- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2003

Noblesse, no oblige

“Were it a different era, Paris Hilton would be salted away in a Greenwich manse, surfacing only for the occasional polo match. But these days, in the pioneering spirit of Jerry Springer, cultural curiosities are rewarded with TV shows. So Hilton, along with her best friend and fellow martini-hurling rich girl, Nicole Richie (daughter of Lionel), finds herself starring in Fox’s hit show, ‘The Simple Life.’ … Hilton (fresh from the tanning salon) and Richie (fresh from heroin rehab) are stripped of their Beverly Hills accessories and sent to work on an Arkansas farm for 30 days. There they perform such plebeian tasks as making their beds and working at a fast-food restaurant. …

“There’s something heartbreaking about watching a pasty-faced fry cook … earnestly teach Richie how to make onion rings, only to have her gleefully break the machine. Noblesse oblige has been replaced by outright disdain. It’s more honest, maybe, but that doesn’t make it any less cringe-worthy. With each toss of her platinum-blonde hair and roll of her eyes, we’re reminded that Hilton wouldn’t normally spend more than 30 seconds in the same room with these befuddled bumpkins, let alone 30 days.”

Kara Baskin, writing on “Simply Irresistible?” last Tuesday in New Republic Online at www.tnr.com

Happy pursuit

“The pursuit of happiness is the comprehensive purpose of human life, according to our Declaration of Independence. We have life and liberty for its pursuit. For John Locke, the philosopher who most of all inspired our declaration, we transcend the world inhabited by the other animals not because of our happiness, but because we spend our time pursuing it. …

“Locke understands us to be individuals — or free, consenting, calculating beings. But we can reasonably object that we are more than individuals; we are also parents, children, friends, neighbors, citizens, and creatures. …

“[W]e really know that it is friends, family, God, and country that make us happy; happiness is far more a matter of virtuously and lovingly performing our duties to them than anything connected with rights. What we achieve as individuals is good only if we can use what we’ve acquired as family members, friends, citizens, and children of God.”

Peter Augustine Lawler, writing on “Pursuing Happiness,” last Monday in National Review Online at www.nationalreview.com

Standards dropping

“Whatever happened to standards? This has been a consistent refrain of social observers and literary critics down through the ages, and although some of these people are professional curmudgeons, it’s hard to argue that they don’t have a point. My father, when informed that Bill Clinton had admitted to indulging in ‘inappropriate’ behavior with Monica Lewinsky, observed that he could remember a day when ‘inappropriate’ meant wearing brown shoes in public after 6 p.m. … Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan … described how society’s increasingly relaxed standards were allowing more and more marginal behavior to gain gradual acceptance. He called the process ‘defining deviancy down.’ …

“One of George Carlin’s most famous routines, back in the 1970s, centered on the seven words one couldn’t use on television or radio. Today most of those words are used multiple times in any episode of ‘The Sopranos.’”

Cullen Murphy, writing on “Innocent Bystanders,” in the Atlantic Monthly this month

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