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Posted at 10:43 AM ET, 02/ 4/2008

Are We All Celebrity Stalkers?

By Liz Kelly

Stop the Madness: How can I, an average Joe and part-time Celebritologist let the various magazines and Entertainment Tonight's [know] that I no longer want to play a part in the unraveling of Britney Spears? Sure I can stop watching the shows and buying the magazines, but by the time they feel the impact, it may be too late. -- Submitted to last week's Celebritology Live discussion

Personally, I often think that given the opportunity to see pix of one of my neighbors emerging from a car in a miniskirt or video footage of a co-worker entering a rehab facility, I'd be well within my rights to add "stalker" to my list of accomplishments.

My neighbors and co-workers, though, are (for the most part) private people who have not made a conscious decision to live public lives that depend on our interest in their work, but also their personalities. But how far is too far? Unauthorized telefoto pictures of vacationing, bikini-clad celebs? Brangelina dropping off their kids at school? Postmortem pix of Anna Nicole Smith?

Obviously, not all are created equal, but the crush of comments about the appropriateness of the paparazzi swarm surrounding Britney Spears has reached the tipping point. Meaning it's time for to revisit the idea of celebrity, celebrity news, access and how much is too much. Since this topic dominated last week's live discussion and many of the comment threads on the blog last week, I think it's only fair to take our collective pulse about how much invasiveness we're willing to stomach to get our celeb dirt dished up good and hot.

Last week, it was pix and video of a confused Spears (not linked here, but easily found) and the necessity of a police escort (complete with two helicopters) to get Spears to the hospital that incited many readers to cry foul on the paparazzi and their role in the ongoing Spears drama.

But it isn't just Spears, who many argue courts the paparazzi. Last week, news leaked that "Entertainment Tonight" had laid out $200K to buy footage of Heath Ledger in 2006 talking about his drug use. The show even promo'ed a bit of the footage before a ton of Hollywood heavyweights fell upon "ET" producers, convincing them to shelve the video (for now). But, as humans, we tend to want to see that which is considered taboo. Does venue play a role in our idea of what is appropriate? Does the line move depending on where it is aired? Would the Ledger video, say, be more appropriate on YouTube -- where we can quietly watch and evaluate -- than on "Entertainment Tonight?"

Another wrinkle to consider is that the misadventures of celebrities is actually news. And if a respected public figure, say someone like Mel Gibson, gets mouthy and anti-Semitic while being busted for a DUI, well, we need to know. Right? Gibson, and others like him, shouldn't be protected because of their status.

Obviously, the only way to arrive at a definitive, non-binding, non-scientific answer is an insta-poll. Remember, your vote is anonymous, so try to ignore the answer you think you should choose or consider the "right" answer in favor of how you really feel.

By Liz Kelly  | February 4, 2008; 10:43 AM ET
Categories:  Celebrities, Celebritology 101, Comment Box  
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The paps are more invasive than a proctologist with untrimmed fingernails and arthritic knuckles.

On the other hand, he appears to have a hugely profitable practice.

Is the procto evil, or is he merely filling a void [*cough*] that people want filled?

Posted by: byoolin | February 4, 2008 11:13 AM | Report abuse

It's a vicious circle. Celebrities get all sorts of perks in society--so fame has its benefits above and beyond the fortune.

So in seeking that fame, they send out press releases and court the photographers and reports in a myriad of ways. All sorts of folks hang on to celebrities: stylists, designers, other stars. Everyone wants that celebrity to pose with or endorse their product--without having to pay them to produce a commercial. So celebrities get things.

Celebrity has its priveleges.

So watching Britney these past few weeks is like watching a junkie come off a drug. She still seeks the fame even though it is detrimental to her health.

She's courted my interest for nearly a decade now. I refuse to feel guilty for taking that bait.

She could turn off the fame machine very easily if she wanted to. Unfortunately, the fame is what fuels her self esteem. Until she finds another source for her self worth, she will continue to struggle with this.

