Among the intelligentsia, two talking points emerged: Why do we care, and how exactly has the tape hurt this girl's reputation? Hilton's PR rep Dan Klores tried to explain why we care when he told the Observer, "It seems like a particularly dour time in our culture." A better answer came from Frank Rich in a November 23 Arts & Leisure piece. Forget the sex, Rich suggested, we're only interested in the PHST because of our obsession with ambitious, ridiculous, rich people, of whom there seems to be an endless supply. New York's Simon Dumenco pointed out that we care because the media tell us to.
As for Hilton's reputation, the only answer is, "What reputation?" On November 18, the Los Angeles Times pointed out that Hilton has been flashing her wealth and sexuality for years. ("As a contender for party girl of the new century," the L.A. Times asked, "exactly what image might she be trying to protect?") On November 23, The New York Times' John Leland echoed the West Coast theory. In a piece dressed up as parody (less risky), Leland explained that Hilton's fame is "pure tabloid notoriety," based on "years of public canoodling, cheesy outfits and conspicuous flaunting of wealth." She is so trashy, he quipped, that her image could only be hurt by a hint of intellect or social conscience.
Hilton may really be a victim, in that no one has discovered her artistic talents. Perhaps one day she will start dating a director who can make sure that any publicly released digital images are flattering to the max. In the meantime, her best shot is to embrace irony. She should go on Letterman, and never let her tongue out of her cheek.