Wednesday, July 10, 2013

What Does the Bling Ring Say About Us?

[Image text: characters from the Bling Ring, decked out in their
illegally obtained designer items.]
This post is actually NOT a part of my summer blockbuster series, because I don't think that the Bling Ring is a "blockbuster," nor do I think it has any thing worth analyzing from a gender perspective. But I happened to see it over the weekend and it's on my brain.

I had somehow managed to never hear of the Bling Ring when it happened. As much as I love pop culture in a general kind of way, I don't really keep up on "reality" stars or much of celebrity gossip. So when I first heard of the film, I didn't even know it was based on a true story until Mr. Nerdy Feminist mentioned it randomly.

After seeing it, I was so intrigued that I had to go down the rabbit hole of Wikipedia articles on the subject to learn more. I was particularly intrigued by Emma Watson's character, Nicki. Watson plays Nicki, in such a specifically vapid way that I was curious who it was based on. Turns out Nicki, is based on the real life Alexis Neiers. Watson had a ton of Neiers material to study, because at the point of the actual Bling Ring prosecutions Neiers was filming a reality show called "Pretty Wild" which is all about Alexis and her "socialite sisters" living their lives and "making their way into the Hollywood social scene." Because Alexis was on TV, I was able to find actual clips of her speaking that were sampled in the film. Her entire show seems to typify what I dislike most about our collective celebrity obsession and what it means to be a celebrity.

But back to the Bling Ring. I was just was this whole thing real? How did it happen?

Let me back up. In case you are as clueless as me, the Bling Ring was a group of LA teens who went on a robbery spree of celebrity homes, taking about 3 million dollars worth of items and cash. Celebrities targeted included Paris Hilton, Rachel Bilson, Orlando Bloom, Megan Fox, and Lindsay Lohan. According to the film and the sources on Wikipedia, the ring leader (see what I did there?) Rachel Lee, was obsessed with reality TV and celebrity culture. The thefts were motivated by her need to obtain high end items and to be more like celebrities, including her "ultimate fashion icon," Lindsay Lohan.

It's hard to say how the individuals involved interacted with each other in real life, but the film certainly plays up the angle that they were singularly focused on obtaining beautiful, expensive, high end, designer fashion pieces and money needed to support this lifestyle (including drinking, clubbing, and drug use.)

To be honest, I watched it all play out on the screen with mixed levels of horror and intrigue. The kids seemed so callous about the whole thing--posting Facebook pictures and bragging to friends about what they'd done. The latter is true, at least, because they were discovered through tips from people they'd told. But prior to that, it was just a ton of fun for them. They were getting things that they wanted, enjoying being in the celebrity homes, feeling smart and happy to have not been caught (yet), and living on the thrill and excess of it all.

While I was disgusted by all that (mostly how they didn't seem to connect to the fact that they were invading people's privacy) I also couldn't help but feel that the whole thing was, well, kind of glamorous.

Ew. I know.

Like I said, I don't really care about the whole "celebrity" thing but I do have a predisposition to like material items. And so despite my visceral reaction to the characters and their actions, I still did have moments of envying the fashion or their seemingly carefree lifestyle (until they were caught, of course.)

In this way, I think that the film occupies an interesting place in our culture. It's meta, if you will. It shows how these teens became so preoccupied with the celebrity lifestyle that they go to extreme, illegal measures to obtain it. But it pulls many of its viewers in by preying on that same attraction to the Hollywood lifestyle. It is because of this shared fascination with it all that the film was made and can be successful. Of course, the teens in the Bling Ring take this preoccupation to extremes that most of us would never even contemplate, but it's just a fact that our society has implanted these same feelings, in much smaller ways, in most of us.

I know that there are people who are not attracted to the celebrity lifestyle in the slightest and don't possess the voyeuristic tendency to want to peek in on it. But the fact of the matter is that if this were not at least a somewhat shared attribute of a significant segment of the population, shows like Keeping Up With the Kardashians, My Super Sweet 16, The Hills, and even 90210, and Gossip Girl would have never been so popular.

The difference between most of us and the kids in the Bling Ring is that while we indulge in the mindless pursuit of watching these shows as an escape from our mundane existence of bills and chores...they decided to try to obtain that life, by any means necessary. I think the saddest part is that they were so very young at the time. I can't help but wonder, what messages did they receive that made them feel that risking their entire futures were worth those items? Did they even understand that they were risking their futures? (I hate to be a, "where were the parents?!" person, but it does seem like an appropriate time to ask that question.)

And how can curb this in the future, in others?

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