Posted by: MoCoSnarky | February 4, 2008 11:18 AM | Report abuse

I agree that when you decide to enter into a profession where your personal life will be on display to a certain degree, that you have to expect good and bad to be aired in public.
I do think that sometimes, the paps do get carried away and that can turn into a dangerous situation for the celebrity (just look at the high speed chase that went on with Brit Brit...very similar to the Princess Di chase that led to her tragic death). I love a good celeb story as much as the next person, but probing so far into their lives that it could cause them personal injury (physical or mental) is just not right.
With the whole Brit thing going on, I see the headlines, but don't bother reading the articles anymore. They have gone way too far and she is not mentally stable enough to help herself, so they are taking full advantage of that. It is just sad now...

Posted by: Ohyouknow | February 4, 2008 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Taking pictures of celebs getting out of cars sans panties is nasty but the stars bring that on themselves.

It crosses a line when someone is being transported in an ambulance & the cameras are pressed against the windows or the paps are pounding on the doors once it reaches the hospital.

And, I don't believe the children of celebrities should be considered fair game. The parent chose their profession & has to put up w/it to a certain extent but putting anyone's children in danger to get a picture that may never see print is ridiculous.

Posted by: jes | February 4, 2008 11:33 AM | Report abuse

As long as there has been celebrity culture, there have been Paps. The Paps literally feed off the public's fascination with the living legend.

What the Paps have been doing is to destroy the very culture that puts food on their tables. With so many Pap sharks in the tank, their only hope is to outdo each other in an increasingly desperate competition for eyeballs on their work, which has absolutely no technical, artistic, or cultural merit whatsoever.

As a famous politician once said, they are in the last throes.

To a certain extent, they all deserve each other, and they all deserve to be ignored. And that is precisely the one thing the average person can do to make any difference. Shame, rebuke, and scorn will not get it done.

What I don't get is, the rest of us are protected against unwarranted interference in our lives and persistent harassment in general. There are even clear examples of harasserazzi endangering their subjects (Princess Diana), and themselves (the idiot who placed his body in front of Britney Spears' car, effectively kidnapping her so she could be photographed while trying to leave a parking lot).

My feeling is the only reason they don't get their skulls cracked by cops/bodyguards/vigilantes on a daily basis is, well, they all have cameras.

Posted by: They s*ck | February 4, 2008 11:40 AM | Report abuse

I find myself torn over this issue. I feel that the internet and cable news is the reason why the paps industry has grown so much. With 24 hours of time to fill each day, celebrity events (even minor ones) can be news. I don't honestly care about where an actress buys her groceries from or when they get a parking ticket. I do agree that kids should be off limits completely.

However I also think that with the Mel Gibsons and Nick Noltes of the world, then a certain amount of paps coverage is fine. I also think that pap coverage can be used for good such as (and I hate to use this term) how Brangelina out the focus on Africa and New Orleans.

I admit its fun to be snarky sometimes and thats ok. Maybe we as a society need to do a better job distinguishing when a celebrity is being a celebrity in a professional since and when that celebrity is being a private person.

Posted by: michael | February 4, 2008 11:56 AM | Report abuse

I still would love to see a guerilla campaign against camera-toting pap mobs...pepper spray, drive-by Krylon coatings (on lenses), surreptitious tire-flattenings, and lots and lots of celeb impersonators (and blowup dolls).

Posted by: 23112 | February 4, 2008 11:59 AM | Report abuse

As agressive as they are, they're just doing their jobs, for the most part. If no one wanted to see these pictures they wouldn't get paid for them. That being said, someone gettign carted off to the hospital really should be off limits. Dining at The Hyde, not so much.

Posted by: EricS | February 4, 2008 12:34 PM | Report abuse

I agree that children & dangerous behavior should be off-limits. However, plenty of performers somehow manage to stay out of the tabloids, so it must be possible. If that's what they really want.

Posted by: annapolis | February 4, 2008 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Running for Congress, running for Senate, and being a Hollywood actor/actress all amount to the same thing. By living in the public eye and making your incoming either entertaining the public or representing them, you give up a certain amount of yourself. You can't prey off the public, asking $5-million to appear in your last pic, be seen in the most expensive or posh restaurants, and then cry foul for not having a private life. You make your bed, and then you get to sleep in it.

