Adrian Grenier's documentary Teenage Paparazzo aired on HBO last night, and explored not only the life of a celebrity photographer, but gossip, tabloids and fame itself.
Grenier's film centers around Austin Visschedyk, who started taking paparazzi photos at 13 years old.
Though his story and experiences are fascinating, some of the best moments in the documentary involve celebrities, photographers and writers talking about the "parasocial" relationships fans have with stars — as well as the necessary evil of celebrity magazines and paparazzi.
In an interesting twist, Grenier is followed by the paparazzi most of the time that he is working on the film. When he stops his car to talk to a female paparazzo who's been filming him, she doesn't want to appear on camera at first, because she's not wearing any makeup and her hair is a mess. Grenier counters that there are plenty of times he leaves the house without taking a shower and the paparazzi take pictures — they don't care, why should he? The woman's argument is that Grenier knew what he was getting into when he became an actor.
While many of the celebs Grenier interviews claim to see the paparazzi as annoyances; Paris Hilton just comes out and says it: When you're in Hollywood, you need them.
When it comes to privacy, one expert argued that for a celebrity, that right ends when you hire a publicity team.
Of course, it's much more complicated than that: A studio hires an actor for a film, then uses that actor to publicize the film and the magazines, TV shows and websites the parent company owns. In addition, magazines sensationalize "get creative" and just make up stories about celebrities. Why? Because that stuff sells. Magazines have pages to be filled, so they need the paparazzi to get something good. For a celebrity, being the center of attention — whether the publicity is bad or good — often helps your career.
According to one entertainment writer, in a Duke University study, monkeys went hungry — passed up an opportunity to eat — so that they could stare at pictures of dominant monkeys in their community. The argument is that we are hard-wired to pay attention to the powerful — in case we can learn something.
But as Henry Jenkins, professor of media studies at MIT explains, we come from a society of small towns. Gossip is how we share information. Gossip is not really about famous people, but a tool to have conversation about the values and struggles we all deal with. (As Grenier interviews Jenkins, a fan interrupts them because he wants a picture of himself and Grenier so he can "get ass" from Facebook, which just proves Jenkins' point.)
One of the most striking moments in the film is when a teenaged girl talks about Britney possibly being pregnant; when asked why this might be bad, the girl instantly shares a story about how her own mother got pregnant when she was young, and how hard it was. It's not Britney that the girl really even cares about — it's how she can relate to Britney, how Britney gives her a chance to talk about what's really important to her.
Grenier's film was inspired by Thomas de Zengotita's book, Mediated, and does a pretty good job of attempting to get to the bottom of the celebrity feeding frenzy. That Austin Visschedyk experiences his own level of fame (a story in Teen Vogue, TV appearances and articles) just from being a teenage paparazzo is one of the many, many meta moments. If nothing else, the movie makes you think about our society's obsession with fame, and what we want, expect and need from the celebs we're interested in.