The Paris Hilton Generation

My relaxing vacation in Hawaii became exponentially more interesting when Paris Hilton was sighted on the water slides at my hotel. I knew that the Hilton family was staying at the hotel next to my own (my sister took a little spying adventure to confirm the rumors), but it was still exciting to know that she was only yards away. With my sister and some friends, we hopped out of the pool to join the Paris chase. We stared brazenly and obnoxiously as she led her entourage from one slide to the other with the childish giddiness of a five year-old. Anticipating the moment she would sit down on the final slide in the series, I hopped on just in time to go down at the same time as her. Then Paris and company disappeared into the ocean, and the chase terminated. Laughing about what had transpired, my friend and co-conspirator, Brett, declared that we are the “Paris Hilton Generation.” For all the excitement I showed towards Paris’ presence, the truth is I know next to nothing about her. I asked everyone why she’s so famous, and the answer was the same each time: a puzzled look then, “well I guess because she’s rich.” I find it shocking that somebody can garner so much admiration and such a great celebrity without having any accomplishments to their name. But what is even more disheartening is that our generation has taken up such an obsession with somebody whose résumé consists of nothing more than starring in an amateur sex video. The assessment of Paris’, fame revealed a lot more about our generation than our love for the jet-setting socialite Paris. We are described as the MTV generation, the Nintendo generation, and the couch potato generation. While I question these generalizations, I admittedly have noticed the complacency of my peers. It’s our American dream: fame, fortune, and a constant party without an ounce of work. This complacency may be a result of America’s position in the world. Growing up in this age of American supremacy, we are not presented with the concept of being at the bottom. A generation is characterized and shaped by defining moments. In his book American Beyond Our Grandest Notions, pundit Chris Matthews uses the significance of a basement to compare two generations. Our grandparents, members of the so-called Greatest Generation, grew up during the Great Depression when luxuries were scarce and the basement was an ideal place to hide spare change. When World War II broke out our grandparents fled to Europe and the Pacific to fight; there was no assurance that America would succeed. America’s pre-war military was not considered to be in the top eight around the world, and the prospect of Nazism settling permanently in Europe was real. These events solidified the determination of a generation and helped create the prosperity that America enjoys. Our parents grew up in a world where America was considered a superpower, but not exclusively so. This generation matured during a time when we were in a race with the Soviets, in constant fear of a nuclear holocaust. The basement, for our parents’ generation, was seen as a good location for a bomb shelter should the Reds ever strike. The Soviets posed a perpetual challenge for the Americans. When the Russians sent the first satellite Sputnik into space in 1957, America decided to close the gap and bolster the math and science education of its students to prevent the Soviets from surpassing us again. The Cold War pushed American society to literally shoot for the moon. These were the competitive and pressurized influences that affected the way our parents were raised. But in 1989 the Wall came down and in a couple of years so did the Soviet Union, leaving the United States with almost unprecedented, empire-like power for our generation to grow up in. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has made something of a hobby discussing the “flattening” of the world. Mr. Friedman believes that an international revolution in education and technology has fermented while the American giant comfortably sleeps. In countries like India and China there is such a strong yearning to have the jobs and educations that Americans now assume to be theirs. In these countries (where call-centers are sprouting up at an alarming rate) students seem to have a zest and hunger for success that no longer exists in America. Our generation, the Paris Hilton generation, is stuck in this haze of American complacency. I thought that our defining moment had come on September 11th, but with the exception of taking off our shoes at the airport, the majority of us do not feel the lasting ramifications of either the War on Terrorism or the Iraq war. Our basements are not the safe rooms equipped with duct tape and bottled water that the Department of Homeland Security suggest we have in the event of a biochemical terrorist attack. To make my own addition to Chris Matthews’ basement analogy, the Paris Hilton generation uses the basement to grow pot and play X-Box Live. I am worried about our future. We have traded our grandparents’ admiration for John Wayne’s heroism and our parents’ admiration for John Lennon’s idealism for an obsession with Paris Hilton’s ______. (I’m still confused about why she’s famous).