Influence of Paparazzi on Society

If a person was to enter into any convenience store, there is almost a sure chance that he or she would encounter a multitude of magazines and newspapers lining the shelves before the checkout counter. Each magazine obnoxiously highlights this week’s big story or scandal. Turn on any television and there are almost as many entertainment news channels as there are world news channel. Is this society becoming obsessed with the lives and mishaps of famous celebrities? Or are the tabloids so inaccurately depicting the lives of people that the average person cannot wait to see what they come up with next?

However, the root of the problem does not lay within the tabloids themselves, but the paparazzi, who will stalk, invade and sometimes even chase renowned celebrities just to earn their next paycheck. These undeniable invasions of privacy put many in the face of danger. There are not only recent examples of the danger the paparazzi place on the lives of people, but examples dating back to the death of Princess Diana. When does society decide when the paparazzi has gone too far, and what laws should be put into place to ensure the safety of those who are famous?

One may question if they even have the right to dive that deep into someone’s life. Due to the evidence that exists, it is necessary that laws are put into place to protect the lives of these esteemed stars. The paparazzi – originating from the Italian word, “paparazzo,” meaning buzzing insects – are the target of heavy scrutiny from the famous. The obsession with celebrities is not just a recent phenomenon but dates back to as far as recorded history. In ancient Greece and Rome, people created their gods as very human-like beings, complete with character flaws and drama.

Through the Middle Ages, the celebrities were royalty and nobility. In The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon came to the conclusion that there were several factors contributing to the fall of Rome, including a disregard for civil respect. He states, “The development of an over-obsessive interest in sport and celebrity was one of the factors in the collapse of the greatest civilization ever known to man” (Mell). Paparazzi have and always will be the cause for our society’s problem of blurring the lines between private citizens and public persona.

As a result, societies as far back as the Roman Empire have succumbed to the trivial desire to watch the rise and fall of aspiring public figures (Mell). Nowadays, “A paparazzo… is defined as a ‘freelance photographer who aggressively pursues celebrities…to take candid often compromising photos for publication’” (Hellmueller 9). Most are under the assumption that sacrificing privacy and intimacy of relationships disappears when they are thrust into the spotlight. It is widely understood that without media attention, their existence would be irrelevant to the masses.

“I understand there is a certain amount of my own privacy that I have to give up,” states actress Halle Berry (Lowry 21). Stars have come to terms with the fact that although evasive, if they want their careers to survive they must be in the media spotlight. “Visibility…is vital for a Celebrity. The paparazzo glorifies acts and magnifies sins…” (Hellmueller 9). Although twisted, stars that receive negative light such as Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, or Lindsey Lohan, receive more public interest than stars that are not involved in scandals (Hellmueller 9).

Therefore, negative attention by photographers is a necessary evil. As much as stars resent the paparazzi and the scandals they expose

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or even factiously conjure up, they understand that their relevance in the cut-throat world of Hollywood is reliant upon their constant media exposure and public interest (Hellmueller 10). Social media has consistently proven as an outlet for the famous within the past six to seven years. Popular forms of social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Myspace, prove just how powerful scandals exposed by paparazzi can be in boosting your popularity.

As of January 15th, 2014, pop singer, teenage heartthrob and common target for paparazzi, was the second most followed account on Twitter, a popular teen social media outlet, with 48,705,084 followers. Even more shocking is that this outrageous number increases by the thousands each day. Surprisingly enough, we do not observe any Twitter profiles that are non-famous pop culture phenomenon’s until we reach number 34 on the list, CNN Breaking News, who only has 15,141,938 followers (Hellmueller 19).

Consequently, this proves how important paparazzi targeted celebrities are to the teenage audience in comparison to a news account that provides vital worldly information. The public is intrigued by the downfall and the continuous mishaps of stars they supposedly look up to. Therefore, the most accessible and informative way to keep up with celebrities day to day activities is through outlets such as social media (Ward 107). The constant hounding from paparazzi is to be expected when you are in the limelight in Hollywood, or staring in a new movie.

But when stars such as Paul Reiser and Michael J. Fox feel as if they are being invaded in intimate and important affairs of their everyday lives, they begin to question if photographers have gone too far. Both share disturbing personal experiences with lack of respect from the paparazzi. Michael J. Fox’s wedding to wife Tracy Pollan was invaded, as well as the birth of his first child, where paparazzi posed as medical personnel to get detailed information about the family. They even went so far to pose as mourners and sneak into a funeral when his father passed away.

