Earlier this week, Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell asked their fans to boycott magazines that use photos of celebrity children taken by the paparazzi. In a post that went up on his Tumblr Friday entitled "Celebrity Orgy," Shepard expanded on his rationale behind joining the ranks of celebrities who have gotten legislation passed imposing stricter rules about when and where photographers can take photos of famous people and their children.
Shepard is a funny writer, and if you made all your decisions based on charm alone, his thoughts would be easy to go along with. He describes the care he and Bell took to prevent their newborn daughter from being photographed, only to find out recently that it didn't matter; photos they hadn't realized were being taken got out anyway (those photos are, of course, readily available at the "news" outlet known as the Daily Mail). To that end, he compares passing laws to prevent paparazzi from photographing to the War on Drugs:
...it only really addressed the supply side of the equation, and not the demand. We Americans have proven time and time again that if we want something, through hell or high water, we will get it. So as long as people pay good money to buy magazines featuring famous people's children, there will be men popping out of bushes and lurking around playgrounds to get those pics. Those are just the facts.
Shepard also addresses the major arguments that those who push back against stronger laws for paparazzi will throw out, chief among them that he knew what he was getting into by trying to be an actor (his children didn't), that this boycott isn't that important in the grand scheme of things (he agrees), and that celebrities who complain about the paparazzi also call them to come and take those photos (that may be true, but he doesn't). He pushed back against those who suggest he just sell or put out photos of his daughter himself to get rid of interest (that doesn't stop the real problem).
Shepard says he's aware of the First Amendment implications of his requests:
It does, at the end of the day, limit the rights of the "press" to "alarm, annoy, torment or terrorize" children in the pursuit of "news gathering." I am starting to use a lot of quotes. This is my snarky way of hinting that I don't believe entertainment paparazzi are actually "press" any more than a peeping tom using a "shoe-cam" at the local mall is "press." Nor do I think photographing children being held by a famous parent can be considered "news gathering" by any definition. All that aside, I deeply value the freedom of the press and think it is an indispensable facet of a healthy democracy that should be protected fervently.
Whether Shepard agrees that paparazzi's techniques make them "press" or not, they are certainly an integral part of the media today. Photographers have long gone to extreme measures to get photos of people, famous and not. The reason the paparazzi in particular are despised so much is because they are seen as part of a celebrity industrial complex that is hated and yet makes a huge amount of money for a lot of people. They're also as visible as the celebs themselves: for every photo of a celebrity taken out on the street by a yogurt shop, there are half a dozen paparazzi in the shot.
Other countries have far stricter laws about when people can be photographed and it hasn't done a huge amount to damage the freedom of the press; as seen in the News of the World, people will do anything, legal or not, for information. This is why Shepard's argument that a positive progression would be if one of the "classier weeklies" like People magazine started not posting paparazzi photos of celeb kids, prompting consumers to just buy that magazine, thus encouraging other publications to follow suit, falls flat. People might be a classy weekly, but it's only become that because it makes its money by cooperating with celebrities (and it hasn't escaped criticism from Shepard's wife either). It's the place for "exclusives" as a Variety article from 2006 explained; a staffer told that publication that People had developed a "publicist-friendly strategy."
Though Shepard might believe magazines should be more like People, while that publication might pride itself on not printing rumors, they're not some amazing journalistic institution. They have an entire well-trafficked section on their website devoted to celebrity children and they put out specials devoted to kids as well. If the content of these is supposedly "better" because it's all stuff being fed from publicists, that's fine, but it's not more journalistic and it doesn't stop the real beast, which is our constant need for information. It doesn't tackle the "social consciousness" that Shepard is concerned with, though it does confront the issue of spreading "unsolicited photos of minors." It's just another side of the PR machine.
Celebrities seem to have realized that the only way to complain about being stalked in the streets for being famous and not stir up negative sentiment among the fans is to only do so once you have kids. Unfortunately for them, once you have kids, you can't protect them from everything that's out there in the world, as much as you'd like to. And whether or not you're famous, not having control over how you're perceived by others and feeling like you can't manage your own life is one of the more frustrating things out there. On that end, you can't blame celebrities for trying their hardest to get that control back.
Image via Jason Kempin/Getty