This Against the Grain commentary was written by CBSNews.com's Dick Meyer.
this summer has started to loosen some of the constraints of political correctness and racial hypersensitivity that censor discussions of problems and pathologies in the black underclass. It's time to do the same thing with over-class white girls.
Specifically, it's time to take seriously some famous white chicks who are minting money by embodying (literally) some of the worst traits of any group: black, white, American or Transylvanian. In current American culture, celebrities and pop culture have an exaggerated influence on the not famous, nowadays often called "real" people.
A new kind of white gangster girl is taking deplorable, really deviant social anti-values and malignancies and normalizing them, adding them to mainstream culture, glorifying them and then profiting.
Exhibits A, B and C from this summer's Entertainment section: , and Jessica Cutler, aka "Washingtonienne."
Plenty of ink has been spilled making sure the public realizes what egregious creatures these girls/women are. There is a noble and underappreciated cottage industry of feminists and fundamentalists devoted to making sure our daughters (and sons) understand what horrible role models these celebrities are.
Somewhat less discussed but equally toxic is how gossip column magnates aid and abet a process the late senator and scholar Daniel Patrick Moynihan called "defining deviancy down." In 1993, Moynihan wrote, "We have been re-defining deviancy so as to exempt much conduct previously stigmatized, and also quietly raising the 'normal' level in categories where behavior is now abnormal by any earlier standard."
One example Moynihan cited was the single-parent family: abnormal in the 1950s, normal by the 1970s - normal to the point where a wave of dubious social science tried to argue that single-parent families raised children just as effectively as two-parent families.
Enter Britney. This former Mouseketeer and pop pal for pre-pubescent girls apparently discovered that outrageous costumes, stage-grinding routines and ditzy songs weren't enough to keep her in the proper headlines. Some "reality TV" was needed. First there was the marketing of her virginity. Then came a quickie Las Vegas marriage and annulment.
Now Britney is engaged to a man named Kevin Federline, who has a 2-year-old daughter with a woman he isn't married to and who is pregnant with another child of his. Britney has not met her future stepdaughter. "You know what?" Britney told People magazine, "This is my life and I don't care what people think." She added, "I plan to meet his daughter. I love little ones. I think the situation is good." She bought her own engagement ring, which cost $40,000.
Do you have to be Dan Quayle to find this objectionable? If so, boil me a potatoe.
I suppose that compared to Paris Hilton, Britney is June Cleaver. Born filthy rich, Paris' notoriety was boosted to full-fledged celebrity after a video was circulated - without her permission, says Hilton and her lawyers - showing the heiress/model/actress having sex at age 19. Paris, burned, proclaimed she would take a fresh look at life. A few weeks later she was on "Saturday Night Live" doing a tongue-lolling-on-cheek skit with Jimmy Fallon about how he would never be allowed in the back door of the Paris Hilton.
Her mother must be so proud. Actually, she reportedly is, and she's going to star in her own reality TV show soon. Truly.
Paris, of course, already has a show, "The Simple Life," in which she and a friend travel the country and make fun of those wacky "real" people. Paris is also in the news this summer for the launch of her own record label, Heiress Records. I presume that's supposed to be funny. "Let them eat cake" was probably a pretty good gag line at the time, too.
Exhibit C, Jessica Cutler, like kindred spirit Paris, was caught in the act. Perhaps more than Paris she is pelvic proof of an American recipe for riches: nothing breeds fame like infamy.
I doubt Cutler, a twenty-something assistant to a Republican senator, is as famous in the rest of the country as she is in Washington. Writing under the pen name "Washingtonienne," she published her diary as a blog on the Web. It's little more than a chronicle of her sex life, which includes sex for money. She had so many accomplices that she had to publish a "key" to keep them straight:
AJ=The intern in my office whom I want to f--k.
F=Married man who pays me for sex. Chief of Staff at one of the gov agencies, appointed by Bush.
J=Lost my virginity to him and fell in love. Dude who has been driving me crazy since 1999. Lives in Springfield, IL. Flies halfway across the country to f--k me, then I don't hear from him for weeks.
MD=Dude from the Senate office I interned in Jan. thru Feb. Hired me as an intern. Broke up my relationship w/ MK (see below).
MK=Serious, long-term boyfriend whom I lived with since 2001. Disastrous break up in March, but still seeing each other.
R=AKA "Threesome Dude." Somebody I would rather forget about.
RS=My new office bf with whom I am embroiled in an office sex scandal. The current favorite.
W=A sugar daddy who wants nothing but a--l. Keep trying to end it with him, but the money is too good.
S--t. I'm f--king six guys. Ewww.
Of course Cutler got fired, but Washingtonienne was already a celeb. She'll be in Playboy in November. She has the inevitable book deal worth $300,000 according to one unconfirmed report.
Someone who gets paid for sex would of course cash in on getting caught. And hookers have long made good copy, like the Mayflower Madam or Heidi Fleiss.
What is stunning about Washingtonienne is that she simply published her sexploits outright, not as attempted art like, say, Anais Nin, but as drivel. After the exposure she wrote, "Public embarassment is really very liberating. You really stop caring about what people think." Really.
Britney, Paris and Jessica have embraced, wittingly, 'I don't care what people think' as a virtue, a kind of credo for post-modern moxie.
Unwittingly, they play essential roles in how our society turns unacceptable behavior into normal and profitable behavior. Their virtues are greed, gloating, aggressive selfishness, exploitation, mockery, promiscuity and sex for profit. A clever world of marketers and merchandisers is at their disposal to share the wealth.
The controversial scholar Charles Murray has argued that a sign that a society is decline is when elites "imitate those in the bottom of society." Indicators are a "truancy" from the responisbilities of citizenship and a broad "vulgarizations of manners, the arts and language." Sound familiar?
This may apply more obviously to hip-hop culture and gangsta rap than to our wicked white girls. But as repugnant as the misogyny, materialism and violence of that world is, it at least has the vague patina of creativity, rebellion, expressed alienation, realism and social rage.
Girl things A, B and C have none of that. They have no art. They have just their lives as merchandise, their greed glorified by a culture that thinks they are cute.
Dick Meyer, a veteran political and investigative producer for CBS News, is the Editorial Director of CBSNews.com, based in Washington.
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Against the Grain. We will publish some of the interesting (and civil) ones.
By Dick Meyer
Copyright 2004 CBS. All rights reserved.