Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 23 November 2014

Why we cannot skirt around vile paparazzi photos

Twenty-year-old Twilight star Kirsten Stewart has sparked controversy with an interview in which she says seeing intrusive paparazzi shots of her makes her feel like ‘I’m looking at someone being raped’.

Unsurprisingly, she’s been accused of crass insensitivity and a lack of awareness about the true horror of that most brutal crime.

However, for me, having seen some of the photographs she is referring to and the response to them by ‘fans’, I can understand why she should make what reads initially as such a tactless comment.

Stewart, like a number of young female celebrities, is a regular victim of paparazzi ‘upskirting’, the term for photographers — usually men — lying on the ground beneath their subjects — usually young girls — to grab pictures of their crotches. Unsurprisingly, a photo which reveals forgetfulness in the underwear department commands extra cash and is guaranteed worldwide internet distribution.

The fact that upskirting has not been made illegal — I would have everyone one of those violating morons up in court — is bad enough. What’s worse is the plethora of gossip sites which specialise in running these photographs, inviting ‘ratings’ from male readers.

Under the most recent ‘panty-shot’ of Kirsten Stewart, for which a lens has clearly been pushed between her legs, comments on a well-known celebrity site include approval of Stewart’s choice of knickers, fantasies about what readers would like to do to her, and this little gem (brace yourself); “She’s a little thin for me but sure, I’d rape her”.

It’s not just the abusive and degrading nature of this increasingly widespread paparazzi practise that goes some way to explaining Stewart’s rape comparison. The violence of the reaction against her complaints about the Press also justifies her intense frustration over society’s attitude to famous people in general.

Far too many of us seem to believe that the public ‘own’ high profile celebrities and that the price of fame should include the voluntary shedding of one’s human rights.

According to popular logic, if you’re in ‘the public eye’ and making money out of it, you can’t expect any more respect than a marginally-tolerated family dog.

No matter how grotesque the invasions into your life and the degree to which your dignity is destroyed, your relationships ruined, your safety threatened and your peace of mind shredded, you should shut up and be grateful for your lot.

So go the current crop of scathing online and newspaper responses to Stewart’s anxieties, which have dubbed her a ‘miserable’, ‘ungrateful brat’ who, if she can’t handle the attention, should ‘disappear back to where she came from’.

With regards to the men camping outside her front door, following her down dark streets and shoving cameras up her dress, the common contention is that, by wanting to become an actress, she was ‘asking for it’. Recognise that argument from anywhere?

So just what should talented young women with dreams of a career which might attract media attention do? Singer Sia Furler might recommend forgetting the whole thing.

Despite three successful solo albums and collaborations with Beck and Christina Aguilera, she confessed recently that fame has left her with a panic disorder and serious depression. She yearned for the life of a performer as a young girl, but her experiences with bloodthirsty paparazzi, aggressive fans and a stalker have left her longing for ‘a simple life’. She is retiring from music and re-training to become a dog masseuse. Hers is a truly depressing, if salutary, modern tale.

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