Do I feel bad that we get to watch every single minutiae of Britney's death throes? Not in the least. She started out as as the virginal pop star. She became the naughty pop vixen when she realized she'd make more money that way. She calls the paparazzi when she goes out and wants to be seen. She was never particularly talented, but she knew how to play the game, and now we get to watch the end-game where she herself gets played.

People seem to forget their actions have consequences. Actors and actresses are entertainers. If they live outrageous lives and make spectacles of themselves on the way up, they forfeit privacy on the way down.

Posted by: Public Lives | February 4, 2008 12:38 PM | Report abuse

I love the celebs I love and I like getting new photos of them - from events and the red carpet. Luckily, most of my favs don't get accosted by the pap. But my currect celeb crush just had a run-in several weeks ago and I was upset. Sure, I did look at the pics on the website (Just Jared), but had they not been there, I would have been just fine. I don't need to see them leaving lunch with friends or trying to get into their secluded homes that have now been staked out by photogs. There are enough red carpets, premieres, openings and talk show appearances for me to have my fill of sound bites and snaps.

Maybe it's because I worked in LA and was surrounded by celebs at the places I worked, but I think that they are entitled to a little privacy just like anyone else. I probably could have made a mint selling out my celeb clients leaving the doctor's office where I worked, but besides being a fireable offense, it just seemed wrong. I'd hate to have people waiting for me to go to work or the grocery store or the mall, taking my picture along the way, so why should I want anything different because these celebs have chosen a "public" profession?

Posted by: Jenn in NJ (formerly SF) | February 4, 2008 12:40 PM | Report abuse

I think Britney was producing and starring in, on a continuing basis, The Britney Show.

She used the TV tabloid shows as her camera crew. And every evening, as a conscientious producer, she would probably put aside time to watch her dailies -- Britiney footage on Entertainment Tonight, the Insider, etc.

The paparazzi were her marketing team. Their presence and flashing cameras created the buzz of artifical excitement around her.

Script-wise, she would improvise. When things needed some added oomph, she would wander into a store and say pick up a pregnancy test, knowing full well that this would provoke attention.

And there was always the fall back of removing more and more clothing to garner attention and keep the audience pumped for The Britney Show.

Having her children taken away threw a wrench into the proceedings and introduced hostile lawyers.

And what has brought everything to its current halt is, in my opionion, the "follow the money" aspect.

I think the sight of her pap "boyfriend" alarmed her manager. Someone else might be gaining a foothold of influence.

The manager therefore, created a power struggle/conflict. One which her parents may have seen as an opportunity to insert themselves into the picture and gain control over her assets. "In her best interest," of course.

I think the major players in this latest episode of The Britney Show are the boyfriend, the manager and the parents. They probably convinced Britney to be hospitalized voluntarily, telling her it was a temporary tactic to win back custody of her kids.

But what they really want is control of her assets.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 4, 2008 12:50 PM | Report abuse

"But, as humans, we tend to want to see that which is considered taboo." Isn't this just rationalizing? I have no desire to see a young dead man exploited for ratings. I really don't. And, yes, people DO seem to forget that their actions have consequences. Every single blog entry about Britney Spears helps the paparazzi, whose "job" is to drive her insane, it appears. Action, consequence. It's not just the celebrities who need to understand action and consequence.

I've called for a moratorium on all blog entries about her, out of respect for her mental health, but that request is ignored in favor of "discussing" it philosophically. I guess that way it's easier to pretend to be a bystander, instead of one whose actions are directly supporting a vicious, vicious assault against a mentally ill person.

The other favorite rationalizations -- that she brought it on herself and that it's posted everywhere anyway -- also sidestep responsibility. She was too young to bring it on herself when she got caught in this, and does that justify shoving cameras into an ambulance anyway? Again, I firmly believe that every blog entry here supports the paparazzi, who are clearly doing harm to her. Who cares about all the Mel Gibson-type stuff; with Britney the line should be drawn NOW. It's killing her.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 4, 2008 1:03 PM | Report abuse

If a celeb is on a red carpet or going to a well-known club, it is okay to take their picture. That way, if the celeb wants privacy they can just avoid the red carpet or the well-known clubs. Their kids' school are absolutely, one hundred percent off limits. Their kids are not the celebs and its dangerous.

