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Paris Hilton’s comments on tabloid culture are grim, but Meghan Markle proves it’s not a bygone era


By Sarah Finnan
21st Feb 2023

@parishilton

Paris Hilton’s comments on tabloid culture are grim, but Meghan Markle proves it’s not a bygone era

Paris Hilton recently spoke out about 00s tabloid culture and how the media exploited her for “sport”... but Meghan Markle’s plight reminds us that we’re still smack-bang in the middle of its chokehold.

Part of a posse of celebrity it-girls – which also included Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan – Paris Hilton is responsible for creating our century’s model of celebrity. At least that’s how Harper’s Bazaar sees it, who note that the socialite is very much in the midst of a “transformative” part of her life. 

Paris, like Britney and Lindsay, has always been associated with a very specific type of fame. Her youth played out on the world stage and the media painted her as this “wild, vapid party girl”. Audiences believed Paris to be playing herself in The Simple Life, an American reality series in which she starred alongside Nicole Richie, but Paris maintains that she was acting – hers was a character she had curated especially for the public. The “ditzy airhead” persona was a mask to hide behind and Paris wore it religiously, for years. 

In September 2020, her documentary aired on YouTube and the multi-million dollar entity that is Paris Hilton finally spoke her truth. “Everything I’ve done before was me playing a character,” Hilton said of her pre-documentary projects, a 53-credit-strong listing of film and television appearances. “I was in on the joke,” she explained. “Sometimes it is annoying people assuming I am the blonde airhead that I played on [The Simple Life], but I like proving people wrong.”

In her upcoming memoir, aptly titled Paris: The Memoir, Hilton describes that persona as her “steel-plated armour”. “I made sure I never had a quiet moment to figure out who I was without her. I was afraid of that moment because I didn’t know what I’d find.” “I had this whole Barbie-doll, airhead ‘perfect life’ persona. And there was some deep trauma that led to all of that,” she admits.

Details of the physical, sexual and emotional abuse she suffered while at Provo Canyon boarding school also emerged and the public soon began to understand that there was actually quite a lot we didn’t know about the hotel heiress. Months later, Britney referenced Paris’ trauma in her testimony at a hearing about her conservatorship – using Hilton as an example of how difficult it is to be believed as a woman in celebrity culture.

Often referred to as the “Holy Trinity”, Hilton, Spears, and Lohan were often linked together – castigated by the tabloids for their supposed love of partying, boozing and just having a good time. The friendship was built on much more than that though and the trio actually had quite a lot in common, presumably bonding over their similar experiences of fame. 

For many, that very friendship will forever be immortalised in one image; that of the three women together in Paris’ car. As a Vanity Fair article about “the rise and fall of a celebrity supernova” put it, “They were in a car, looking rowdy, reckless, ready to bust loose, raise hell, pursue the dark ecstasies of night and the city, the matching gleams in their heavily shadowed eyes telling you just how profoundly they didn’t give a f*ck.” They liked to have fun, I think you get the picture. 

That photo first appeared on the front page of The New York Post way back in 2006, alongside the caption “Bimbo Summit”. Scathing but somehow also complimentary all at once, Vanity Fair claims that those two words indicated that “they understood what nobody else did: that Hollywood wasn’t a geographical location, it was a state of mind; that rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t a musical genre, it was a way of life. And they were, in that moment, more Hollywood and rock ‘n’ roll than anyone.”

Sadly, their bond didn’t hold strong and the women “collapsed under the strain of their legends” as they each “spiralled out of control”. Needless to say, we should all feel the gnawing guilt of their demise though. It’s hard to reminisce on their glory days without feeling icky because it’s abundantly clear that tabloid culture exploited them mercilessly. The media documented their fall from grace, but we’re all culpable in fuelling the system that allowed them to be taken advantage of. 

“The way that I was treated – myself, Britney [Spears], Lindsay [Lohan], all of us – it was a sport. We were just young girls discovering life, going out to a party. And we were villainised for it,” Paris recently noted of that particular time in her life. “How do we not see that the treatment of It Girls translates to the treatment of all girls in our culture?”, she questions on that same topic in her new book. She was always the butt of the joke – on one occasion, David Letterman grilled her on her stint in prison for so long (despite her begging him to stop) that she left the set in tears. 

Some may say that the age of redemption is upon us – celebrities like Paris, Britney and even Pamela Anderson have taken back control of their own narrative and the public’s perception of them has changed greatly in the past few years. “I feel so proud of the woman that I’ve become, because for so long I kept all of that with me,” Hilton says. “All the negative, horrible words that they would say to me every single day, that sticks with you. I just was not secure. Now I feel that people finally respect me and get me in ways that they never did.”

But one look at Meghan Markle is all that’s needed to disprove that theory.

Markle has taken civil action against the tabloids on more than one occasion – her recent documentary with husband Harry detailed the extent of the suffering she’s been subject to at the hands of the British press – just last year actor Simon Rex (who previously worked with Markle on Cuts) admitted that he was once offered $70,000 to lie and claim that he had slept with her, and we all remember the heinous column Jeremy Clarkson wrote about the Duchess of Sussex for The Sun before Christmas. 

Tabloid culture is still very much alive and well. 

Feature image via @parishilton