Is There Still Such a Thing as Privacy in the Age of the Paparazzi?

November 01, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

There is a new word, (it might not officially be a word yet) that has found its way into my vocabulary. Grandocide, a word that describes the process of degrading a famous persons looks, reputation, or image. Our society is fascinated with fame, and the creation of new celebrities. We place them on top of a mountain, then the process of character assassination begins. In the beginning it starts slowly. If the celebrity in the cross-hairs is wise and smart they can manage their press coverage, and in effect manage their public image. The less savvy get to see their off moments, awkward body posture, and cellulite in full color at the Supermarket check out counter.

This type of photography exists because there is a market for it. A very healthy market in fact that is very lucrative. From time to time stories about photographers behaving badly make the news, especially when something tragic happens as a result of a Paparazzi chase. These chase scenes take place as a result of the high financial reward for getting "the shot" and having it first. It's easy for us to sit back and pass judgment, to quickly decide on the ethics these photographers are lacking. The blame does not stop there unfortunately. The national sales figures for "Entertainment" magazines is high. Our society seems to have a very large appetite for gossip and supermarket tabloid shallowness. We are a society of Gawkers. Astonishingly, we easily accept the fictional copy that accompanies these photos. The competition between entertainment publishers sometimes runs right over what might be referred to as facts. Character assassination is not confined to the entertainment industry. One only needs to turn your head towards politics to view another version of this national form of entertainment. For now I'll restrict the scope of this blog to entertainment only.

There was a time when "Hollywood" had what is referred to as the studio system of actors and actresses. Well paid photographers were on staff or contract to produce beautiful publicity photographs of the stars. Today these photos are considered art. They exercised full control over a stars public image. No embarrassing moments made the national tabloids. In fact, if someone published a story that was detrimental to a star's image and perhaps career, they did not get any more information on that star or any other in the studio's control. In a gradual process over several decades a market was created and thrived, a market based upon rumor, innuendo, and catching an embarrassing photo moment. We are the consumers that provide the finance that drives this market. Why is our society mesmerized by this? Is it the same reason we slow down to look at a car wreck? The digital age brings photographs and stories of this type as close as a mouse click. Its all right there, the next click away. As viewers should we be making an ethical choice to stop clicking on images of the next celebrity train wreck? Ansel Adams is quoted as saying "In every photograph there are two people, the photographer and the viewer". This puts the responsibility right on us. We provide the market by the choices we make.

Famous people by definition lack the privacy that the not so famous enjoy. This issue is a tricky one to sort out. On a professional level publicity is important to celebrities. This publicity helps make their profession possible. Information about their lives is used to market their image and the entertainment products they are responsible for. As a human being, celebrities should have some parts of their lives off limits. They have a right to expect some degree of personal space. Certainly, their children should be off limits to the Paparazzi frenzy. They are not the stars, nor do they have a choice in the matter. Relaxing privately in their back yards is not an unreasonable expectation. In my opinion, there is an "on" and an "off" that is a reasonable expectation. Celebrities are on when they do anything that can enhance or market their product. They are off, when conducting their day to day living activities. These days the line between the public and private have been blurred for famous people. We all can recall examples of public figures that will resort to any means to get publicity. Closing points to ponder from Susan Sontag; In 1977, Susan Sontag suggested that, "in teaching a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe. They are a grammar and, even more importantly, an ethics of seeing"(On Photography). Ms. Sontag's text invites us to think about questions of power, and the relationship between subject, photographer, and viewer.



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