Eryn Ramsey, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s Fall 2016 Mass Communication Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the following essay in response to the prompt: "We recently heard in the news that an ex-playboy bunny used Snapchat to publicly body shame an overweight woman in her gym. Do you feel it was within her rights to share the nude photo of the woman? How should she have been punished?"
Open any People magazine from earlier than 2014 and you’ll likely find a photo spread dedicated to showcasing the most fascinatingly mundane moments in the lives of celebrity families: Hugh Jackman chasing his son on the beach; Brangelina’s brood walking down the street in a clump; Katie Holmes adjusting the strap of her daughter’s dress. These candid images are our furtive glimpses at American royalty, enabling us to be casual observers of every day moments in their distance and mysterious lives.
These images have become so normalized they’re not expected tabloid content, and they are photos of children being stalked.
It’s different for them and their parents. The latter know the cost of being in the public eye, and have made the choice to sacrifice their privacy for their careers. They tolerate the paparazzi and the candid photographs because those inconveniences come with the lifestyle they’ve pursued. But their children made no such choice. They were thrust into the spotlight by birth (or adoption), subjected to the scrutiny and criticism against their knowledge or will. And for what? To satiate the idle curiosity of the public?
Fame is a heavy burden. Relentless surveillance can be damaging to a young psyche: we have the fallen child stars to prove it. It’s easy to treat the children of celebrities as extensions of their public figure parents, but we cannot forget that they are individual, thinking, feeling children. In many cases they are not performers, child actors or singers; they have no agency in their publicity; they are just kids living a life of abnormal exposure, being trailed and photographed on the street, at the playground, in their backyards and even their homes.
It’s unquestionably exploitative for paparazzi, media, or even the celebrity parents themselves to profit off of that unwanted exposure.
An official initiative like the No Kids Policy spearheaded by Kristen Bell is exactly the driving force needed to heal this dark blemish on celebrity culture. Many media outlets are already getting on board and have announced their ceasing to run photos of celebrity children except those taken at media events and red carpets where photography is expected and encouraged, or those photos shared by celebs on social media. People announced in 2014 that they had altered their editorial practices to reflect a heightened sensitivity to family privacy, as did Perez Hilton, E! Entertainment, and others. Kristen Bell has said the young movement has already changed lives.
But to truly make the change, the movement has to make the jump from celebrity to consumer culture. We must be conscientious of our choices and the market demands we’re pressuring paparazzi and tabloids to fill. The Kardashians of the world may have conditioned us into believing that celebrities want to invite us to explore every detail of their lives, but in reality most celebrity families crave more privacy than they get, and their children are paying the price.
Eryn is a senior at Pepperdine University majoring in Media Production.
Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.