Upon the recommendation of YouTube vlogger Hayley G Hoover http://youtu.be/EpuKq9IOkbw I hunted down a copy of The Bling Ring, by Nancy Jo Sales. This piece of non-fiction is an expansion of Sales’ Vanity Fair article on the burgling of Paris Hilton and other young Hollywood ‘royalty’ during late 2008 and 2009. Living on the other side of the pond, my knowledge of the so called ‘Bling Ring’ was fairly limited until picking up this book and then doing some research of my own.
Nancy Jo Sales explores the fascination with celebrity culture that has gripped America and large parts of the world and how this adoration of celebrity has now led to reckless and illegal behaviour as teens desperately try and emulate them. The victims of the ‘Bling Ring’ were, in general, famous for being famous. Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Audrina Partridge, had all built a celebrity allure around them based on their lifestyle and that lifestyle was itself based on their fame. The mystique of celebrity seems to have left these stars of young Hollywood feeling invincible, and the Bling Ring exploited that to their advantage, using the unlocked gates and doors of the Beverly Hills mansions to gain access to the treasure troves of celebrity walk in wardrobes. This tale that seems both bizarre and inevitable has now been taken on by Sofia Coppola (arguably initially famous for being the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola) and turned into a feature film also titled The Bling Ring starring Harry Potter actress Emma Watson. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2132285/
Sales’ career as a Vanity Fair journalist is based on writing about celebrities, she even states in the rear cover if ‘The Bling Ring’ that she has profiled “Damien Hirst, Hugh Hefner, Russell Simmons, Donald Trump, Tyra Banks, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and Taylor Swift” (Sales, 2013) and yet Sales spends around 90% of her book detailing how the media and societal obsession with celebrity is the downfall of youth culture in America today. Is she not part of this problem? Furthermore, by profiling these suspects in Vanity Fair, are they now celebrities? Is the obsession people, including myself, have with the motivations of the ‘Bling Ring’ just another symptom of a society run by an envy of fame?
The fascinating centrepiece of Sales’ article “The Suspects Wore Louboutins” http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2010/03/billionaire-girls-201003 is Alexis Neiers, the glossy, glamorous teen accused of breaking into the home of Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean star Orlando Bloom. At just 18 Neiers found herself at the centre of an E! reality TV show Pretty Wild, charged with burglary and now the focal point of a Vanity Fair article. Nancy Jo Sales pushes the point that Neiers seems desperate for fame, but Sales is also part of the media frenzy surrounding the teenager that fuels the desire for celebrity. It essentially seems to have become a sick cycle of chasing fame, or infamy, that even I, in writing this blog post am part of. Neiers’ life seems to have been in many ways sheltered, she was home schooled by her highly spiritual mother and then suddenly was thrust into the Hollywood nightlife scene, modelling for lingerie brands and alongside her ‘sister’ (actually just a close childhood friend) taking part in straight to DVD movies and TV commercials. Her life became so heightened it seems it was no longer reality, and Neiers has since been very open about her drug addiction and issues she faced during this period of her adolescence.
The most common items among the $3million collection ‘bling ring’ kids seemed to take from their victims was their clothes. Not just a designer jacket or bag, but underwear and personal items. Their desire to live the lifestyle of the rich and famous was deeply ingrained in their motives, however; these teens lived in affluent Hollywood suburbs, hardly on the bread line. They were by no means Paris Hilton levels of wealthy, but they surely didn’t want for anything, apart from the lives of the celebrities they robbed. They also don’t appear to have sold huge amounts of what they stole; instead they kept the clothing, jewellery and other items and integrated them into their personal wardrobes. Chief ‘bling ring’ whistleblower Nick Prugo also alleges the teens partied in Paris Hilton’s mansion, drinking, smoking and dancing, all the while knowing, through Twitter, TMZ and other gossip sites, that Paris was on the other side of town, or even the country. So now an article, a novel, a movie, various blogs, news sites and YouTube videos have created a sense of mystery around the teens, giving them their own status of celebrity, and the comparatively lenient sentencing given to them (potentially, Prugo could have faced 42 years behind bars but served just a year of a two year sentence) suggests that in the future, we could see similar events taking place. Whilst young celebrities are convicted of drink driving or cocaine possession, the teenagers desperately trying to access their lives are convicted of burglary and none of them receive particularly harsh or even moderate sentences. Therefore, due to the attention received by these kids, it is entirely conceivable that these events, or similar, will occur once more. However, this time, will Hollywood be aware of its flaws and weaknesses, or still truly believe that fame alone can keep out the ‘little people‘?
Sofia Coppola’s feature film, The Bling Ring is released 21st June 2013 in the USA and 5th July 2013 in the UK. Nancy Jo Sales’ novel The Bling Ring is available now.