However, it should be noted that some of the coverage of Brit's first involuntary committment was really about the coverage. It was not Brit in the ambulance so much as pics of the paps taking pics of her in the ambulance. It caused us to question how much is too much.

Just as when Princess Di was chased to her death 10 years ago, it is time to reevaluate how much of a celebrity's life is public and where the personal life begins? We need to redraw that line again just as we did 10 years ago.

Posted by: ep | February 4, 2008 1:11 PM | Report abuse

I don't think it's the paps themselves that "cause" incidents, but rather poor planning by the celebs. Why is Britney driving herself around? Why does she make herself so conspicuous? Probably her bad choices are part of her illness, but in the case of Princess Diana, she was hanging out with a coked-up boyfriend who hired bad guards and a bad driver. He took her in and out of a big, fancy hotel despite her protests. They got into a car w/out using seatbelts. The conspiracy theorists will continue to blame the paps for all kinds of ills, but the fact is that a lot of celebrities seem to be able to hire people and plan to avoid bad situations.

Posted by: possum | February 4, 2008 1:14 PM | Report abuse

I don't think Britney is mental. I think she's willful, self-indulgent, pampered, more than a little bit of a drama queen and most of all, CRAVES ATTENTION.

She's also irresponsible and immature. That made her an irresponsible and immature parent.

But it doesn't make her mental.

And what kind of "help" will she be receiving, anyway. They'll probably fill her up with drugs and zombify her.

That definition of normal is overmedicated.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 4, 2008 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Here's something I've always wondered about the paparazzi. You see them vulturelike, in groups snapping away.

Apparently, they spend a large portion of every day doing this. So what happens to all of these photos.

On any given week, if you sit down with a pile of tabloids and celeb magazines, they give the impression of pretty much all having the same or similar photographs.

So what happens to all of those multitudes of photographs the paps take.

And why would they hang out at The Ivy etc. Is there really a market for the photographic image of someone exiting a restaurant?

Posted by: Anonymous | February 4, 2008 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Britney Spears doesn't know what 'normal' is - she was a showbiz kid and hit it big as a pop music superstar at wizened old age of 19. She's never had one day of 'normal.' She may crave media attention, but it's not surprising since one way or another a camera has been the one steady element and 'true-friend' for her for most of her life.

I would hope that her parents stepping in and taking conservatorship are an effort to provide her with treatment so that she can figure out things from here and build her future life as an adult mother of two children.

It's seems clear that a lot of the behavior is based on some type of clinical/medical chemical imbalance. It's been played out in front of the cameras because her judgement is impaired. And she's young and especially immature for her age because of the crazy showbiz kid upbringing.

I hope her parents think long and hard about how their ambitions for their kids to be in show business have taken a big toll on them.

It seems like about only 1% of the performers who start out as kids in the business manage to be normal, balanced emotionally healthy adults. The rest end up on "Intervention" on A&E.

Posted by: NW DC | February 4, 2008 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Ah, the chemical imbalance rationale.

Does everyone who behaves like a jerk have a chemical imbalance?

Posted by: Anonymous | February 4, 2008 1:50 PM | Report abuse

anonymous @ 1:50pm
if that's true, then a good 90% or more of the planet is chemically imbalanced.

If upbringing is a passable excuse for all the dumb mistakes we make as adults, is Seung-Hui Cho as much to blame for his actions as Britney? At what point do we take ownership of the hand we're dealt?

Posted by: Anonymous | February 4, 2008 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Britney may be a women/child who is addicted to her press coverage, but she also has a serious mental illness.

Britney announced that she is taking Adderall for ADHD. If a person has undiagnosed bipolar disorder, Adderall or any stimulant will sent them into wild swings of hypermania often coupled with severe depression.

We have been watching Britney have a very public mental breakdown.

