Recently, I got caught in a paparazzi crush. It wasn’t the first time. I live in Hollywood, and I’m used to the occasional swarm. I think it must be similar to living inside a beehive or getting caught in a zombie crush. Creatures clearly lacking reason fly at you from all angles, pushing and shoving to get a picture of the latest celebutante or, much more rarely, an actual actor.
But my latest experience with the paparazzi was a little different. I was walking up a street in my neighborhood, more known for its hipster hangouts than hot Hollywood enclaves. Crossing the street, a car suddenly careened into my path. I did what any rational pedestrian would do – I dove the heck out of the way. A man jumped out. I looked around, expecting to see an accident. Why else would someone screech his car to a stop in the middle of the street?
Then I saw his camera. And other cars were slamming to a halt, blocking the intersection, scrambling to surround a black livery sedan. Within seconds, two huge bodyguards stepped out of the car. “Come on, guys, give us some space,” one pleaded as he waved his linebacker hands in a sweeping motion.
Seconds later, the bodyguards were holding back the photographers. It was like there was a terrible emergency and you needed to give paramedics some space to save a life. Instead, it was just mayhem, screaming – and me, highly annoyed I was stuck in this crowd. So I stomped my way through the paparazzi, walking straight past the bodyguards. They ignored me, clearly unimpressed with my glare and my stomping.
Just three feet away from the black sedan, the door opened; massive amounts of white blonde hair and a jaunty cap spilled out. I expected to see a Hilton or maybe a Kardashian in a wig fall out of the car. Instead, a toddler climbed out. He turned his little head towards the crowd of people screaming for his attention.
And then one of those surreal moments happened – you know, when time seems to slow down, the movie score rises up in a big, dramatic moment, and you think, “Is this really happening?” Little Man just stood there, brave and quiet, looking at the crowd. He was probably only alone on the sidewalk for all of five seconds, but again, we were in Movie Surreal Moment. Then his mother stepped out of the car and grabbed his hand. They turned together, ready to face the photographers together.
Me? I got out of there so fast I never got a good look at Little Man’s mother, though I have my suspicions as to who it was. I was unsettled. Little Man had looked so brave when he stared at the throng of photographers. He was a tiny Max looking at all the wild things. But there was nothing cool and Spike Jonze-y about this moment.
Yes, the public has a fascination with celebrities. And the likes of Angelina Jolie, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Garner, Heidi Klum, and Gwen Stefani all signed up to be stars. But why are their kids Maddox, Ava, Violet, Leni and Kingston being pulled into it as well? (And why do I even know their names?) Won’t someone think of the children?
The California state legislature has responded. As the Huffington Post reports, a law was recently passed fining photographers up to $5,000 or a year in jail for breaking traffic laws or impeding the operation of a celebrity’s vehicle.
Sean Burke is the founder and CEO of the Paparazzi Reform Initiative. As he explains, “This new legislation we’ve supported imposes jail terms for paparazzi driving recklessly in the pursuit of a photograph. Their incarceration time can increase to a year if a child was put at risk during the car chase. We feel this new law will improve public safety in general and hopefully prevent anyone else from getting hurt.” Europe has passed even tougher laws, and now the children of celebrities are obscured in many photos.
After my latest paparazzi run-in, I marched home and vowed to avoid all celebrity child photographs. Two hours later, I clicked on a link about Angelina Jolie and was directed to a picture of her daughter. Fail on all ends. Celebrity, paparazzi, and the publicity machines that they serve seem unavoidable in our current culture. Yes, don’t look at the pictures. But better yet, support legislation to reign in this behavior. And be very, very careful crossing the streets of Hollywood.