Are we leeches?

West Seattle HeraldThe paparazzi like to describe their relationship with celebrities as symbiotic, and when you look at the Kardashians, that seems like a reasonable way to frame it. But just because a few socialites have learned to exploit their own exploitation, as doctors have discovered medical uses for the leech, does not make the celebrity-paparazzi relationship mutually beneficial.

Do most celebrities sign up for their entire lives to be fodder for entertainment? Perhaps some do. And yes, famous actors and musicians benefit from being recognizable for their work. But the current media culture isn’t satisfied with covering just the art they make. The paparazzi interfere in their personal lives, humiliate, glamorize, defame and dehumanize them. Why? Because we want them to.

I’m not talking about the First Amendment. The paparazzi have the right to take pictures and report on anyone who happens to be in the public. I’m talking about the media culture we have jointly created as consumers. By desiring to live vicariously through celebrities, we deny them the right to lead normal lives. By paying to read about their intimacies and scandals, we dehumanize public figures.

It’s almost inevitable. At the check-out counter you glimpse the close-up of J-Law’s pores and skim the tantalizing headlines. You’re already reading it, so you might as well toss the rag onto the conveyor belt along with the Organic kale and Greek yogurt. It’s a guilty pleasure—like wasting an hour of the day watching a soap opera. It’s unproductive; it’s probably all made-up anyway. But it’s cheap, it’s entertaining. It feels better to know that even Jennifer Aniston hasn’t escaped wrinkles and cellulite. And the royal baby! How cute! What’s the harm? Plus, the tabloids would exist whether you bought them or not, right?

Except, that’s not how it works. If we didn’t consume it, it wouldn’t exist. But the consequences of our consumption seem so distant, as distant as the caliber of the lives of the celebrities themselves. And yet, we know Princess Di died trying to escape the harassment of the paparazzi pursuing her, and the flashing of their cameras was the last thing she saw in this world.

We tell ourselves that celebrities ultimately benefit from it, or, at worst, that it’s a necessary cost of being famous. Indeed, many people argue this in defense of paparazzi. I disagree, and I think how we zoom our lens says more about us than the celebrities we judge. Whether or not Johnny Depp, by acting in films, signed up to have his divorce scrutinized, is a question worth debating. What seems indefensible to me is that the media culture we have created also preys upon those who never signed up for the spotlight.

Some people have celebrity thrust upon them. They are often ill-equipped and unprepared to handle the pressure and impact on their life. That happened to me. All it takes is for other people to shine the spotlight on you, point the lens at you, speculate about you, and you are public figure. And as a public figure, you have less right to privacy than the average citizen. You have no legal recourse to prevent paparazzi from interrupting your day-to-day life, harassing your loved ones, or defaming you, unless you can prove malicious intent, which is notoriously difficult to prove. There was nothing I could do to stop people from defining me as a man-eater, slut, manipulative witch, and psychopath.

When we buy Star magazine and read TMZ.com, which invade the private lives of actors and musicians, we are preying upon them, and we are supporting a paparazzi culture that at its whim may prey upon any one of us. We have the right to be complicit in this kind of culture, as the paparazzi have the right to take the photos we pay them for, but is this the world that we want to live in?

Published by the West Seattle Herald 07/25/2016.

This entry was posted in Journalism, Personal and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Are we leeches?

  1. Amanda,
    I am so glad you are safe now. I always understood your innocence to be true. I saw in you way back then, the face of shock, horror & disbelief. My God, you were twenty!!! I truly was enraged at the media coverage of this case, wanted so for you to be their scapegoat. I too have been through this, it is so damaging… I know! This conspiracy may be done, but you will feel this for years to come… as I have and I am sixty. I would sue the Italian Police Dept.’s, media and investigators who demonized you!!! WTF? How dare they with no evidence!!! I am ex-PD myself and this against you was SO WRONG!!! It hurts me that another has been so hurt. What a way to begin your chosen life with this… I am so very sorry Amanda!!! They stole your innocence and that you’ll never get back. But, the good news is, you can make a difference in this world armed with injustice and vindicated, you can be an aid to others seeking justice; their candle in the wind!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Sincerely, Winifred McCray
    P.S. There is a world out there FOR you!!!

