Hello &

Hello &

Wentworth Earl Miller III

Wentworth Earl Miller III



Thursday, February 4, 2016



Maybe you were out buying socks. Refilling a prescription. Picking up a birthday cake for a friend.
Whatever you were doing, your mind is now elsewhere as you walk back to your car. You're thinking about your next errand or what so-and-so said to you last night. How good the sun feels on your face.
Gradually you become aware of someone running behind you. They're coming up fast, feet pounding the pavement. SLAP SLAP SLAP. As they get closer you tense, stop yourself from turning around, hoping it's just some kid sprinting for the hell of it.

But it's not. And you knew it.

"Hey, Wentworth!"

Now here he is, walking beside you, 3 feet away. Taking pictures. CLICK CLICK CLICK.

He's talking to you the entire time, trying to hook you in with his non-stop chatter. "How's it goin', buddy? You got any projects comin' up?" CLICK CLICK CLICK.

There's a chance he won't be alone. The second guy will position himself on your other side, or else in front of you, walking backwards. You'll have to slow down to avoid running into him.

(Presumably this is done on purpose, so they can maximize their time with you.) The second guy's job is to document the exchange with a video camera.

Eyes front, body temperature rising, you remember you parked the car all the way at the end of the block. And curse yourself. CLICK CLICK CLICK.

Suddenly there's a lot to think about. Like not tripping. Dropping your bags. Scratching your nose in a way that will photograph like you're picking it.

People stare as the three of you walk past, hogging the sidewalk. CLICK CLICK CLICK.

If you've been silent since their arrival, choosing not to engage in an impromptu interview (as is your right), the stream of chatter might downshift to the personal. Maybe very personal. Subjects you'd hesitate to discuss with your nearest/dearest. These conversational carrots - appetizing if not enraging - will be dangled with a smile. Because they know there's nothing you can do. CLICK CLICK CLICK.

The portion of the footage where you're baited/taunted is not meant for release. Obviously. What gets released is your response. The muttered curse. The ill-advised retort. If they're lucky, some hate language. If they're really lucky, you throwing a punch. (Action shots bring more money. Naturally.) CLICK CLICK CLICK.

Occasionally, having failed to provoke a dialogue, they'll offer to make themselves scarce. "Say the word, buddy, and I'll leave you alone." They might even sound sympathetic while doing so.

Generous, offering to return something to you (your privacy, your personal space, the right to be left in peace) that, 60 seconds earlier, was already yours.

Clever, maneuvering you into a position where you now need to ask a stranger's permission to go about your day. Like they're doing you a favor. CLICK CLICK CLICK.

At last you're at your car. Again there are many things to think about besides the sweat running down your back, the buzzing in your head, your shaking hand. Like pulling out your car keys. Opening the door. Getting in without bumping your head (action shot!). Fastening your seatbelt. Turning the car on. Pulling out without hitting anything. Or anyone. Much as you might like to. Which they know. They are, of course, still smiling. CLICK CLICK CLICK.

Then you're out in traffic, checking your rearview mirror to see if it's over or just beginning. Driving. Checking the mirror. Driving. Checking the mirror. You almost rear-end the car in front of you because your concentration is shattered. You take several deep breaths, decide to go 20 minutes out of your way before heading home, circling the same block(s) multiple times until you're sure you're not being tailed. You don't want them to find out where you live. (Newsflash: They already know.)

Years ago I read an article about the photo agencies operating out of Los Angeles, supplying international markets with pics/footage in exchange for extraordinary sums. According to this article, a surprising (?) number of paparazzi are ex-convicts, hired right out of prison. The agencies, it was suggested, do this for two reasons. First, it entitles them to a tax-break. The second reason is that some of these men will, conceivably, do whatever they need to do to get the shot. That little bit extra.

(Is this true? I don't know. I'm just repeating what I read.)

What I do know is that I've sat in my car at a red light and - unobserved - observed a gang of men with cameras chase a woman down an LA street. Had she chosen another line of work, it would have been a matter for the police. Instead, a successful, otherwise empowered individual was reduced to quarry status, the resulting images distributed for our delectation as we decry the daily harassment of women on city sidewalks. Welcome to Hollywood.

