Saturday, June 09, 2007

Would We Pay Attention?

Would We All Pay Attention?

Cody Lyon


On one hand, to go there, might be seen as caving into media frenzy, talking about a subject, many are embarrassed to admit they follow, a topic that will surely invite criticism. But, to not, would be missing an opportunity to ask some deeper questions about national priority, fame, and the places Americans obtain information they consider important.

Paris Hilton is headed back to jail. Across the country, thanks to feverish coverage, voices both pro and con, are being raised regarding California Superior Court Judge Michael Sauer’s decision to remand Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca and his release of Hilton to electronically monitored home confinement the previous day.

As is widely known, Hilton’s legal saga began after being stopped by police, and found to be under the influence, with a Blood Alcohol Content level of .08, the legal threshold in California. As is fairly standard under California law, her license was suspended and she received 36 months probation and a $1,500 fine. But, over the next few months, she was stopped twice more by police, found to be driving with the suspended license ultimately finding herself in Judge Sauer’s courtroom where he issued the 45 day jail sentence. Then, after 5 days in jail, the sheriff, at the behest of the Hilton camp, released Paris to home confinement. Observers have said in news reports that many Californians convicted of non violent misdemeanors, end up serving time in home confinement or other alternative environments, in many cases, because of overcrowding. But, according to most news reports, Judge Sauer was furious at the sheriff, and ordered Hilton back to court, and re-issued his 45 day punishment.

As Loyola Law School Professor Laurie Levenson told the “New York Times” “she’s a pawn in a turf fight right now” and “it backfired against her because she’s a celebrity” noting that because of the incredible public attention, it didn’t sit well with the court that she’d been released.

In fact, most legal observers say that in California, low risk offenders often serve only five percent of their jail time, which essentially, Hilton had fulfilled. In addition, many say, it is un heard of, where a judge goes through the trouble of actually ordering a low risk defendant back to jail.

Regardless, the attention meter was running at high speed during the Friday circus surrounding her return to prison.

The arrest at the mansion, trips to court and jail were all covered live by the cable networks from up in the sky, ala OJ. On the ground, minute by minute reports, graphic descriptions of tears, screams and pleas all poured in from reporters. An assortment of Pundits, cable anchors, activists, legal “experts” and even a sheriff from New Mexico, all cawed like crows in a cornfield with, opinions rants and raves on the three cable news networks.

Evidence that a huge swath of America found satisfaction in Hilton’s return to jail was soon evident all over the web. Comments like, “I think she deserves it”, “She’s long overdue”, “Celebrities are no better than the rest of us”, “she’ll serve as an example” and the endless rich bitch girl comments that in the end, quiet frankly, sound just a bit mean spirited.

On Fox News, Rev. Al Sharpton weighed in by phone about what’s good for one is good for all, Geraldo and Shep Smith hollered and giggled and Greta worried that Hilton was ill, or perhaps, “twitching”. But then, of all the pundits, a very interesting comment came from the high priestess of outrageous and offensive right wing ideology herself, Ann Coulter.

Of the madness, Coulter hypothesized, that if this were Tom Hanks, you wouldn’t have all this blood lust.

Perhaps she’s correct. For one, Tom Hanks is a respected and talented actor who, unlike Hilton, earned his status as such. But more significantly, regarding the Coulter comment, Tom Hanks possesses a wholesome Americana Jimmy Stewart like image. Most people can’t help but like him, he embodies nice guy and rarely shows up in tabloids or in gossip columns.

On the other hand, Paris Hilton is the quintessential example of what many Americans claim to hate, a symbol of tawdry excessiveness, seen as spoiled, fame and wealth for no reason, and most of all, the privilege that money affords anyone in America who has it.

But, Hilton, a woman with the genes of Conrad in her system, is, for some reason the object de jour of countless magazines, television programs a virtual all you can eat buffet of guilty pleasure that Americans love to chow down on and the media loves to feed.

But, there is an even deeper sad truth revealed by this celebrity studded legal hoe down. The cable news networks, decided, or perhaps knew, that this past Friday, more Americans would be interested in what was happening in the entertainment capital, than in the capital of government, where the country’s highest ranking military officer, the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, was essentially being laid off, because members of the Bush administration knew that he’d face hostile questioning during re confirmation hearings from an angry Congress over his leadership role in Iraq.

One wonders if the Senate hearings of General Peter Pace, and the answers they may have provided would have, just perhaps, led to a drama that even the nation’s cable news networks would have covered. Perhaps too, the American people would have paid attention.


1 comment:

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