160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! What is the deal with Paris Hilton, anyway? “She’s my idol,” gushed one young fan as she stood vigil outside the Lynwood jail just minutes before the scofflaw celebutante sashayed out of her cell and off into the night with the paparazzi madly clicking away. “I want to be just like her.” Just like her? What, skanky, with her own sex video? Vapid and dumb, her only words of wisdom for her minions being, “That’s hot”? All that money Hilton’s family has made over the years in the hotel business, and she can’t find anything worthwhile to do with it besides buying too many Prada bags and Jimmy Choo shoes and going to nightclubs and driving her pricey car recklessly when she’s had a bit too much booze? For the life of me, I can’t see why anybody cares what that unremarkable young woman does or where she goes or with whom. There are more important things in life, like having your ingrown toenails treated or cleaning the gunk out of your car ashtray. I don’t know when Americans — young Americans, really — became so fixated on the rich and famous, specifically with people behaving badly in public. Actress Lindsay Lohan gets drunk and is photographed passed out in a friend’s car. Rappers Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. get into a feud over who’s biggest and baddest, and both end up dead. Rapper Eminem marries the same woman not once, but twice, and uses vile and degrading words to describe the mother of his child in his music. And a whole generation of kids thinks these are the people to emulate. I remember what it’s like to want to be like your idol. But even in the wild days of early rock ‘n’ roll, wise parents kept a leash on their children. We might have thought Elvis was to die for, but girls who swooned when he sang didn’t routinely run away and become roadies for his band. There were still values to be upheld, we were reminded by our no-nonsense parents. And there were rules passed down from generations of mostly immigrant great-great-grandparents: Respect your parents, work hard, get an education, do all things in moderation, don’t embarrass the family, marry for love and be faithful for life, don’t brag, there are some things best kept within the family, don’t attract attention, act like a lady (or gentleman), help those less fortunate, don’t do anything you wouldn’t want to see printed on the front page of the newspaper. I can’t remember anything in that list of must-do’s about drinking till you puke, or filming yourself having sex with somebody whose name you can’t remember 24 hours later, or singing songs with lyrics you couldn’t say in front of your mother, or going out clubbing pantiless and being proud of it. Maybe I missed the memo. My generation’s idols were cute (the young JFK, Elvis, Frankie Avalon), smart (Eisenhower, who won the war; Truman, who said, “The buck stops here”), moral (Mahatma Ghandi), helpful (Helen Keller); wise and brave (Winston Churchill). The cute ones we wanted to watch; the others we wrote essays about and hoped someday we’d be lucky enough to develop a few of their qualities. Today’s kids don’t know who those wise, brave, smart, moral and helpful people even were; there are very few of them left, it seems. This generation has its own list of idols, generally people with foul mouths and distasteful public habits, too much money and no idea how to spend it wisely, and an attitude of entitlement. That, today, is what kids want to be like. And it’s worrying. Can you imagine a world in which Snoop Dogg is president? Lindsay Lohan head of a movie studio? Eminem a school superintendent? Yikes. Why are rich and famous youngsters the way they are? Well, look at their parents. Many of them didn’t have much upbringing, either, so there was nothing of value or wisdom to pass along to their out-of-control offspring. Just goes to prove money can’t buy smarts. But there may be some hope and, wonder of wonders, it just may come from the recent jailbird herself. Paris Hilton told interviewer Larry King she did a lot of thinking while she was in jail, and decided that 26 was the perfect age to grow up and act like an adult instead of the spoiled little girl who cried for her mommy as she was handcuffed and hauled off to jail. She’s tired of partying, of playing dumb, she said, and wants to raise money for underprivileged children, for breast cancer, for muscular dystrophy. I would have bet Paris couldn’t even have pronounced muscular dystrophy. Maybe she did learn something in jail.—Carol Bidwell is a Daily News copy editor and longtime grumbler about life in general.