When celebrities attempt to describe being shot by the paparazzi they reach for strong language, then get reprimanded for appropriating the wrong words. I would describe it as a mental mugging. A psychic assault. Someone you don't know has decided to take something from you, against your will, and you are now changed. In my experience that change can last for some time. It used to take me a while to calm down - to unseize - after a run-in with the paparazzi. Once I was tailed for 8 hours. There was no sleep that night. Or the night after.

But the collateral damage can be worse.

Maybe you were out to dinner with a friend. You pay the bill, exit the restaurant, and find strangers waiting with cameras. CLICK CLICK CLICK. Your friend is not an actor, not in the business. They are not prepared for the flashing lights, the voices calling from the darkness beyond. CLICK CLICK CLICK. Hopefully you hugged goodbye inside the restaurant because you will not have the opportunity to do so now. CLICK CLICK CLICK. You separate and go to your cars. A nice night has ended on a charged, hostile note...

Except it's not the end. Those pics can't just be posted online. They need a story to go with them. So one will be created. Possibly from scratch. Whatever guarantees the most hits. Accompanying quotes will be added for good measure, crediting anonymous "sources" reporting from the scene (also created from scratch).

Since your friend can't remain a mystery (and I'm guessing as to how this works) he/she/they will be followed back to their car, their license plate noted, a well-oiled contact contacted (at the station house? the DMV?) and their identity revealed. Now there's a name to go with the pictures. Overnight your friend is a celebrity once-removed, fodder for bloggers and commentators with unkind things to say about their appearance. All of which your friend will read, unwisely, if you haven't warned them not to in advance. Ditto your friend's friends and family. When the tears come, it's natural to feel responsible.

By the time people scroll through these images online or flip through them at the market checkout, I imagine the energy behind them - predatory, parasitical - has dissipated enough to make them seem harmless. Even helpful. A chance to catch up with an old friend. "Oh look - so-and-so picked up her mail. Good for her. Now she can check that off her list."

I've heard of celebrities who enjoy this kind of attention, even arrange for it, alerting pet photographers in advance and filling them in on the day's itinerary. "I'll be outside such-and-such at 1 o'clock. See you there."

(Why would they do this? I don't know. You'd have to ask them.)

Speaking for myself, I've never seen the advantage of seeking out the paparazzi. There's a dozen shots of me emerging from the same Starbucks. The only thing that changes is what I'm wearing and how many cups I'm holding. To my knowledge, none of these photos have booked me a job or goosed a ratings bump. Nor, it's worth noting, have I received a cent from their sale.

As for using the paparazzi to generate/spin some kind of personal narrative - for example, that I was straight back when I was "straight" - the fact is I would have preferred no attention at all. An encounter with a photographer, especially if I was out with someone I cared about (romantically or otherwise), would have been the last thing I wanted.

One could argue celebrities who court the paparazzi set the tone for the rest of us, and by doing so undercut our right to complain. "You asked for it/you deserve it/you knew what you were signing up for" seems to be a common response should you make the mistake of whining about the issue in public.

Underlying this "you deserve it" response is what underlies any response that boils down to "you deserve it." A lack of empathy. An essential part of the glorification/dehumanization envy/contempt push-pull fueling much of celebrity culture and our interest in it. An interest carefully massaged and exploited by the many, many media outlets that depend upon it.

(Or not. I could be wrong. It's just a theory.)

"What's the difference?" I've been asked. "What's the difference between getting your picture taken outside Starbucks and getting your picture taken on a red carpet?" Stating the obvious, the second is voluntary. Part of the job. You dress up, pose for pictures, promote the product. When someone takes my picture outside Starbucks, there's no product being promoted. Only an appetite being fed.

When we ogle paparazzi images of celebrities (or worse, their children) we're greasing a wheel, a revolving mechanism in which things are taken from men, women, and families without their consent and sold. Whether we choose to stay conscious of that is up to us. Likewise whether we choose to believe the people being stalked and snapped for our consumption are actually "people," deserving of a greater degree of privacy and respect.

My question is, if you're someone who's in the habit of looking at pics of celebrities, and you take pleasure in it, and you're aware of how these images are produced and at what cost, and you think of yourself as a "fan," what exactly is it you're a fan of?

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