  2. Tom Zupancic says:

    It is interesting to return to the topic of the media and their role in sensationalizing the Meredith Kercher case. Interesting in understanding the personal values and motivations of the so called ‘journalists’ responsible here as well as the companies that they worked for.

    The term yellow journalism epitomizes the substance and essence of what so many of these people embody.

    A leech; a blood sucking parasite… That sounds like an excellent description of the people who fabricated the public delusions at issue here.

    Parasites.

    Hey, parasitism is a kind of symbiotic relationship. Fair enough. So it was a symbiotic relationship, one where an innocent person is harmed in order to benefit the parasite (the media). Nothing new here.

  3. Paul Carr says:

    AK, change “subjective” to “objective”

    • Paul Carr says:

      AK, since you’re leaving it up to the readers to correct typo’s, here’s two more:

      Replace “AMANADA” with “AMANDA”
      Replace “Amanada” with “Amanda”

    • Paul Carr says:

      Change “proscuter” to “prosecutor”

      • Tom Zupancic says:

        Paul Carr,

        I hear you. There is no spell check function on this blog. No edit function. One carves stone tablets when they post here.

  4. Paul Carr says:

    Bibliography

    Angel Face The True Story of Student Killer Amanda Knox – Barbie Latza Nadeau, Beast Books, 2010
    An early treatment of the case against AK, largely presented by the prosecutor Giuliano Mignini.

    Murder in Italy – Candace Dempsey, Berkley Books New York, 2010
    A good impartial review summarizing most of what had been released up to that time, and seems to support AK’s innocence.

    Sentence of the Court of Assizes of Perugia in the murder of Meredith Kercher [ or simply “The Massei Report” ]- Presided over by Dr. Giancarlo Massei, translated from Italian into English, 2010
    Downloaded from the court record that convicted AK. Presents evidence and witness testimony.

    The Fatal Gift of Beauty, The Trials of AMANADA KNOX – Nina Burleigh, Broadway Books New York, 2011
    A more subjective, informed, and compassionate case for AK’s innocence, though it does reprimand her.

    The Study Abroad Murder – Will Savive, Del-Grande Publishing Inc New Jersey Hackensack, 2011
    An Impartial review of what was known up to that time; does not make many conclusions pro or con.

    The Monster of Perugia The Framing of Amanda Knox – Mark C. Waterbury, PhD., Mark C. Waterbury, PhD., 2011
    A strong forensic argument for AK’s innocence, unafraid to uncover the weakness and irresponsibility of Italy’s justice system.

    Injustice in Perugia a book detailing the wrongful conviction of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito – Bruce Fisher, Bruce Fisher, 2011
    The pro-AK website that logically connects the dots virtually proving AK’s innocence. It aggressively attacks the predators within the internet wilderness, including the biased skeptics, the sex perverts, and the hangmen.

    Finding Justice in Perugia a follow-up to Injustice in Perugia: a book detailing the wrongful conviction of Amanada Knox and Raffaele Sollicito – Bruce Fisher, Bruce Fisher, 2011
    A review of the facts leading to her aquital and a list of dedicated individuals, who in the face of being slandered, supported AK to her victory.

    Meredith Our daughter’s murder, and the heartbreaking quest for the truth – John Kercher, Hodder & Stroughton Ltd London, 2011
    The father of the slain expressing his ordeal learning of her death and bearing his sorrow. He stays clear of judging AK, though he lacks any consideration or emotional warmth for her.

