Monday, April 6, 2009

Paparazzi Dodging Bullets

Paparazzi can be annoying as hell. Back in the late sixties and early seventies, pioneer paparazzo Ron Galella annoyed Jackie Onassis so much that she got a restraining order against him in court. Marlon Brando broke his jaw and Sean Penn spat on him.

It is easy to understand how a public figure needs private space. Celebrity photographers are not the same as adoring fans. They are creating a product for sale. And the lives of the rich and famous are their raw material. Jackie Onassis handled her problems with Ron Galella in a classy way. She took him to court and won her case and her privacy.

Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen are (to put it mildly) a different piece of work entirely. A pair of photographers who received permission from their neighbour to shoot pictures of a ceremony in which they were renewing their wedding vows had the rear window of their car shattered by a bullet that narrowly missed both of them. Friends of the somewhat newlywed couple were reportedly indignant at the encroachment upon the couple's privacy.

Most of these celebrity photos show how ordinary most of these superstars look. An average city bus at rush hour will probably contain about fifty people who are more alluring specimens than these superstars without makeup. Perhaps they are afraid of the public finding out how ordinary they are.

Okay, Tom Brady plays baseball for a living and his wife gets her picture taken in expensive clothing. In another ten years they will both be past their shelf life and some new celebrities will step up as the chewing gum for the public mind.

So what did the photographers do that merited having their rear window shot out? If the couple was worried about kidnappers or terrorists, I could understand. In such a case, they could have simply had law enforcement force the photographers to produce identification. If anyone snaps my picture, I want to know who they are.

With all of the safety concerns of the rich and famous, I still think that the security people who were guarding Bundchen and Brady were guilty of extreme reckless endangerment. If I see kids smoking weed in front of my house I will end up behind bars if I wing a couple shots at them. If there is no threat, and no danger, there is no right to use deadly force.

I hope the photographers sue Brady and Bundchen for shooting out their window. Even an annoying photographer has a right not to be killed. By all accounts, they were not even trespassing.

One of the reasons that superstars get harassed by paparazzi is that people buy their CD's, tickets to their games and performances and magazines such as the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. If no one cared about them, they would be driving "preowned " vehicles and clocking in at work like most of us.

To some extent, the private lives of superstars is yet another one of their productions. Some of them adapt to this, by throwing out informational tidbits to the public. Others spread mischievous bits of disinformation as a private joke. Some people, like Robin Williams are famous for being cordial to fans. Others lash out angrily when recognised by admirers, perhaps out of a combination of fear and shyness.

I think that some common sense is in order in dealing with paparazzi. Anyone trying to photograph a celebrity should be ready to identify themselves. All too many famous people have been stalked and sometimes even killed. They have well founded fears that need to be taken into consideration.

There have been photo journalists who meet with the rich and famous with their consent. LIFE magazine was built upon such work. Sharon and Ozzie Osbourne actually turned their lives into a reality TV show. I prefer consensual photo journalism. Even though there is more reason to be interested in media personalities, they have no less a need for privacy than the rest of us.

My favourite writers focus on common people and highlight what is unique and illuminating in their lives. Tom Brokaw's "The Greatest Generation" interviews many people who lived through World War Two as soldiers, army wives, POWS, and other people who lived through World War Two. Studs Terkel wrote a book called "Working" in which people of all different occupations described their work and how it affected their lives. Reading both these books infused me with the conviction that everyone is a player on history's stage and everyone has something to contribute.

In a sense we have been rendered passive by our ability to record sight and sound. Before the advent of recording, sheet music and oral transmission were our means of transmitting song. One had to memorise, to reach out and take possession of a piece of music. Now we can sit back and put the same CD on over and over again without any need to commit a song to memory. Although this increases ability of performers to reach a wider audience and even transcend national boundaries, it turns too many of us into passive consumers of assorted entertainment streams.

I don't like to intrude upon the boundaries set by the rich and famous. They need a private space to recover from the stress of entertaining the public. Despite this, they do not have the right to shoot at us common folk when we annoy them. Bundchen and Brady's security detail almost killed someone. They should be called to account for it. But they will probably get away with it. Money talks. What a pity. Sphere: Related Content

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