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Commentary: Welcome to Hiltonworld

Story Highlights

• 2006 about celeb bad behavior, breakups
• Noted stories: Mel Gibson tirade, Britney Spears behavior
• More focus on "Hiltonworld" -- gossipy side, always chronicled
By Todd Leopold
CNN
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(CNN) -- In 2006, it seemed like denizens of the entertainment world, like visitors to the Twilight Zone, increasingly crossed over into another dimension. They moved to a place where reality means nothing; all that mattered was attention, good or bad.

Call it Hiltonworld.

In Hiltonworld -- named after its most famous resident, a person who appears to spend 24 hours a day there -- everyone is your friend. (Even if they're only thumbnails on MySpace.) You have no private life, whether you want one or not. (Mel Gibson and Michael Richards made unwilling forays into Hiltonworld's hinterlands; Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan reveled in its never-closing nightclubs.) The truth matters less than truthiness. (James Frey took in the sights.) (Gallery: CNN.com's list of the top 10 entertainment stories.)

And there's always a camera on -- attached to a cell phone or YouTube, police car or paparazzo, or even a magazine that feeds off your fame as it dares to call you "annoying." (Such as the year-end issue of the Star, offering an irony whose depth boggles the mind amid the shallowness of Hiltonworld.)

In Hiltonworld the lights are always on, and so are you.

Hiltonworld, or a place like it, is nothing new, of course. Before there was Paris Hilton and her ex- (and future?) pal Nicole Richie, neither known for anything but attracting those cameras, there was the "international playboy," people such as Aly Khan and Paris' great-uncle, Conrad "Nicky" Hilton Jr. -- good-looking men of no discernable ability, who primarily earned their notoriety through their wealth and conquests. (People outside of Hiltonworld prefer to pick on women, however; the men don't like the emasculation.)

Before there was the Star there was Confidential; before there was the New York Post there was the Police Gazette. Celebrity has ignited curiosity as surely as P.T. Barnum's American Museumexternal link sold tickets to the Fejee Mermaid.

But the line between the real world and Hiltonworld has gotten thinner and thinner over the years, allowing more people to cross the border. It can be a tempting place to stay -- the lights are so bright, after all -- but once you're there, it's hard to get back.

Take Spears, for example. She's spent a good deal of her life in Hiltonworld, ever since she played the sexy schoolgirl in "... Baby One More Time." By 2006, every part of her life was being played and displayed for public consumption, from driving with her baby on her lap to her husband's nascent rap career, and her singing -- the real-world reason for her fame -- had become an afterthought.

By the time she decided to divorce said husband, she'd been in the public eye with pretty much everything. And her panty-less photographs took care of what was left.

On the other hand, Gibson wasn't a Hiltonworld type. Adore him or abhor him, the man was known as a talented actor and director whose occasional controversial statements were one part of a complex picture.

Then, one night in July, he had a few too many and found himself on the wrong side of the line (and the law). Suddenly he was a mug shot, a slurred voice of prejudice, a drunken star of someone's cell phone video. His determination to leave Hiltonworld as fast as he arrived has apparently paid dividends, with his new film, "Apocalypto," hitting No. 1 its first week at the box office and getting nominated for a Golden Globe; Gibson's face has vanished from Hiltonworld publications.

(And what of Hilton herself? She broke up with a shipping-heir boyfriend, declared a one-year ban on sexual activity, was arrested for suspicion of DUI and put out an album. For what it's worth.)

In the future, everyone may travel to Hiltonworld, if only for 15 minutes or so. Someone may place a video of you on YouTube or send an e-mail about you to 20 of their closest friends. All the news organizations keep at least a part-time correspondent there. You'll find yourself the center of attention.

Hiltonworld isn't necessarily a bad place. There's a lot of money to be made there, and a lot of exposure to be gained. It can be a nice spot to escape to, once in awhile.

But be careful. The toll can be pretty high.

What are the top 10 entertainment stories of the year? Click here to find out.


Hiltonworld

They've become better known for their behavior than anything else: Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan.

WHO LIVES IN HILTONWORLD?

Some celebrities are artists and performers first, celebrities second. They spend little, if any, time in Hiltonworld -- enough to promote their latest project and get out. But some celebrities are known for being known, to paraphrase Daniel Boorstin. They spend as much time in Hiltonworld as possible. Indeed, if Hiltonworld were to fold, they may cease to exist.

Permanent residents:
Paris Hilton
Kevin Federline
Anna Nicole Smith
reality-show villains

Long-term leases:
Britney Spears
Carmen Electra
Jessica Simpson
Shanna Moakler
Pete Doherty
Naomi Campbell

Drop-bys:
Pam Anderson
Lindsay Lohan
Scott Stapp
Donald Trump
Tom Cruise
Jennifer Lopez

SPECIAL REPORT

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