    Honor Bound My Journey to Hell and Back with Amanda Knox – Raffaele Sollecito with Andrew Gumbel, Gallery Books New York, 2012
    Raf refused to plea bargain and sell out AK just to shorten his own sentence. This is the only record where the “Theoretically, she was not there.” remark was made by the proscuter himself.

    Amanda Knox Waiting to Be Heard A Memoir – Amanda Knox, Harper Collins Publishers New York, 2013
    The terrible ordeal her family, friends, and attorneys went through to save her, and how she remained sane after nearly four years in jail, serving a 26 years sentence with virtually no chance of acquital. A noteworthy line: ” Sorry I hit you. I was just trying to help you remember the truth.”

    In addition, law enforcement agent Steve Moore has writen a book in digital format about the journey from his own certainty of AK’s guilt to becoming a champion of her innocence.

    There are perhaps ten other writings, either pro-AK or con-AK, that are of some value, allowing the reader to connect the dots his own way.
    There is also recorded TV news footage, including Oprah interviews with her parents Edda Mellas and Kurt Knox, remarks by her attorney Ted Simon upon her release on 3 Oct. 2011, and several poignant interviews with with AK herself.
    A motion picture exploitation, considered factually poor, “Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy.” 2011. starred Hayden Leslie Panettiere, born August 21, 1989.

  5. Tom Zupancic says:

    Exploitation, self interest and profit. That is the bottom line here. Shock value.

    Unscrupulous? Ya think? (like duh….)

    A strange ‘industry’ indeed.

    • Tom Zupancic says:

      This song from way back when just came to mind; “What are their Names”;

      “I wonder who they are
      The men who really run this land
      And I wonder why they run it
      With such a thoughtless hand
      What are their names
      And on what streets do they live
      I’d like to ride right over
      This afternoon and give
      Them a piece of my mind
      About peace for mankind
      Peace is not an awful lot to ask”

      It reminds me a lot of this present discussion.

  6. Tony S Golden says:

    I have been in situations where people have invaded my private life, and I wanted some means to block their lies and exaggerations on social media or in the neighborhood that I live in. It seems people are calling me all sorts of nick-names including the “Big Reveal” and other strange titles after I have gone through one hell of a year so far. Other times in the past I wish the media would have covered my art, designs and ecological travels more, and yet rarely anything is written despite many people imitating me afterwards to rave reviews. The Seattle Arts establishment is focusing primarily on gimmicky con-art rather than anything innovative or truly provocative.

    It seems in large part the media is obsessed with perverted and distorted views of celebrity artists and pays little mind to artistry or the significance of an art work until long after the artist has passed away. The majority of artists that get press have a great ability to kiss the right ‘behind’ at the right time. Other artists base their careers on hype and scandal and ride that wave as long as they possibly can to exploit some sort of recognition out of the ADHD public.

    As a whole, though, I think most people take the media with a grain of salt and don’t believe most entertainment gossip. In your case, the media kept the pressure on the authorities, and thank goodness you are free to write in Seattle about your experiences in life and art.

  7. Tony S Golden says:

    This is a remarkable post. I have been in situations where people have invaded my private life, and I wanted some means to block their lies and exaggerations on social media or in the neighborhood that I live in. Other times I wish the media would cover my art, designs and ecological travels, and I do not get one word written. It seems the media at large is obsessed with perverted and distorted views of celebrity artists and pays little mind to artistry or the significance of an art work until long after the artist has passed away.

    I followed your case from the beginning. Honestly, my heart ached every time I heard of your suffering in Italy. I am a UW alum and have been to Italy four times and never heard of a bad experience in Italy until your story. I was also born in the UK and a dual citizen, so I empathize with the British family. Every time I saw your face I wanted to do something to free you. I wanted to fly to Italy and rescue you somehow, but knew your story was not some Hollywood movie where one could shoot their way to a rescue for you without new ramifications.

    You may not want to hear this, but your fame was due to you being so photogenic. You are extraordinarily beautiful, Amanda; you are absolutely beautiful. So many people wanted you free because they saw you and thought how could someone so gorgeous do any harm, be indifferent, or participate in such a horrible crime against another young woman. Like it or not: if you were ugly, no one would have cared what happened to you.

