There are these people called paparazzi. It’s a word that always makes me think of Italian police cars, or small deep-fried desserts. But, no, they’re actually human beings. They can also be thought of as punching bags with zoom lenses.
The paparazzi would prefer to be called photo-journalists, I imagine, but that makes it sound as though they’re covering major elections and summit meetings and tornado damage, and that isn’t what they’re doing at all. Actually, these people chase celebrities – mostly movie stars and famous athletes – for the sole purpose of getting a picture of them doing something irresistibly fascinating, like driving their kids to school or buying a loaf of bread. When they get some really good shots, they can sell them to magazines for thousands of dollars. If they happen to snag a popular actress, either holding her young baby or carousing on a secluded beach with a married politician, that can translate into millions.
Meanwhile, the subjects of these photographs try their best to elude the paparazzi, even as they crave the accompanying attention and publicity. One of the reasons for this seems to be that the very act of pretending to avoid the media glare causes even more of it. There’s little that arouses our curiosity like someone complaining about an invasion of their privacy. This is especially true for the idols of our modern culture, who seek to protect their personal lives by explaining, in front-page interviews and on late-night talk shows, how traumatic their recent psychotherapy sessions were in that awful rehab facility, an experience that forced them to re-live the horrors of a childhood filled with physical abuse and wild, drug-fueled parties.
The driving force behind all of this is the same thing that causes a coin collector to salivate at the sight of a 1916 Mercury dime, or a Russian oligarch to lose his mind and bid a tenth of a billion dollars for a painting of a man with bad posture seated on a wooden chair, or one of us to wait in line for six hours outside a Target so we can buy the latest iPhone. It’s simple supply and demand. If a thing is rare, or even if we just believe it is, we want it. And the more people want something, the higher the price will go.
In the case of the actress and her newborn, we’ll never get to see them in person. We weren’t even invited to the baby shower. But if some crummy magazine has a picture of them, we’ll shell out four dollars to see it, especially if we’re at the grocery store and feeling kind of delirious because we just found a coupon for a free box of Hamburger Helper. And it matters little if the image is black-and-white and out of focus, and was taken from under a pile of leaves. If the caption says it’s them, that’s good enough for us.
It isn’t hard to understand why this makes the celebrities mad. When I’m at a show with my family and some hack photographer takes our picture in the lobby of the theater, I get pretty annoyed. Okay, not so much that they took the picture, but that they now want me to pay sixty dollars for a blurry five-by-seven in a cardboard souvenir frame. Okay, not so much the price or the cardboard frame either, but the fact that I’m the only one in the group who doesn’t want it, and that I end up going back to buy the stupid picture out of guilt. I’m also afraid the hack photographer will leave the unwanted print taped to the wall, where hundreds of theater-goers will later stroll by and wonder why I have that irritated look on my face.
I wandered off track there. My point is that the celebrities claim they don’t want their pictures taken and published without their consent. They especially don’t like strangers following them to the bank, or hiding in the bushes outside their twelve-thousand-square-foot mansions. Many of them resort to violence, punching the stalkers and destroying their camera equipment. The result is the ridiculous spectacle of a red-faced actor swinging wildly at a man with a tripod, all recorded onto film by other photographers who had managed to maintain a slightly safer distance. And yet, it’s the self-promoting behavior of the celebrities that causes the demand for those pictures in the first place. After all, it’s difficult to get attention, and relatively easy to lose it. Most consumers get bored pretty quickly.
And that’s the solution to the problem of persistent paparazzi.
If there were an abundance of the photographs, they wouldn’t be worth anything. As a world-famous celebrity wishing to guard my privacy, I would flood the market. I’d take a few dozen pictures of family outings – trips to the hardware store, parent-teacher interviews, oil changes – plus some special events, such as weddings, birthdays, and school concerts, and I’d mail them to every newspaper and magazine in existence. I’d also send them, at my own expense, to television entertainment programs. I might even print up some flyers of our newborn – or just some newborn, because really, who can tell? – and nail them to telephone poles and hand them out on street corners.
Soon, and probably almost immediately, the recipients would ask me to stop distributing the unsolicited images. They’d put my name on a list of subjects they’re not interested in, and will no longer pay for. The increased supply would reduce, maybe even eliminate, the demand.
Then I’d be able to go out in public, free to roam the streets, undisguised and unbothered. There’d be no need to punch anybody, or make a scene. I could even go down to my favorite bakery and pick up a box of those delicious, deep-fried paparazzi. That is, if I really wanted to.