Thursday, July 05, 2007

Celebrity Sightings- Public or Private Information?

In the four summers I've spent living and working in New York City, I've only had one celebrity sighting. It was July of last year and I was shopping for lightbulbs at the East Village Kmart near my dorm when I saw Sandra Oh. She was taking the up escalator as I was going down, chatting with a friend, dressed as your average 30-something New Yorker. She has a unique face, so while there was no one else who made it obvious that they recognized her, I was certain it was her. Later on I did some research and found out she was living and performing in a play in the neighborhood, so it made sense she'd be there.

As we passed on the escalators, I remember looking at her and thinking, "Wow, Sandra Oh and I shop at the same Kmart." Never once did I consider saying something to her, especially since she was chatting with a friend, minding her own business in "normal person" mode. I also impressed that she wasn't too stuck up to shop at Kmart, and that no other shoppers bothered her (though they may have, I was only near her for a few seconds).

I generally don't mind that our culture is obsessed with celebrity. Certainly there are more pressing matters going on in the world than whether Nicole Richie is pregnant and Lindsay Lohan is going to jail, but I disagree with the naysayers who act as if our collective attention would shift from celeb gossip to world peace if the media layed off covering celebrities. I think that having the personal trials and tribulations of exhibitionist celebs as our watercooler fodder is perfectly acceptable, primarily because the celebrities in question (along with their handlers) make a conscious effort to make every aspect of their lives public. They go to the clubs where the paparazzi hang out, they get drunk in public, go without underwear or bras, date other famous people... and then think it's justifiable to blame the media and the public when we want to talk about it?

But what I don't think is fair is the recent trend of stalking celebs when they're living normal lives. Particularly in the case of celebs who make a conscious choice to keep their personal lives out of the spotlight. You see photos and reports of them in the pages of gossip rags, on celebrity blogs (even mine, I'll admit it) and on features like Gawker Stalker, where a Google Map points out the exact location in NYC where the celeb was seen, at what time and what they were doing. I'm not going to lie and say that I don't get pleasure from a photograph of a supermodel looking haggard without a touch of makeup on her face. Sometimes the reports are even comical, such as the case when someone reported seeing Elvis Costello buying 2 boxes of Tampax at CVS on 13th and 6th (presumably for wife Diana Krall), which was just hilarious in its banal absurdity. But I feel guilty for taking pleasure in having someone else's private life so deeply invaded.

If you're going to be consistent in keeping your private life private, I think you deserve to not be hassled and photographed by paparazzi and fans when you're making a late-night grocery run, taking your kids to the park or trying to buy your wife some tampons. When Britney, Lindsay, Paris or any of their cohorts complain about wishing everyone would leave them alone, usually directly after they've made fools of themselves at a high-profile, paparazzi-packed club or restaurant, I don't have any sympathy. But the Kate Winslets, Marcia Crosses, Julia Robertses, Jennifer Garners shouldn't have to open an Us Weekly and see photographs of themselves in sweats and sandals squeezing melons at the corner market under the "Stars, they're just like us!" headline.

What do you think?


Emma said...

I have pretty much the same attitude towards celebrity - I detest the magazines that generally make their lives a living hell (being stalked by paparazzi is *not* part of the job, regardless of what some people say), but I also feel that as public figures, celebrities should acknowledge that they will be approached by Joe Bloggs on occasions.

Common sense should be used though - I saw Pete Postlethwaite (one of my favourite actors) at Heathrow airport waiting for the same National Express bus as I was. I had just got off a stupidly long flight and was knackered. He looked pretty much the same as how I felt. So, I smiled briefly and went back to reading my newspaper. There is no way I would have wanted someone coming up to me after eight hours at 30,000 feet, so I extended the courtesy.

Deja Pseu said...

Celeb sightings are pretty common here in LA. Most people here are used to it and expect it, and leave them alone. (Although once when I was in an elevator with CCH Pounder, I had to gush about how much I admired her work. She was quite gracious about it.) I agree that paparrazi stalking has gotten out of hand.

Jessica said...

I agree. I don't think celebrities should be hounded while they're grocery shopping, going to the dentist, taking a walk with their dog, etc. However, they HAVE to know that whenever they go out, there's a huge probability that there will be paparazzi present. For instance, I think it's pretty ridiculous that Nick Lachy and Vanessa Minillo are upset over their "anniversary" pictures being published, where they were photographed having sex, walking around naked, etc. Granted, I would certainly be embarassed, and I would feel as though my privacy was invaded; however, like it or not, they're public figures and they were essentially having sex in public. No one can tell me that they never thought about the possibility of photographers capturing their intimate moments when the hot tub was (seemingly) in plain view. It's not like a photographer hid out in a trashcan on the patio or set up a secret camera in their bedroom. I've even read that perhaps Vanessa leaked word of the photos herself in search of greater fame. (the now infamous-but year old- Lindsay Lohan knife pictures and now "sex scandal" pictures all in the span of a few months? seems sketchy to me...)

Also, I read a very enlightening article in Radar magazine that discussed how celebrities often tip off the paps as to their plans and/or whereabouts in order to get more publicity and take a little off the top from the proceeds of their pictures. It made me think much differently about celebrity intention and ambition.

Moose said...

I've been living in San Francisco for five years and have only had one celebrity sighting. (We're not exactly a celebrity haven but it's not Podunk Oklahoma either.) I saw Sandra Oh in Whole Foods. I think she was eating a taco.

So your post made me yell "AWESOME!" I think I scared the dog.

aulelia said...

i agree with they should not be hounded. they are normal people too (of course this exempts paris hilton and the rest of the Mattel dolls that court publicity).

Anonymous said...

I had a certain very well known actress ahead of me at sephora at Columbus Circle, and it was this moment that I realized how invasive some of the celebrity stalking sites and magazines can be. This woman clearly just ran in from her car to pick something up, and looked a littled stressed, not entirely put together, and frankly embarrassed to be out in public. It's nice in a place like NYC that we see enough of these people around that we can, for the most part, leave them in peace when they are going about their lives... strangely though people will act perfectly sane the moment they recognize a celebrity, but then they go home and list the person's exact location on Gawker and the details of what they were wearing and doing... so I guess the internet has made it harder for us too just leave people alone.