    It is the reality of our society that good looks draw attention. Your good looks brought you fame that you may have not wanted, but also had a large portion of our country (maybe not in the press) hoping you would come home free and be back with your family. I was one of those people hoping you would be free. When I found out you were from Seattle and UW, I was so surprised since both are a major part of my life and my story. Some aspects of the media and the way they told your story may have over simplified your experience and portrayed you in a superficial way, but overall the media in the United States kept you in people’s thoughts and prayers.

    As a whole I think most people take the media with a grain of salt and don’t believe most entertainment gossip. In your case it kept the pressure on the authorities, and thank goodness you are free to write in Seattle about your experiences in life and art. Hopefully one day I am lucky enough to meet you, Amanda; I only know the media you.

    • Jack Friend says:

      I would have to disagree with your premise with regard to looks. I think it is too simplistic and unfair to Amanda’s supporters to assume her looks were their main motivation.

      I have not commented on this blog in some time, mostly because Amanda is free and able to move on with her life. I do follow her on Facebook and appreciate the work she does for the wrongly accused.

      I have a daughter not much younger than Amanda. When I first heard news of this case and was only paying slight attention, I assumed it was about a lover’s triangle gone wrong. When I began to pay attention to it and discovered Amanda and Raffaele had only know each other for such a short time, something about the allegations did not add up. The more I learned the more I felt there was a miscarriage of justice taking place. I also do not like the “trial by media” that is occurring more and more often in our society.

      My motivation stemmed from this “What if this was my daughter?” If I pay no attention to the unfair prosecution of the Knox’s daughter, why should I expect anyone to care if my daughter befell a similar injustice? The person I most identified with during this case was not Amanda, but her Dad. I wondered what it must be like for him to so want to protect that baby he brought home from the hospital and to then hear all the nasty comments directed toward that child he loves. If I had been in his shoes, I would have been an angry man on so many days wanting to strike back at those hurting my child.

      Attorneys for the Innocence Project work tirelessly to free the wrongly accused and I don’t think it is due to their looks. They are interested in correcting an injustice and their efforts enhance liberty for us all. Many in our society have forgotten that our Constitution is a document to protect the liberty of citizens against injustice at the hands of government. Allowing the government to imprison someone falsely results in a loss of liberty for us all. If we wish to live in a free society it is far better for a few guilty people to go free than for innocent people to be wrongly imprisoned. Why? Because allowing the government to do so violates the Social Contract we have in place and enables them to continue to take the liberty of its citizens until there is none left.

      I also think an equally strong argument can be made that Amanda’s looks worked against her. If she had been perceived as ugly, it would have been much harder to make the claim that Raffaele was so entranced that he went along with the murder. Also, Amanda’s looks fed the Italian and British tabloids that convicted her in the court of public opinion before the trial. She was the wicked she devil who entranced men to do her bidding. Who wants to hear tales about or let alone believe in sex games gone wrong when ugly people are involved.

      Being married to an attractive woman and knowing a few over my life time has resulted in my understanding that they do not always see themselves this way and/or do not want their looks to be the sole thing defining them. One of my takeaways from Amanda’s book, and she can correct me if I am wrong, is that she did not identify with the persona of herself depicted in the media.

      Just as much as I rejected the caricature of Amanda, I was equally disturbed at how Raffale was portrayed in the media. He was a weak minded dolt who was utterly defenseless against the “she devil” As a man, I am able to act according to nobler intentions as opposed to my hormones and I think the same is true of he as well. If my wife came home today, being as hot as she is, and asked me to commit a murder I would get a divorce instead.

      Prayers to all who remain wrongfully incarcerated today.

