December 28, 2007

Paris Hilton Loses Inheritance

So says, well, everybody.

Maybe you think I shouldn't be closing out the year with a Paris Hilton story (though I did have one before,) but it's much more important than it appears.

The basics are:

Party princess Paris Hilton is $60 million out of pocket after her billionaire grandfather - appalled by her jail term for drink-driving offences - axed her inheritance.
Grandpa Barron Hilton-- the only Hilton to actually own a stake in the Hilton Hotel chain-- is disgusted with her behavior, so will give 97% of his fortune to charity.

Most people's reactions have been, I'm guessing, the exact same one you had or are having.  Digg- the unofficial meter of internet vitriol, pronounced this story 13582 levels of awesomeness.  The comments were unanimous: "Finally!  Justice!  That ugly skank got what she deserves!" (Which, presumably, is even less than the millions she will still get.)

What surprises me about this story is this: is there no one who thinks this story is fake?

Consider, for example, Paris's sister Nicky, notable in her own right for, as an example, not making any sex tapes.  Was the Barron revolted by the handbag line she designed?  He could have just cut Paris out of the will-- it doesn't make sense that he punishes his entire dynastic line (right?)

The first thing that occurred to me-- tin foil hat man that I am-- was that this was a tax dodge.  Start talking about charity now, etc, etc, over time maybe Paris et al get on the board of the charity (with accompanying compensation and benefits packages, etc, etc.)  So when he finally dies, the IRS gets nothing, and doesn't come looking either.

It's possible I'm wrong (though I doubt it.)  But my idea isn't completely preposterous, it's not beyond rational thought, it at least gives you pause, right?  So I ask you: how come no one else thought of it?

The answer is emotion.  Hate.  And bias, but of a specific type.  To illustrate, let me rework the opening of the New York Times story:

Today, Vice President Dick Cheney announced that he will donate 97% of his fortune to charity... that money will be placed in a charitable trust that will eventually benefit the Richard B. Cheney Foundation, raising its total value to about $4.5 billion, the foundation said.

That, no one will believe, i.e. you "know" it's a tax dodge.  And you know it because you "know" Cheney (which, of course, you don't) and charity isn't his style, unless the charity supports impaling puppies.  Meanwhile, you know even less about Barron Hilton, but assume he must be as disgusted by his granddaughter as you are-- sorry, as disgusted by only what the media and she choose to release to the public, as opposed to family get togethers, dinners, birthdays and graduations-- as you are, without any benefit of knowing her at all-- which, when stated that way, seems, well, less likely?

The point is that we make assumptions based not on available information, but on available emotion.  That emotion is, in large part, predetermined by the media reporting of it-- note how explicitly the article is biased: "Party princess is  $60 million out of pocket..."  And it jives completely with your prejudices, so you accept it: confirmation bias.  With this kind of reporting, you can't possibly have the cognitive freedom to consider an alternative explanation (like tax dodge.)   And so you don't.

I hope the pleasure we derive from her probably non-existent reduction in inheritance is worth the reduction in our ability to think freely and independently.  Maybe the NSA doesn't need to eavesdrop on our thoughts-- it just has to read the newspapers.


And I'll go on record: Pari... (Below threshold)

December 28, 2007 5:18 PM | Posted by Alone: | Reply

And I'll go on record: Paris and Nicky are both hot. Barron, not so much.

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You're not the only one -- ... (Below threshold)

December 29, 2007 4:22 PM | Posted by fraise: | Reply

You're not the only one -- tax evasion was the first thing several people I know and myself thought of too. (Along with "why all the viciousness against a young woman we don't know?")

Disclaimer: I live in France (am American but have been here 10 years now), and didn't know who Paris Hilton was until last year. I had to look her up to understand why on Earth posts and comments on the US-based discussion sites I read were revolving around a woman who seemed to do nothing but be photographed. I still don't get it. Neither do any of the "several people I know" mentioned above, and many of them are Americans living in the US.

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They t... (Below threshold)

December 29, 2007 4:22 PM | Posted by Ohoh: | Reply


I think I just had a bias confirmation.

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It troubles me that of us d... (Below threshold)

December 29, 2007 5:17 PM | Posted by Sally: | Reply

It troubles me that of us dumb ass Muricans are outraged by the behavior of Paris while apathetic about the horrible behavior of our administration, the stupid wars we are in, the fact that most of our citizens don't earn living wages, but I guess my views are passe. The habit of Hilton Hotels of not paying their hotel workers fairly seems much worse to me than a beautiful young heiress driving drunk.

