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FIELDS: Spy, whistleblower, hero — and celebrity

Spectacle takes precedence over character on the new pathway to fame

- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 27, 2013

"Bling Ring" is a hot new movie about celebrity in our time, all flash and bang, set in Hollywood to rework the mangled cliche that almost anybody can get 15 minutes of fame if they're light enough to float, perverse and (if female) pretty and skinny enough. There's a need to know the right labels, ZIP codes, trends and fashions, and you have to know how to appeal to ignorant adolescents who think they know more than they do. (That's quite a long list.)

The movie is about five high school students who burglarized a string of homes of the rich and famous in Tinseltown. Paris Hilton, one of the burgled, appears in a cameo role and felt good enough about it to let the moviemakers use her house as a set. The camera found her many closets stuffed with couturier dresses, designer pocketbooks and Louboutin shoes. The rooms were littered with prominently placed pillows on sofas and chairs decorated with life-size photographs of her face. If she doesn't get an Oscar nomination for supporting actress maybe she can get one for best set decoration.

Fame is fickle and the gods of celebrity take it away as quickly as they confer it. Edward J. Snowden, the uber-celebrity of the moment, seems about to be exiled from his celebrity to suffer in a friendless and alien land reserved for the loneliness of the long-distance leaker. "Bling Ring" illustrates the observation of Clive James, in his television documentary about fame in the 20th century, that "when the century started, famous people were still required, as of old, to do something first and then get famous for it later. As the century progressed people who became famous for what they did got more famous just for being famous."

In the 21st century, social media update ambitions of fame with high-tech displays of the grand and gossamer. The young burglars in "Bling Ring" not only planned their exploits on the Internet, assisted with facts from Google and GPS house maps, but exposed themselves with their loot in photographic boasts on Facebook. After they were found guilty and on the way to prison, hundreds of fans wanted to be a Facebook "friend."

Behind the tinseled surfaces, a theme emerges in the movie version of amoral youth, untutored, unmoored and inexperienced in anything beyond flash and filigree, and we are their static spectators. There's no irony or judgment; spectacle takes precedence over action, character, diction or thought. Aristotle would not approve.

"Bling Ring" coincides with the release of another movie, "This is the End," a satire of young, famous male stars who play themselves at the very moment the apocalypse arrives; they watch the newly dead ascend to heaven or sink into the fiery furnace. The movie suggests the end of narcissistic male movies like this one, and perhaps the end of the hyperbolic doom-and-gloom preaching about the end of the world as we know it — like global warming, although that may be giving Al Gore too much credit.

Both films testify to the growing urge to demolish celebrity as we know it, exposing the depth of the shallows of the popular culture. One of the guilty burglar-girls, schooled in the jargon of the new age, says her crimes have been a "huge learning experience," and that she's sure they will help her "grow" into the leader for good works in the world. She tells Vanity Fair, in the article on which "Bling Ring" was based, that she "identifies" with Angelina Jolie, "even stronger, pushing even harder for the universe and for peace and for the health of our planet." She wants to do something that people will notice: "I want to lead a huge charity organization."

From the intersection of politics and culture, the scene of endless traffic jams, we see the sloppy self-righteousness of political celebrity writ large. We see Mr. Snowden, a 30-year old technology geek clever with computers crowned as a champion of derring-do, admired for breaking his oath and revealing national security secrets. An online petition seeking a pardon for his crimes went to the White House with more than 100,000 names on it.

Thousands in a poll said they consider him a national "hero."

"We've made treason cool," New York Post columnist Ralph Peters said on "Fox & Friends." "He wants to be the national security Kim Kardashian." A celebrity's celebrity, you might say. One tweeter (or is that twitterer) parodying Mr. Snowden's ambivalent voice as traitor, spy and hero, concludes: "I am in dire need of attention, that's for sure." That sounds about right.

Suzanne Fields is a columnist for The Washington Times and is nationally syndicated.

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