.
She could, while driving drunk, be the cause of a fatal car accident. If she, or one of her friends, were the victim of the accident, that's sad, but ultimately, so what? If an innocent who had nothing to do with her died, that would be a tragedy, caused by a rich brat who couldn't control herself.
But there's a greater danger here, one that transends Paris Hilton's personally risky behavior.
Millions of girls and young women look up to Paris Hilton, admire her, and want to emulate her. For too many of them, seeing her partying hard, getting drunk, and driving drunk, makes those things seem just so cool. And cool things are what the cool people do, so if you want to be cool...
Auto accidents are the leading cause of death among people 15-20 years of age. Drunk driving is the leading cause of fatal car accidents. Even if Paris Hilton never causes a fatal accident, how many of her followers will die in drunken accidents?
If Paris Hilton is let off, even with house arrest in her mansion, it will seem to many of her legions of admirers that what she did is still cool, that there are no serious consequences to behaving like she does. Go ahead and lock her in jail for a few weeks, long enough to solidly impress upon her that her behavior is not acceptable, that she has to pay a price when she violates the law of the land, long enough to make her think before doing something that could cause injury to others. Go ahead and show pictures of her bawling and crying for her mommie. That doesn't look cool.
Will Paris Hilton suffer psychological damage from being jailed? Possibly. I hope not, for her sake. But if she does, she has access to resources the rest of us don't have to help her get over it. Besides, I'm looking beyond Paris Hilton, to all the girls and young women who might die, or cause the deaths of others, because they wanted to be cool, just like their idol.
If Paris Hilton's behavior is no longer seen as cool, it can save lives.
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