The pious outrage Thursday over heiress Paris Hilton’s “early release” from jail in Los Angeles, accusations of “special treatment” and the vindictive demands that she receive “justice,” i.e., punishment, have nothing healthy or progressive about them.
Excellent article about Paris Hilton on the World Socialist Website. While k-punk’s criticisms of the musical defense of Paris Hilton are on target, that doesn’t rule out the value of a political defense. Or, not a defense of Paris Hilton herself (she hardly needs communists fighting her battles for her), but a defense of left-wing politics against the kind of thinking that goes into much of the hostility toward Hilton. An awful lot of the dislike of Paris Hilton really is misogynistic but that is, hopefully, easily identified and disposed of. But, as the WSWS argues, there’s a criticism of Paris Hilton that presents itself as left-wing but which is just as reactionary.
Hilton seems to get a lot of stick not just because she’s rich, but because she hasn’t either earned her wealth or used it in some kind of worthwhile way. To a communist, on the other hand, this is one of Hilton’s most positive qualities. Certainly, on any reasonably calibrated ethical scale, Paris Hilton is obviously superior to, say, Bill Gates or George Soros. There’s a name for the sort of argument involved in criticizing the “useless” Paris Hilton: productivism. The problem is that it completely misunderstands what’s wrong with capitalism. The Marxist theory of exploitation is not based on a distinction between those who are productive and those who are idle; note that the only way that such a distinction could be made is on the basis of a moralized notion of productivity which is itself the defining feature of capitalism. As Marx and Engels say in the discussion of Proudhon in the Manifesto, to criticize capitalism on these grounds is to argue that capitalism be maintained, but that it no longer be capitalism:
The Socialistic bourgeois want all the advantages of modern social conditions without the struggles and dangers necessarily resulting therefrom. They desire the existing state of society, minus its revolutionary and disintegrating elements. They wish for a bourgeoisie without a proletariat. The bourgeoisie naturally conceives the world in which it is supreme to be the best; and bourgeois Socialism develops this comfortable conception into various more or less complete systems. In requiring the proletariat to carry out such a system, and thereby to march straightway into the social New Jerusalem, it but requires in reality, that the proletariat should remain within the bounds of existing society, but should cast away all its hateful ideas concerning the bourgeoisie.
The hundred and fifty years since Marx and Engels wrote this shows us, in fact, that this position is more damaging even than they thought. The kind of foreshortened critique of capitalism that we see in hatred directed at Paris Hilton directs its ire at the appearance of capitalism without seeing that this appearance is a necessary consequence of the reality of capitalism. It exhibits, that is to say, the logic of fascism, in which a particular appearance (finance capital, Jewish bankers, Hollywood) is confused with and targeted as the essence of capitalism. Now, the defense of Paris Hilton may not be the most pressing task facing anti-fascists right now, but given the continued currency of 9/11 conspiracy theories and crypto-fascist paranoia about paper money in some parts of the left, combating foreshortened critiques of capitalism is important. Talking about Paris Hilton is one place to start.