Posted by: OB | February 4, 2008 2:59 PM | Report abuse

There's no hard and fast rules here. Mel Gibson made a very stupid choice and paid the consequences in public humiliation. Unflattering bikini pics go with the territory of being a celeb, as do the occassional kid pics. Where I draw the line is with this Britney Spears thing. She is mentally ill. What was supposition before is now practically confirmed fact - the woman is in a mental hospital and is considered too ill to make her own medical decisions. The papparazzi, and us, need to back the hell off. At this point, we are contributing to her decline.

Posted by: DC Cubefarm | February 4, 2008 3:16 PM | Report abuse

I sometimes have a hard time feeling sorry for celebs who complain about paparazzi coverage because I think to myself: well, you're famous, what do you expect. But when I saw the picture of Britney being loaded into the ambulance and all you could see was hordes of paparazzi I felt disgusted. Because I know I wouldn't want that to be me. And I'm sorry, but there is just a line you do not cross as a decent human being and taking pictures of someone being carted away in an ambulance is one of them. I don't care how famous they are.

Posted by: melissamac1 | February 4, 2008 3:34 PM | Report abuse

I think there's actually a layer of decisionmaking we're missing here - I kind of expect the paparazzi to take photos, even of wildly inappropriate things, because they're there, it's their job, taking photos is the natural reaction to whatever weird thing is happening in front of them. So a number of people blame us for looking, and I think that's legit, too. But the editors who make decisions about what to buy could do a lot more drawing of the line. We see that happening (after public pressure) with the Heath Ledger video, and I wish it would happen more. They're delicate decisions, and I think those people are pretty well equipped to be gatekeepers on this kind of thing.

You aren't going to keep a good picture down, but a photo of Britney crying in an ambulance is going to get less attention (and less money) on one website than the same photo on the cover of a magazine.

Posted by: h3 | February 4, 2008 3:50 PM | Report abuse

h3, I couldn't agree more with you about the expectation that editors need to make some reasonable decisions about what gets into their mags. But I also think there's a conflict of interest there, i.e, it is their job to sell magazines so can they really be expected to withhold the publication of a troublesome picture if they think that their competition (whether its other mags or websites) will publish it?
I don't really have a point other than there's no easy solution.

Posted by: still | February 4, 2008 4:37 PM | Report abuse

There is another troubling aspect of this pap explosion that is not being mentioned. I read over the weekend (can't remember where, I read ALOT of news) that this paparazzi business is BIG business. Britney alone is a multi-millionare dollar pap industry. Now how much is paid per pic, but the payments, plus the increased sales, plus all the subsidiary stuff like increased ad revenues because you have increased sales, etc. Becase this is a HUGE business, organized crime has moved in. It's not just shoving the other photog out of the way to get the picture, it is slashing his tires so he can't go get the pic and your guy can. It's threats and intimidation. When organized crime gets involved, lives are going to be lost. Even a pap's life matters. It might not be a pap killed, it might be some innocent kid crossing the street when the pap comes barreling down chasing the story, it could be another celebrity such as Princess Di.

There needs to be regulation (time, place and manner are acceptable restrictions on speech/press). To keep organized crime out and to protect lives.

Posted by: ep | February 4, 2008 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Will there be any action taken or not? The poll says people are disgusted by it. Can the tear-down of Britney stop now? This is a genuine question, not rhetorical. Please stop all posts about her.

It's no different than meat-eating, you know. You take a personal stand against a practice that you think is wrong, believing that your small action has an impact. I think it's wrong to harass someone to the point of a breakdown. Consider this my picket outside your factory.

Posted by: well? | February 4, 2008 11:02 PM | Report abuse

It would be terrible to be stalked, because essentially that's what it comes down to.

Some celebs are smart about it (i.e. if you don't want to be photographed, don't go to the Ivy) others are not and don't take necessary steps to secure themselves. Bad behavior only drives the demand for photos, so it becomes a vicious circle.

Britney has made me stop buying and watching magazines and shows where pap images are used. It's gone too far.

Posted by: Tbone | February 5, 2008 9:03 AM | Report abuse

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