the pulse

Again in jail, Paris is God's problem now

So I'd been sitting here wondering if it's possible to witness a more surrealistic spectacle than that which went down Friday when Paris Hilton rolled the dice, picked up her "Chance" card and was ordered by the judge, "Go directly back to jail. Do not pass 'Go,' do not collect $200.'" And then came the weekend and Paris' newfound spiritual enlightenment in concert with Barbara Walters, and I knew the long-rumored Apocalypse had to be nigh.

As it was, Friday's hyperkinetic television coverage nearly choked on its own relentless hyperbole. Most baffling had been the day's overriding theme all over the cable news landscape, which was, "Hey, the system works!" I waited in vain for a laughtrack that never came.

This wasn't just a vivid example of the media chasing its own tail. It was a case of catching the tail, examining it and denying it was yours.

Yes, TV interrupted regular programming to follow Hilton's return to court. As the sullen heiress was led in handcuffs into the police cruiser, the frenzied paparazzi crush resembled a rugby scrum — except that at least rugby has a point. TMZ.com chief Harvey Levin was all over MSNBC chastising the absurdity of it all, though within minutes his Web site had posted a shot of Paris sobbing from the back seat of the cop car.

"The coverage this story is getting from both the legitimate and the fringe media is simply unbelievable!" marveled one anchor, conveniently neglecting to point out that her network had just run a report shot inside Hilton's house that showed someone rummaging through her personal belongings.

There was live attention granted the slow-speed drive to the courthouse, the eerie similarities to a certain Bronco chase in 1994 impossible to miss. And then we got the stream of pundits because, of course, this was a legal story!

"This decision by the judge sends the message that no individual is above the law, no matter how rich or famous!" gushed one "expert."

As CNN keyed up a graphic that showed paparazzi racing on foot after the car carrying Hilton while it sped away, a legal analyst excitedly noted: "A wrong was righted today. An upside-down world was put right-side up."

Five seconds later, the network featured a brief cutaway to President Bush and Polish President Lech Kaczynski issuing a joint statement on a new missile shield before moving straight back to Paris coverage for all of the post-court appearance drama. Who has time to jabber about saving the world from nuclear annihilation when a distraught Paris just hugged her mother — and you have tape?

The real joke is that actual effort was made to bring this outrageous circus some thin veil of context, concocting the point that no one gets preferential treatment here in the U.S. of A. Except for those who do, of course.

What this charade did convincingly underline was that if you blend a famed personality who has entitlement issues and legal troubles, an insatiable public appetite for showbiz dirt and an enabling media that has essentially lost touch with reality, you have the perfect recipe for a tabloid feeding frenzy. If it bears little resemblance to actual journalism, it doesn't appear that really matters anymore.

The cherry atop the sundae arrived Monday via Hilton's transparently opportune new alliance with God that managed somehow to get peddled with deadpan sincerity on "The View." Man, this parallel universe where we're now residing sure is a hoot.
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