Thursday, February 7, 2008

Paparazzi Skewer Spears

The Britney Spears saga has gone from being bizarre to nearing tragedy and the fact that she can't even be released from the hospital without, "television helicopters tracking every turn. [and] A crowd of photographers [who] swarmed around her when she arrived," (CNN) points to part of the problem.

She has a complicated relationship with the paparazzi, as do all celebrities: she needs them to cover her because that is part of her job -- feeding the celebrity machine that is claimed to be responsible for Hollywood's big success -- and they need her because apparently sales and web clicks go up dramatically when a story is about her. The first assumption is arguable since there are plenty of stars who have their own lives and show up in newsstands only when they are actually working: Johnny Depp comes to mind. I think he has a family and I'm sure I could come up with their names and pictures, but the point is I'd have to try. With Britney I could tell you each of the hundred outfits she's worn for the past week.

And yet her life is falling apart, partially because it is and partially because that poor girl has found she cannot move without being bombarded. While she may want it, her current mindset is hardly a decent judge of what she needs -- and we as a public should demand that she be better treated.

There should be a line between any celebrities personal life and their public life -- we do not go to the theatre and support their lavish lifestyle in exchange for 24/7 access to them. Even if there is that symbiotic relationship between some celebrities and some paparazzi, there need to be boundaries even in those -- a celebrity who says, 'take a picture now,' or who visits a restaurant where the paparazzi hang out is not automatically waiving all rights to privacy. In fact, perhaps these sorts of 'free zones' ought to be the standard so that celebrities can live their lives, but still do the promotion that is necessary in their business. And paparazzi could get real jobs instead of freelancing and hoping to get the one picture that will make them thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

And these particular paparazzi who are crowding the doors to custody hearings, surrounding Britney Spears as she arrives home from the hospital and so forth need to admit they are bottom feeding at its worst. There is nothing fair or even remotely acceptable about those pictures.

And the public? We need to stop clicking on links we know will encourage this. I, for instance, have always avoided TMZ just because I've never agreed with their 'editorial' policies, but in the wake of this (and even in the wake of Heath Ledger's unfortunate death when Michelle Williams was photographed returning to the US just so we could all see how sad she was), I've been much more conscious of what I'm clicking on.

Here's my new policy for articles I'll read: PR events (parties, launches, etc); public announcements; court documents (I'm a little iffy on, but overall I can handle it); stars using their celebrity for humanity (I know that there are some paparazzi who claim that this is part of the tradeoff: they can snap pictures of a celebrity in everyday life because they also do that in parts of the world they have no real interest in -- this is again a rather selfish and factitious argument); restaurant pictures where stars know they'll be seen (but not those when they're covering their faces); posed family portraits (but not those candid shots which make you realize some of these children are growing up literally with cameras being flashed about every time they go outside -- the Jolie-Pitts...). And I think that people who see stars in restaurants should act as they would with any other person: respect their privacy since this stems from the same root.

In short, the only way to require the paparazzi to adhere to common standards of decency and privacy (the ones that we as ordinary citizens demand) is to stop looking at the things they make money on. Sometimes it's unavoidable, but I'm finding it's easier than I thought.

One last comment, I haven't quite decided whether or not there should be laws regulating the paparazzi. While technically they are legally within their rights because we have a very low expectation of privacy in public, when our laws allow such travesties, should we change them. It's absurd, for instance, that Spears can have police ticket anyone who enters her house, but not those that chase her around or camp on the street outside. And neighbors have complained, too. I think Britain has a very different policy on all this stuff (there are real limits to what you can do with email addresses, for instance), but we usually prefer to give people more freedom with that sort of stuff. So I'm torn on this aspect of the issue -- thoughts?

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