Thursday, December 11, 2003

Admit It: You, Too, Are Paris Hilton 

Fortune.com - Value Driven - Admit It: You, Too, Are Paris Hilton
Admit It: You, Too, Are Paris Hilton
The average American has far more in common with spoiled TV heirs than you might think.
By Geoffrey Colvin

Florida, Nov. 29 (AP)—A mob of shoppers rushing for a sale on DVD players trampled the first woman in line and knocked her unconscious on Friday as they scrambled for the shelves at a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

The woman, Patricia VanLester, had her eye on a $29 DVD player, but when the siren blared at 6 a.m. announcing the start of the post-Thanksgiving sale, VanLester, 41, was knocked to the ground by the frenzy of shoppers behind her....

[The woman's sister] said that some shoppers tried to help VanLester and that one employee helped her reach her sister. But most people just continued their rush for the deals, she said.

"All they cared about was a stupid DVD player," she said.

Maybe you remember Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich's famous prediction in the late 1960s that by now America would be so near starvation that we'd have food riots. The reality is exactly the opposite. We have shopping riots. Instead of panicking as the ultimate necessity of life grows so expensive that no one can afford it, Americans flip out because a product absolutely no one needs is available at a price so low that even a year ago no one would have believed it possible. Food, if anyone still cares, takes a lower proportion of our income than ever before.

By odd coincidence, just as the season of peak acquisitive madness grips the nation, we're being treated to a glut of TV programs about some of America's most revoltingly excessive consumers, our hyperwealthy kids. Rich Girls (MTV) follows a couple of heiresses who embark on buying orgies with the immortal cry "Let's do some damage." In Born Rich (HBO), we meet 21-year-olds who know they need never work a day in their life, and we learn of the wrenching conflicts they face, such as what one girl might have done with the $800 that she dropped in a bar the other night ("I could have bought a dress!"). The Simple Life (Fox) places Paris Hilton (hotel money) and Nicole Richie (daughter of former pop star Lionel Richie) in a tiny Arkansas town so that we can marvel at their cluelessness about real life; Richie, for example, had never pumped gas "because my guard usually does that."

What's your reaction? Laughing? Loathing? Fine—but be careful. Because the truth is, if average Americans of even 30 to 40 years ago could see us today, they'd think we were all spoiled just as rotten as any young Trump, Newhouse, or Bloomberg.

You know it's true. How many televisions do you have? Do you even know? How many channels do you get? Do your kids refuse to watch black-and-white programs? No one had a VCR in 1970. Now 240 million of us do, but VCRs are history now that Wal-Mart is selling DVD players for $29.

If anyone had told you in 1980 that today you'd use a cellphone the size of a cigarette pack to call someone else's cellphone in Sao Paulo—and would complain about the connection—would you have believed him?

How big is your house? The average new house is 34% bigger than it was in 1970. Yet despite that supersizing, more people own their homes today than ever in our history.

No, I'm not overlooking the poor, especially at this time of year. They are indeed always with us, but not the way they used to be. Some 21% of U.S. families were poor in 1960, while in 2001, the latest year for which figures are available, just 10% were. And those official statistics exclude the value of noncash government benefits like food stamps and Medicaid, which didn't exist in 1960. That's why some economists estimate that today's real poverty rate is much less than officially reported, maybe only half.

Malnutrition was still a major concern in the 1960s. Today's crisis is very different—obesity. That's a problem of national excess on an unprecedented scale.

The consumer culture has achieved total victory. We spend more and save less than ever before. We are richer, fatter, and more obsessed by consumption than any people have ever been.

So let's enjoy gawking at the rich kids on television. It really is fun. But let's also confront the new reality: With precious few exceptions (and home videos aside), we are all Paris Hilton.

Celebrity Sex Tapes

Click Here To Download Paris Hilton Videos
Web paris-hilton-blogspot.com
Nude Celeb Blogs

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?