On July 9, roughly a decade after she left a Los Angeles jail, Paris Hilton tweeted, "Them: You can't just erase people from your life," followed by "Me" and an image of her wearing an inmate's uniform and painting over graffiti on a wall. The self-aware quip incited over 100,000 retweets and nearly 200,000 likes.
The summer of 2017 has seen as many viral moments from Hilton as controversial staff firings from president Donald Trump. Vintage mid-2000s photos, like one featuring the heiress staring at her reflection in a side-view mirror, have transformed into memes on Instagram and Twitter, and her comedic posts alluding to The Simple Life have received 116,000-plus retweets—a marked difference from only 11 months ago, when a photo of her paired with a throwaway hashtag only garnered 163 retweets.
Few expected Hilton to dominate social media in 2017, but in Hollywood history, stars with longevity, like Betty White and Angela Lansbury, kept working because they found ways to stay hip while remaining true to themselves—not because they spent decades atop the A-list. Hilton's new image as the FuckJerry of 2000s Pop Culture Twitter plays off her status as an icon for a simpler time, a symbol many young people are craving in the midst of endless news about White House scuffles and nuclear war.
"Things were pretty good for Paris in 2005, so it's almost soothing to remember that era because it was literally carefree," points out marketer Wynter Mitchell, who has worked on social media campaigns for celebrities like Joss Whedon. "[Hilton is] so closely tied to its iconography."
Hilton is beating other 2000s starlets on social media by mixing Bush-era images with 2017 memes. Below "My Crush: I want someone who knows how to cook. Me:" she recirculated a popular video of her cooking with an iron. She also captioned an image of her getting out of a pink car in a pink dress, "On Wednesdays we wear pink," and posted, "When everyone expected you to be hungover this morning but you wake up feeling fine," alongside a GIF of her saying, "Bonjour bitch."
"It's the most benign statements that get the most traction," Mitchell explains.
But Hilton's simple messages come loaded with nostalgia for a simpler time: the early 2000s, when pink velour sweatsuits and Hilton and her comrades Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan dominated the headlines.
Perhaps most importantly, Hilton's tweets have introduced her to members of Generation Z, who didn't get to know the starlet via The Simple Life. Only toddlers during the heyday of MySpace, Generation Z-ers have always lived in a culture filled with reality stars, but Hilton's self-referential (and sometimes self-roasting) memes illustrate how she pioneered both "being famous for being famous" and also the archetype of the cheeky reality star who plays along with the public—something Kim Kardashian emulated when she released a Kimoji modeled on her crying face.
"[Her tweets] appeal to Gen Z who are probably curious about her staying power and what she meant to that era over a decade ago," Mitchell explains.
Some may be shocked to see Hilton as a meme-generating star, but she's always had a talent for keeping herself in the spotlight. When she left reality television, she reinvented herself as a DJ in the midst of the EDM crave. Today, she's a meme queen.
But she's not giving her fans cheap, cynical content. People are returning to Hilton's Twitter and Instagram pages because she's reinvented her social media content while remaining true to the public's conception of her. "No matter which tweet you get from her," Mitchell says, "She's consistently Paris."