Does Paris have too much attention?

Paris Hilton is like a present day Greek goddess. No no no, I don’t mean it like that!

I thought of this while reading the excellent post by Paul Salamone about Social Justice in the Attention Economy. His argument: If attention is the new wealth, should we attempt to redistribute it equally? (Goldhaber responds, and Paul responds again.)

Both take it for granted that Paris Hilton is a classic case of someone getting more attention than they deserve.

I won’t argue that she deserves more or less attention. But the contrarian part of me wonders if she and other “attention epicenters” don’t play a useful and age-old role in society.

The basis of language, of society, of culture, is a shared set of stories and figures. For example, in Roman times disparate cultures within the empire had some basic unity with their common set of gods. Conquered nations would often map their local gods onto Roman gods. This common framework allowed for discourse and understanding across cultures. If someone said “This guy is as strong as Zeus” or “You are working like Sisyphus” you knew what they meant.

Biblical characters have played a similar role in most western culture for the past 1500 years. But religion’s influence is lessening, and globalization is bringing together disparate cultures without this common tradition. If you want to tell a story that will be understood by people across generations and across cultures, you don’t have much common ground to start from.

You can see where I’m going with this.

Paris Hilton represents wealth, exposure, decadence and ditzy-ness. Bin Laden represents terrorism and religious extremism. Donald Trump represents capitalism, wealth, corporate success. And so it goes. These people have become ideals. They have become our modern day equivalent of greek gods and goddessse. They are gods that can be invoked to tell your story across cultural and subcultural gabs. Just like the stories Paul and Goldhaber are telling in their essays.

That’s why my partner Todd got a laugh out of this slide in his VC presentation of Lijit:


So is Paris going to unite the world and usher in an era of world peace? Okay, probably not.

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2 Responses to “Does Paris have too much attention?”

  1. Jason Says:

    Excellent post man! I’ve been thinking about much the same thing because of the explosion of “on-demand niche oriented media”. As our culture at large moves away from a one-to-many broadcast style to the new style of many-to-many, what forms will intertextual references and cultural common points take in the coming years? Shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy are anchored in these references and require at least a passing knowledge in order to ‘get’ much of the humor.

    In ’69 everyone watched the moon landing. In ’98 everyone watched the Seinfeld finale.

    In ’09, I’ll be watching the finale of “Bass Fishing for Left Handed Meditators” on my iPhone while you’re downloading the latest podcast of “World Championship Wombat Waxing” as my mom TiVo’s “Law and Order: Chicago’s Northwest Suburban Elderly Investigation Unit”.

    Paris Hilton will be the only common thing we have to talk about!

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Hey, just a shameless plug here, but all this Paris Hilton popularity is great if you are in a Fantasy Celebrity league :)

    Fafarazzi.com (the site I co-founded) is the first in the industry to let people enjoy the ridiculous amount of press Paris gets!