If a Paris Hilton fell down drunk in a forest and nobody was around, would there be a sound?
Well, there might be some sloshy, groaning mumbles, but the point is, nobody would know about it, nobody would care, and the crude, spoiled fluffhead would have had one less opportunity to be photographed – or even worse, quoted.
Hilton, currently assaulting our ears with her new single, “Stars are Blind,” is the unofficial poster girl of “The Billionaire Brat Club” – the mannerless, dimwitted gaggle of obscenely moneyed socialites and entertainers with negligible or no talent who have lost any sense of class (or never had it in the first place).
Whether it’s Brandon Davis, grandson of oil tycoon Marvin Davis, loudly and lewdly commenting on Lindsay Lohan’s privates; Paris starring in a porno or grabbing six goodie bags at an event; or Britney Spears snapping gum while her massive mom-to-be breasts tumble from a low-cut top during a nationally broadcast interview, our tabloid royalty is total trash.
With money, of course.
We rounded up the country’s top etiquette experts to contemplate the troubling trend of the rudely rich and where it might all end.
“How much lower can things go? It does seem we’re really just about at rock bottom. I hope we are, but I don’t know; call me in five years,” says Thomas P. Farley, a senior editor at Town & Country and editor of the book “Modern Manners: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Social Graces” (Hearst; $17.95). But he doesn’t lay all the blame on the brats.
“They’re filling a need. People don’t want to admit to buying US Weekly, but they do. They love it. I don’t think you can come down too hard on someone like Paris Hilton because she’s basically giving the public what they want.”
He’s right. According to an article in Media Daily News, newsstand sales of celebrity weeklies – including Star, US Weekly and InTouch Weekly – increased by 8.9 percent in 2005, while the rest of the industry suffered a 3.4 percent circulation loss. The No. 1 celeb rag is People, which sells an average of 1.5 million newsstand copies a week.
Letitia Baldrige, a syndicated etiquette columnist and author of several books, including “New Manners for New Times: A Complete Guide to Etiquette” (Scribner; $35), definitely takes issue with the extravagant, narcissistic existences of the elite. “These rich kids today, it’s not a rebellion. They just have nothing else to do,” she says.
Baldrige is especially offended by their rude appearances at parties, to which they often arrive late. And don’t get her started on some celebrities’ habit of shamelessly snatching goodie bags and other swag.
“As if they need them. That’s mercenary greed. You see them grabbing five or six bags off the table (at events). Why aren’t there police in there?”
Whether or not the members of the juvenile jet-set want to be role models, Farley says it’s inevitable that their popularity and their pampered lifestyles will spawn impressionable imitators.
Entire TV series have sprung from their me-me-me mugging. Shows like MTV’s “Tiara Girls” and “My Super Sweet 16 ” highlight spoiled, mean-spirited teens who throw fits if their daddies get them the wrong color luxury car.
Rich girls and boys behaving badly is nothing new, of course; it’s just more in our face. Along with all those magazines, such Web sites as Gawker.com and TV shows such as “The Showbiz Show” provide a constant barrage of celebrity “content,” and anyone with a computer, a cell phone, a BlackBerry or any mix of gadgets can be his or her own instant media outlet.
That wasn’t the case in the 1940s and ’50s, when this generation’s party predecessors ruled the New York club scene. There was “a whole group of nightclubbers in the ’40s and ’50s that spent their time at the 21 Club and El Morocco. Their behavior wasn’t so hot. (But) it wasn’t as bad as these kids’…. they weren’t allowed to behave as bad as kids do today,” Baldrige says.
“They made sure the press knew they’d be at 21 at such-and-such an hour or the Stork Club, and they were photographed in their beautiful gowns and tuxedoes, and that was that.”
In the Roaring ’20s, such social darlings as “Great Gatsby” author F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, acted an awful lot like the Osbournes. “We know that Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald would throw up at people’s parties and throw things over the fence at people’s garden parties, and behaved in a way that’s only cute if you’re reading about it decades later,” says Judith Martin, also known as Miss Manners.
The bad behavior of Paris and Co. may be symptomatic of modern child-rearing practices, she says. “Education and character training are really two different things,” says Miss Manners. “We noticed a big blip in the second half of the 20th century, when people thought it was harmful to their children to teach them manners; they didn’t want to inhibit them. It lingers into nowadays. … a child who is given unlimited power and money is going to run amok if not taught otherwise.”
And rich folk aren’t excluded.