Kanye West recently made headlines again by teeing off on a member of the paparazzi. The knee-jerk reaction is understandable: Another privileged, pampered celebrity. Boo-hoo. If you can’t handle fame or being filmed, you’re probably well advised not to hook up with a Kardashian.
While nobody should endorse violence, seeing paparazzi in action makes it unsurprising that people are tempted to take a poke at them. And while it’s easy to hide behind a shield of press freedom, given the legitimate concerns about security and privacy, the issue is genuinely more nuanced than that.
Los Angeles residents in certain communities surely have a different perspective than the public at large. As a regular patron of the Studio City Farmers Market, I’ve been regularly treated to evidence of how intrusive such picture-takers can be, shoving cameras into the faces of celebs while they spend a lazy Sunday with their kids, paying for overpriced pony rides and produce.
Word has clearly gotten around that this is a good place to spot actors in unguarded moments. And while some of the paparazzi endeavor to be respectful, both to the stars and those milling around, others go bolting through the throngs, brandishing telephoto lenses with an intensity that suggests Jesus, or at least a few Apostles, have made an unscheduled appearance.
Obviously, there’s a first-amendment lifeline here, which is immediately where outlets like TMZ retreat when confronted about such tactics. “Kanye West just lashed out at a TMZ cameraguy,” the site posted after a recent flare-up with the rapper, “simply ’cause he’s an egomaniac who thinks he’s bigger than the Constitution.”
As much as everyone likes the Constitution, though, it’s a little harder to endorse blanket protection of those first-amendment rights when the “journalist” keeps repeating “Kanye, I love you, man,” and wants to blow the lid off Kim’s morning sickness.
There’s also the matter of privacy, and whether famous people should be allowed any zone in which they’re not viewed as lab rats, where the presumption is that they belong to those of us living vicariously through their success.
Legislative attempts to curb paparazzi haven’t done much to rein in their behavior, and new technology has added avenues and immediacy to posting video and capitalizing on the pop-culture hunger for celebrity-driven content. Many feel some photogs provoke encounters, knowing that a “So-and-so runs amok!” headline is a surefire way to generate traffic and sales.
A recent effort has hinged on providing additional safeguards for celebs when accompanied by their children, with Halle Berry recently testifying before California’s legislature about the pending provision.
“I understand that there is a certain amount of my own privacy that I have to give up,” the actress told the Assembly’s public safety committee, but cited a distinction regarding children “and their fear of leaving their house and feeling they cannot move in the world in a safe way.”
There’s logic and emotional resonance in that argument — namely, while stars have willingly embraced the spotlight and (at least to some extent) the associated headaches, their young kids didn’t sign up for the harassment.
Perhaps the more troubling issue, which can’t simply be legislated away, is what this says about our society. Already prone to oversharing via Facebook and social media, we’re promoting rudeness and gawking, including via those irritating open-air vans that seem to crisscross every posh section of Los Angeles, pointing out celebrity homes (or more often, the hedges in front of them).
Consider the case of Aaron Paul, who recently surprised a tour bus by venturing outside to say hello. Although that’s certainly a nice gesture, nowhere does the story bother to ask why we’ve become so cavalier about the notion that an actor on “Breaking Bad” has to cheerfully accept having random strangers led directly to his doorstep.
Ultimately, given the competing notions of privacy and celebrity, not to mention commerce, there’s no completely neat or tidy solution. Yet if the assumption is that nobody gets inconvenienced except the star being filmed, tell that to their kids — or for that matter, to the folks just trying to mind their own business at the farmers market.