Paul Reiser, star of TV’s Mad About You, could not attend the birth of his premature baby, because reporters and paparazzi had staked out the lobby and made it impossible to enter the hospital (Moore 2044). Some claim that these innate disregards for privacy in such sensitive and important moments in a person’s life are unnecessary and disrespectful. There is noticeable distinction between being unwillingly photographed while shopping at the grocery store, and being unwillingly photographed while exchanging vows at a wedding.

Neglecting the distinction between every day and sensitive moments in one’s life is what leaves stars feeling as if the paparazzi are intrinsically evil (Seiter 14). Possibly more disturbing than invasions of privacy, are the chilling tales told by celebrities when the overwhelming persistency of the paparazzi proves to be unsafe. Some stars, such as pregnant reality TV star, Kim Kardashian, broadcast their stories through social media sources such as Twitter.

On June 6th 2013, she tweeted, “Yesterday 4 cars boxed me in… just to have me drive at their speed so they can snap through the window…I wouldn’t let the paps [paparazzi] get a pic of me today & they threatened my life… How dare they… ” (Kardashian). She continued by adding, “Let me enjoy this last month of pregnancy please without threats & being scared to leave my home due to what dangerous thing they threatened to do… ”(Kardashian). It is impossible to ignore the outcry of celebrities through social media, and as a result, many solicit their negative opinions through this mean.

Multiple stars, such as Ireland Baldwin, Daughter of Alec Baldwin, Liam Payne, Miley Cyrus, and Justin Bieber share their disapproval on social media with a variety of obscenity ridden posts, bashing the photographers for the nuisance and safety hazards they thrust upon their lives (Zissou). With any activity that exudes danger, there is a possibility that a tragedy could occur at any moment. With an adrenaline and danger filled career such as being paparazzo, the competition to get the “next big shot” proves to be too much at times.

This career does not only present danger to the celebrity, but the photographer as well. Burke explains how “Sometimes five cars full of paparazzi will chase after a celebrity. And to make sure they don’t lose their target they will often speed, run stop signs… and even drive on the wrong side of the road” (Burke 22). In 2013, Justin Bieber’s Ferrari was chased by hungry photographers down a California highway. One of the photographers, Chris Guerra, was struck and subsequently killed while trying to cross a Los Angeles street after he was led to believe Bieber’s car was pulled over for speeding (Zissou 14).

Blair Berk, an attorney who has represented many stars in court cases believes, “Paparazzi are increasingly dangerous, the issue here is safety” (Zissou 14). On August 31, 1997, in an even more disturbing, and widely publicized story, Princess Diana, was killed in a car crash in Paris after being chased down by a hound of paparazzi. These two immensely disturbing stories illustrate the actual danger that both parties endure. Both events sparked not only incredible controversy, but led to the call for laws prohibiting the dangerous tactics used by photographers (Moore 2045).

One may question why a group of people would be involved in such a risky job that is associated with such negative sentiments. Some assume that the paparazzi are merely fame obsessed civilians without a real job. Others may believe that they receive joy in torturing celebrities. However, the reality is that the payout for the correct single photograph could easily earn you fifty to one-hundred thousand dollars, on the low end. The average photograph at a movie premier runs from $100-$300 dollars depending on the celebrity and the nature of the photograph.

Pictures that capture altercations or mishaps are far more lucrative than a common photo (Hoffman). The big money is generated from photos that are in high demand and difficult to obtain, such as wedding photos and scandalous mishaps such as affairs and rehab entrances. According to Scott Cosman, owner of photo agency Fam/Flynet Inc. , magazines would pay a fortune for the first wedding photo of Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and their children. “Worldwide rights for a picture like that, with all the kids, I would say $10 million” (Weisman). This is not the first time a picture has been estimated for a price that outrageously high.

The first picture of Jolie-Pitt’s twins was sold to People Magazine for 14 million dollars. Getting the right shot can boost photographers into immediate wealth with the mere snap of the camera. Money is the sole motivation behind the paparazzi’s unsafe habits and it will continue to evolve like this until there is some sort of regulation introduced (Weisman). Stars have recently become aware of the fact that they are in almost sole control of the future and present habits of the paparazzi. If they wish to bring about changes to the maltreatment and invasions of privacy they presently receive, they have to stand up and do something about it.