      • Tony S Golden says:

        You made some thoughtful points. I was mainly speaking to the flash headlines of a “pretty American girl” in legal limbo overseas that seemed to play out. The media seems to flash the faces of attractive people far more often than those less photogenic. As far as the public at large interest I realize there is a higher level of sophistication. Our first impressions of any situation is usually subconscious/unconscious, and looks play a significant role in how we perceive a situation. Then the human connections kick in, as in your case as a father with a child close to the same age. She reminded me of friends in high school and college and I hated seeing her in a horrible situation all around. Even if she was unattractive there would have been people that cared, but I bet she would not have gotten as much exposure in the media, which brought both sympathizers and those that would assume she was guilty. The exposure probably was both a blessing and a curse. I haven’t read her book. I hope to read it when I have an opportunity.

  8. Avrom Brendzel says:

    Your article is well-written and accurate. It seems sad that so many of us prefer celebrity gossip to substantial news, and of course some persons intentionally seek notoriety. But your case was different in that Italian officials, by false accusations and improper leaks to the media, maligned you. I hope you will be able to get some redress through legal actions including your case before the ECHR, and that that positively influences the future actions of Italian officials.

  9. a parent says:

    Its an issue thats gotten huge because of the internet, imo. I know what Tom mentioned is true, this level of bombardment didnt exist. Paul McCartney said as a 20+something what was the worst thing of fame, he said “loss of privacy”. Wasnt Carrol Burnett one of the first to call the trash tabloids out and sue, and win? How did she do it? What foundation did she use to win? Maybe a Carol Burnett Law needs to be implemented.

    Your case in Italy was far more serious than TMZ paparazzi’s of someones bad hair day. Those wrongfully convicted due to bad news events and leaks is far worse than a bad music review.
    To spend life in prison because possibly some dishonest media slanderous article appealed to some jurors!

    What is the missing medicine for this media cancer? Accountability and laws? In schools its called bullying. Its a new type of violence, bullying. The National Enquirer left Carol alone after she fought back as I recall. She didnt have to sue them twice. I agree, something needs to change and address the new-bullying online and vicious attacks of privacy…and not just the famous and rich. It could be any of us, or our kids.

    • just a parent says:

      I liked Sinatra’s tactic – if some media goon was too persistent against Frank’s desire in the moment to be left alone, he slugged him. Not practical for a woman, I know, but where I come from it would be obligatory from her husband, or boyfriend, or friend, or brother, or father, or son, or uncle, or cousin, or chivalrous stranger, in that order. It occasionally cost Frank some money, but he must have regarded those expenditures simply as the price of admission, because he never stopped swinging . . . laid ’em out cold too, if he could, and it seemed to work to some extent, for he was less an obsession to those creeps than his fame and reputation should have warranted. I think I’ll give “Strangers In The Night” a listen or two before hitting the sack. Cheerio, y’all!

      • Tom Mininger says:

        I seem to remember Woody Harrelson slugging a Paparazzi who was hounding his daughter. He claimed that he was only hitting a zombie, that no human being would behave this way. Don’t know how this defense worked out for him.

  10. What you’ve described has gone on for a very long time and will unfortunately continue unabated. I’ve heard paparazzi even say that celebrities should be glad they are hounded by them, and that their real worry should be if no one wanted to take their photo.
    I live in NYC. I have seen and met many celebrities. If I say anything to them, it’s about their work. Celebrities do not owe us a thing. I’ve seen people do incredibly stupid things to celebrities, thinking that they are old friends – whom they’ve seen in movies, TV, the internet, or in print – not realizing they are complete strangers. I’ve heard many a person say, “Oh! I met ________ and they are not nice at all!” They expect to be able to go up to celebrities at any time, and the celebrity MUST be nice, must give them an autograph, must pose for a photo, etc. I have made films, and acted. If I achieve professional success in that arena, I will dread being well known.
    I’ve mentioned several times that you and Raffaele became famous not by choice, but you both have handled yourselves with great dignity. Brava, and Bravo!