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The media loves to get into... (Below threshold)

December 29, 2007 10:28 PM | Posted by AK: | Reply

The media loves to get into our pants and trigger this kind of reactive emotion.

It sells papers. It generates lots of view-hits on websites.

Attention and compulsive attention equals big bucks.

The hardest thing to achieve is what psychoanalysts term 'evenly suspended attention' what Theodor Reik called 'listening with the third ear'.

Reactivity and regression sell.

Anything that fosters equanimity and discernment and critical thinking hampers sales -- and is the most un American, countercultural--and adult thing one can ever do.

But its as hard as refusing a second helping of chocolate mocha mousse (me) or turning down a second glass of rum (Last Psychiatrist).

Have a great New Year.

Actually, I was thinking/musing that perhaps the media doesn't simply play into what we want (titilation, etc) but actually invents those feelings. (see above comment.) It's the old(er) definition of "celebrity" in which a person is famous imply for being famous, but implict there is that we are told who will be famous or not. And what they will be famous for. Or perhaps a better way of thinking of this is that the "media" create _actual_ straw men (and women) for us to knock down/blame ("that's what's wrong with America!") because the actual issues are simply too complex for-- and this is the point-- the _media_ to be able to effectively deal with. e.g. what reporter has the time/inclination/money to delve into the way in which Conrad Hilton (Barron's father) also gave the money to charity, and Barron then sued in court to get it (and won), and how this affected the tax status of the fortune.. it's much easier to open a story with "Party Princess."

...a second glass of rum? As if that's reserved for special occasions?

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i thought you already said ... (Below threshold)

December 29, 2007 11:51 PM | Posted by Stephany: | Reply

i thought you already said that.

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Dr. X ( has... (Below threshold)

December 30, 2007 2:54 PM | Posted by DrSteve: | Reply

Dr. X ( has a piece 'Underdogs and envy' which reports on Laura Freberg's argument that we support the underdog because of our envy towards the top dog. And you propose hatred as being behind the schadenfreude about Paris.

Certainly, there is something ugly at work. Didn't Freud say that our sense of justice originates in the nursery: I'm prepared to give up on having it all if and only if no other kids have more than me?

I agree, by the way, that the rich don't get and stay that way by making stupid or rash decisions. Paris et famile will be just fine.

(Do newspapers, etc. determine what most folks believe or do they portray it?)

Alone's reponse: I certainly used to think they were simply reflections of our collective unconscious, but more and more I'm convinced that its the other way around, they decide what we believe. The classic example I give is during the election, whenever anyone wanted to criticize Kerry it was that he "flip flopped" or was French. Those criticisms were always used, no one said, "he changes his mind on the issues as it suits the audience"-- they said "flip flops." They got it from the media (Rush, etc). I believe that had they never said "flip flop" we would never have said it-- maybe we would have said something synonymous ("changes his mind") but "flip flop" carries weight with it, it has its own semantic baggage (e.g. stupid) that changes what we know.

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shit? did I manage to offen... (Below threshold)

December 31, 2007 9:47 PM | Posted by Gianna: | Reply

shit? did I manage to offend you. I'm sorry if I did. You seem to have censored my statement...

Alone's response: no, I didn't censor your comment, my damn spam filter did. It is excellent at deleting real comments and letting the levitra ads through. I'm working on having this fixed, along with nine million other things. So, rest assured-- I would never censor a comment, and if it doesn't get posted wait 24 hours (I check my spam filters once a day) andif that fails, email me (look in the "About" section.)

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That thing needs to be ster... (Below threshold)

January 4, 2008 5:49 PM | Posted by Daled: | Reply

That thing needs to be sterilized before it reproduces

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Actually, Mr. Researcher, a... (Below threshold)

March 7, 2013 5:44 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Actually, Mr. Researcher, another theory: Barron Hilton's father did THE EXACT SAME THING, and Barron Hilton had to sue to get his (entitlement) back. "These kids won't know what to do with this money like I did. Better to memorialize myself in a self named trust." Can we talk narcissism now? Maybe his grand-daughter reminded him a little too much of the son his father didn't think much of either when it came to "his" legacy." The silver spoon doesn't fall far from the maid's hand?

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