This exact theory is just what stars like Halle Berry, Steven Tyler, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Michael J. Fox realized, just to name a few. Motivated and fed up stars like these, have teamed up with members of the California congressional delegation and introduced the Personal Privacy Protection Act, which “would make it a federal crime to endanger anyone’s safety to take a photograph… it would expand the definition of trespass to include using a zoom lens or deploying high powered microphones… in their home…” (Moore 2044). Many are in support of this law, including people that were thrust into the spotlight unwillingly.

For example, Ellen Levin, whose daughter was murdered in the Preppie Murder case that once dominated New York tabloids, complains how paparazzi once swarmed and invade her property in order to obtain photographs, making it nearly impossible to be alone with her family’s grief (Moore 2045). Actress Halle Berry supports this law as well, but for the sake of her young child’s safety. She claims that her daughter has a constant “fear of leaving the house and feeling like she cannot move in the world in a safe way” due to the unrelenting hounding of paparazzi that follow her everywhere she goes, including school (Lowry 21).

Stars believe that this legislation will make the paparazzi more accountable for their actions while still being able to make money and do their jobs. Although this legislation is not already intact, states such as Hawaii and California have already taken action and won in the constant fight for privacy. Entering his final year in office, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the California Governor, signed a law into effect in 2010, “enabling celebrities to sue tabloids, television, and other media outlets who pay for and use material they know was improperly obtained in violation of a person’s right to privacy” (Seiter 14).

In Hawaii similar action was taken when Steven Tyler from Aerosmith passed the “Steven Tyler Act” making it easier for celebrities to sue paparazzi and others they see as invading their privacy. “When I’m in my own home and I’m taking a shower or changing clothes or eating… and I see paparazzi… and then see that very picture in People magazine, it hurts,” Tyler said (Hellmueller 20). He believes this piece of legislation will make Hawaii a more desirable spot for vacationers and solve the increasingly bothersome privacy problem they have there.

Celebrities have become aware that they are in charge of their own destiny and that they actually have the power to make a difference for their own wellbeing. As with any legislation, there are people that are against its approval. Some people believe acts such as the Personal Privacy Protection Act would be devastating for journalism. Not only would it restrict the photography of celebrities, but it would “infringe on the news-gathering ability of legitimate news organizations” says Barbara S. Cochran, executive director of the Radio-Television News Directors Association (Moore 2044).

“Bills like this one would protect villains, frauds, and scoundrels… whose activities are brought to light,” adds executive editor of the Petersburg Times, Peter C. Nash (Moore 2044). Others argue that all paparazzi are not evasive and dangerous, and the masses should not be punished for acts concerning select groups of people. Magazine, newspaper and online blogs would be heavily affected as well. In 2012, the average magazine would have published 14 stories within its pages, 10 of them addressing scandals and big news regarding a famous celebrity’s life.

If all of a sudden there was a lack of story material, sales for popular sources of this information would decrease heavily (Ward 119). Perhaps the strongest argument against these laws however, dates back to the Constitution and the 1st amendment. Many argue that these laws are restricting the rights that were outlined in freedom of the press. “Any new law… is going to run smack into the First Amendment. Truth is, most conduct is covered by existing laws” argues L. A attorney, Dmitry Gorin (Zissou). The dispute has turned into a clash of principles: freedom of the press versus the constitutional right to privacy.

There is not a doubt that this act would henceforth protect celebrities and their privacy, but in doing so, we may be violating one of the most renowned pieces of legislature. Many argue that the effects of laws such as the Personal Privacy Protection Act would bring about more negative than positive outcomes (Ward 128). The level of influence pop culture and the tabloids have on today’s society is incredible. If magazines, newspapers and social media outlets were removed, the entertainment industry would not flourish as it does today. The influence that a mere picture can have on society is astonishing.

For the future, if laws are not created to slow down the growth and intrusive nature of photographers, the esteemed celebrities society recognizes will be constantly put in harm’s way. The establishment of these laws and regulations will not only make it a safer environment for paparazzi, but people in the spotlight as well. When paparazzi and Hollywood learn to coexist in complete harmony and safety, there will no longer be such high price tags on images of such insignificance. Until then, the paparazzi will continue its trek through the entertainment industry as a dangerous but absolutely necessary evil.

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