  11. Richard M says:

    There are two forces at work here and in your case they were a lot more sinister that you realize. The first is talented writers and public speakers who can influence the thinking of others are the most powerful people in the world. The second is that the cruelest, most dangerous and most detructive thing in the world is a group of ignorant people being led by a leader who has a greed for power, wealth and glory for himself. This leader will use the tabloid media or any media they can to create that group of ignorant people to further their own ends. In your case Mignini used the media to create that ignorant mob for the purpose of looking like their hero for sending a vicious killer to prison. Mignini knew full well that you were innocent as soon as Guede showed up on the police radar with the mountain of evidence against him. But Mignini had already used the media to promote himself as the star investigator who solved the case. He was not about allow himself to lose that star status even if that meant causing a person he knew to be innocent to lose their life to prison. To Mignini your life was nothing compared to his.

    The power that talented writers and speakers have can be used for good or evil. They can create a group of enlightened people or a group of ignorant people to use for their own bidding which in the case of tabloids is to make money for themselves. Throughout history we have seen that group of ignorant people has been used to start wars for the enrichment of a leader consumed with greed for himself. But the world is changing faster and faster and it is getting harder and harder to create that group of ignorant people and keep them ignorant for very long. This is the century where ignorance will disappear. We just need more writers like you to make it happen.

  12. Tom Zupancic says:

    “The paparazzi like to describe their relationship with celebrities as symbiotic”. Fair enough. So tell me again, what does ‘symbiotic’ mean. Fundamentally it mean a ‘relationship between two different kinds of living things that live together’. In biology such relationships come in three distinct flavors that biologists call: 1) mutualism (where both parties benefit); 2) commensalism (where one party benefits while the other is unaffected); and 3) parasitism (where one party benefits while the other is harmed). The relationship between paparazzi and individuals can be called ‘symbiotic’ but ‘parasitism’ would be more precise and accurate in many specific cases.

  13. Tom Mininger says:

    I took a Roman Empire course where we first slogged through Tacitus. The next book was by another ancient Roman author (I forget who) which read like a modern day tabloid compilation, full of who’s sleeping with who and the unruly behavior of chariot race team fans. Things haven’t changed much in 2000 years. Voyeurism and spectator sports are in our gene pool along with sporadic witch hunts.

    Tabloid journalism keeps creeping into the mainstream. The line grows blurrier. The temptation to increase profits with titillation is omnipresent. Your case was high profile but not enough for US media to pay for stationing their own reporters in Perugia during your first trial. The mainstream media just passed along the tabloid reporting coming from overseas. The trial transcripts have been translated to English over the years and everyone can now see how nonsensical that coverage was.

    On the related topic of media bias. When I was a kid in the 60s there were 3 networks: NBC, ABC, and CBS. The news reporting on them had to be neutral for a general audience. Now there are a gazillion channels each with a specialized bias for every taste. One can come home from a long day at work and tune in to whatever one wants to hear, without the bother of hearing opposing views.

  14. justme says:

    If it provides you any solace, I think a lot of us who are supportive of you also try to be more media aware. Whenever they run with some new story like that, I think of your case and talk with friends about what is appropriate or inappropriate coverage. And I’ve just plain blocked some “news” outlets like the Daily Mail, who have still yet to apologize to you.

  15. Stephane G says:

    There’s not much to add to your words. I fully share your analysis. Paparazzis and tabloids exist because we are ready to pay for this kind of news. The question is: why this voyeurism? Is it only because some live vicariously through others to fill the emptiness of their existence, or is this voyeuristic behavior a pleasure in itself? Don’t we secretly enjoy contemplating the downfall of the « kings » – stars and famous people – as a revenge for the little attention we get?

    Amanda, you have suffered unexpected and unwanted celebrity but there is another and positive side to this coin: you have been given a voice to speak against wrongful convictions, and injustice in general. You’re listened to, and you’re respected. It’s a heavy but great responsibility.

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