I like Paris Hilton. I liked her reality TV show. I like her self-deprecating persona. I even liked her sex tape. But I don’t like this video. This is Paris’s response to McCain’s “Celeb” ad that strives to compare Obama to today’s young, dumb blonde, irresponsible, in loco parentis celebrities, namely Paris and Britney Spears. The routine she’s doing here is an extension of the schtick she cultivated on her reality show “The Simple Life,” wherein Paris plays the role of the dumb blonde – sometimes with and sometimes without a wink – in the most unlikely of scenarios. The joke comes about halfway through the video when Paris flips from being the “like… like… like…” gum-chewing Valley Girl to a poli-wonk who proposes a fabulous solution to the energy policy debate. The Paris Plan is what she calls a “hybrid” of Obama’s and McCain’s energy proposals – initiate off-shore drilling to reduce oil prices in the short term, and somehow gracefully transition to alternative energy sources by using tax incentives. I wish I could have a laugh at this ad. I really do. It was distributed exclusively through FunnyOrDie.com, a promising alternative distribution model for talented young comedians aiming to get noticed for their comic writing. Maybe they’ll land a role in the next Judd Apatow movie or a spot on SNL, or they fantastize about reinventing SNL for the 21st Century. I know people who work for FoD. They are great, smart, and talented and usually they make me laugh my ass off. But the way this ad mainstreams the GOP’s off-shore drilling argument is truly disappointing, and I feel bad that I have to take so seriously what should otherwise be fun and entertaining. I almost wish there were some kind of conspiratorial backstory to the ad, that there are Big Oil interests vested in FunnyOrDie. Maybe its backers are Republicans? After all, they’re well connected. FunnyOrDie was founded by Will Ferrell, secured seed financing from the private equity fund Sequoia Capital, and recently landed a distribution deal with HBO. Maybe there’s something there, right? But I’m afraid that conspiracies don’t even matter anymore. We’ve become the agents of our own demise by arriving at the point where pop culture – by way of its modus operandi to please EVERYBODY – validates a fraudulent and dangerous energy policy out of its desire to simply make us laugh. Some say that McCain is actually doing Obama a favor by aligning the GOP with Paris Hilton’s “politics.” But based on the sketch, the joke is that Paris is reading someone’s prepared remarks, that she’s being pumped up by writers to sound as intelligent as she possibly can. Her position places as much weight on off-shore drilling as it does with the alternatives, when the facts clearly show that off-shore drilling is nothing but the same poison pill the U.S. has been swallowing for the past thirty years, deepening our dependence on petroleum, foreign or otherwise. According to the U.S. Department of Energy: “Offshore leasing wouldn’t be able to begin until 2012 due to existing moratoria, and access to the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf regions would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030.” But even if off-shore drilling did have an affect on gas prices (which it wouldn’t because the added supply is minimal) or that the oil could come out of the ground tomorrow, this is terrible public policy because, using an argument normally depolyed by the free market fundamentalists in the GOP, the best incentive for private companies to produce an alternative energy resource is not government subsidies but the forces of capitalism. High energy prices make it viable for companies to seek out alternatives to oil. Isn’t it ironic that the Republicans are advocating what is essentially corporate welfare for one of the most profitable industries in the world? Explaining the facts here is pointless because I think most intelligent people realize that off-shore drilling is neither a panacea nor a way to secure short-term relief. It’s a land-grab by the oil companies eager to exploit the American People by way of Congress during our national crisis. They have identified our desperation for short term gas price relief. They have invoked national pride in doing so (how many times have you heard someone say “we shouldn’t be drilling in the middle east when we can be accessing OUR oil!”). And the energy companies have positioned themselves as being in the business of doing us favors (have you watched CNN lately? take another look at all of those ads the Energy Companies are paying for between “news” reports). But we are not Venezuela. Our oil fields are not socialized. The People are not entitled to “their” oil. The energy companies are like any good business in the country – they’re trying to make more money. Moreover, all of this coincides with a concerted effort (led by Newt Gingrich of all people) by House Republicans to force an emergency vote on off-shore drilling. What else do you need to know? I saw The National the other night at Central Park. They’re a semi-popular indie band from Brooklyn in the vein of U2 or Arcade Fire, i.e. they sing platitudinous songs about changing the world. They have a song that goes: “We’re half awake in a fake empire” and I think the lyrics are insipid as hell. But I’m starting to think (and fear) more and more that they have a point.

August 6, 2008

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