Do We Need a Petition to Stop All These Petitions?
I never thought I’d feel compelled to come to the defense of Paris Hilton, but this truly is a strange, Orwellian future we live in. It’s the antithesis of hot.
But before you can fully appreciate my stance on this, there’s one statement you need to accept as fact regardless of how preposterous and infuriating it might sound: Paris Hilton is a DJ now. She’s had residencies in Ibiza, Atlantic City and now Las Vegas and she’s one of the five highest-paid in the world (according to Paris Hilton). That’s all happening whether you refuse to believe it or not.
At the same time, about as far from the opulent, glitzy clubs of the Mediterranean as possible (Milwaukee), promoters and event planners worked thankless hours for months to assemble the lineup for this year’s annual Summerfest – the world’s largest music festival (according to Summerfest). It’s 800 artists performing on 11 stages over 11 days spread out across June and July and it regularly features some of the most prominent names in music regardless of genre.
When this year’s lineup was revealed, it included such disparate acts as the Rolling Stones, Keith Urban, Public Enemy, Linkin Park, Smash Mouth and “Weird” Al Yankovic. But also wedged in there with a slot on the same day as Martina McBride and the New Pornographers were the words "Paris" and "Hilton" with no further explanation except this photo:
Once people discerned that Paris Hilton is a DJ, outrage understandably ensued. It's one thing for Hilton to subject club kids in Ibiza to whatever her interpretation of music is, but it's another entirely for her to unleash it upon unsuspecting Midwestern masses. There could be children in there. But while most people innocuously took to Twitter and/or Facebook to force their disapproval on their friends and followers, one guy (from New Jersey?) came up with the idea to create an online petition to remove Hilton from the lineup.
If that sounds like an idea you've heard before, it's because he presumably got it from the petition another guy started a few weeks earlier to remove Kanye West from his headlining spot at this summer's Glastonbury Festival in England. That movement (initiated by someone who openly admitted to having never attended the festival) garnered more than 100,000 virtual signatures. The Paris Hilton petition received more than 7,000 in a week. That's a lot of quasi-official disapproval.
Here's the description for the anti-Hilton agenda:
This is a middle finger to anyone who paid to go this festival. You claim to be one of the premier festivals in America and then you go ahead and hire someone like Paris Hilton. She is a disgrace to dance music and is a perfect example of what spoiled celebrities do when they're bored. She has no right to be paid good money to stand up there and clap her hands on a stage. That money could be used to hire credible djs that actually work hard on their craft. If Paris has any respect for dance music she would step down as she's clearly not worthy. Signing her to Summerfest is supporting a false, non credible, and quite frankly overall terrible 'musician'/'DJ'. This diminishes dance music as nothing more than a cheap show and if you have any respect for the integrity of music you will remove Paris Hilton from the lineup. Please sign and share this petition together we can at least show Paris that we won't stand for this."
To be fair, he makes a few valid points. Hilton is "an example of a spoiled celebrity" and she very well could be "a disgrace to dance music." But let's not forget that Pauly D from Jersey Shore has also been one of the highest-paid DJs on the planet for the past couple of years. Yes, it's certain that Hilton can't possibly spend as much time "working hard on her craft" as the likes of Calvin Harris and David Guetta (what with all those red carpets that aren't going to walk on themselves). And giving her a platform like this encourages her to keep pursuing a career in music.
But that seems to be the growing purpose of the internet – or comment sections, at least: to make people feel so bad about themselves for putting themselves out there that it discourages them from trying anything. Whether you're a teenage girl with a YouTube channel or senior editor of a music site (trust me), you need to have rhino-thick skin to express your thoughts or make yourself vulnerable online. While you might get a spattering of reassurance here and there, you're all but guaranteed negativity – and those negative comments are often easy to get fixated on. Rebecca Black wasn't trying to offend you when she recorded "Friday," she just wanted to sing a song and do her best.
That's what these petitions are: internet troll culture materializing in the real world. It's just disapproving for the sake of being antagonistic. Do you really think either of these festivals will listen to the outcry from faceless mobs, change their elaborately planned events, further embarrass the mega-celebrities in question and then lose all of the additional publicity? And while, yes, Paris Hilton is not an accomplished musician and prohibiting her from playing Summerfest might make a statement about the integrity of music, it would make a much bigger statement about integrity itself.
The case against Kanye is a little more complicated, though. The petition is based around the hope that the Glastonbury Festival will swap him out in favor of a "rock band." But the event has already hosted everyone from Jay-Z and Beyonce to Stevie Wonder and Chemical Brothers and, as co-organizer Emily Eavis wrote in an editorial for The Guardian, "The acts never have been limited to rock, and they never will be." It's far more likely that most of the people who signed the petition just don't like West as a person – which is understandable -- and a little ironic. After all, aren't they just doing to West what he did to Beck (and Taylor Swift) when he said they both didn't deserve awards as much as Beyonce obviously did? More or less. So wouldn't it be justice to strip him of an honor? Kind of.
If there was such universal opposition to his stance, why is it completely acceptable to use his same argument against him? The main difference, however, is that Kanye only speaks for Kanye. These petitions are meant to speak for everyone and cause a change that not everyone agrees with (there are definitely thousands of people who are thrilled to see West at Glastonbury). Eavis said it really doesn't even matter if it's Yeezy this year or the Smiths in 1984 – it's inevitable that you can't please all the people even half the time. "I’ve realized over the years of announcing lineups that, literally, whoever you reveal will be met with some hate online," she said. "[But] some of the vitriol being thrown around this week has made me question the dark underbelly of the web. Who are those people silently shouting in disgust, throwing out threats from behind their screens? It certainly isn’t pleasant to be on the receiving end of that."
In the end, this is all about entitlement. Although West and Hilton both represent the pervasive sense of growing celebrity entitlement, they're also just providing entertainment – and for a fleeting moment in the vast expanse of time. Who is more entitled: the socialite who is apparently enough of a draw to put onstage in one out of 800 lineup spots or the people who don't live anywhere near Wisconsin, who won't be attending any of the 11 days of Summerfest and who expect organizers to drop everything to make them happy? Why even bother letting professionals make decisions when we're just going to whine until we get our own way? It would be like creating a petition telling J.J. Abrams exactly how the plot of Star Wars: Episode VII should unfold.
Just let it happen. Relax. Stop taking everything so personal.
Oh, and go ahead and throw the First Amendment around all you like. It's incredibly hypocritical to use your right to express yourself just to silence someone else – even if Paris Hilton has nothing coherent to say. These petitions are democracy in action; they're cyber-bullying (not just the "musicians" but everyone who actually wants to see them). And I realize by writing something like this, I'm opening myself up to rampant criticism. But that's life now. I probably heard worse when I ranked all of Pearl Jam's albums.