If you follow Lorde’s Twitter — or you’ve read pretty much any news site this morning — you’ll know that she posted several times over the weekend, accusing a photographer by the name of Simon Runting of stalking her: “This man has been stalking me, photographing me and refusing me privacy. I am scared of him. This should not be an accepted standard for young women or anyone in this industry.” Runting is apparently notorious in New Zealand, so much so that one of the landmark cases in New Zealand privacy case law bears his name. He’s a piece of shit, in other words. And Lorde is right to call him out.
It’s easy to proclaim the paparazzi to be pure evil — and, indeed, in a lot of ways they are. But it’s important to realize there’s a weirdly symbiotic relationship between celebrities and paparazzi, up to a certain level of fame, anyway. If you’re properly famous, clearly you don’t need the publicity and would presumably prefer to be left the fuck alone. If you’re trying to climb the ladder, though… I remember being in LA a couple of years back and walking past a club on Sunset, where there was some sort of vaguely recognizable pneumatic blonde starlet out the front, posing for a disappointingly small number of photographers. Clearly, getting coverage for being at some event or other helps build your public profile, and all that stuff.
There are photographers who shoot these kinds of events and nothing more. It’s probably a kinda dull way to make a living, but it’s not hurting anyone. There’s a difference, however, between posing for a photographer outside a nightclub and having the same photographer up a tree outside your house wielding a camera with a long-focus lens. One of the trade-offs of fame is that you sacrifice some level of privacy — something that Lorde, to her credit, is smart enough to realize:
But there’s a line between press coverage and out-and-out harassment, and it’s not even a fine one — it’s a freaking great line painted in that glow-in-the-dark paint they use on fancy new roads. Most paparazzi — or, at least, the worst of them — dance across this line every day and take a piss on the other side. Another example: young Justin Bieber isn’t getting a whole lot of sympathy from the world at the moment, but how would you react if someone approached you like this?
Imagine you’re trying to get to your car, and some asshole with a camera blocks your way, and then accuses you of “assault” when you push past him. And then he calls you a “fucking little cock” and tells you to “fuck off back to America”? I’m betting you’d probably react the same way Bieber does. Which, of course, is the point — provoke, get a reaction, take pictures, profit.
What’s particularly interesting here is that Lorde is calling out the photographer who’s been harassing her by name. Because these men — yes, it’s always men — never have to experience what they inflict on other people. At the end of the day, they go home to their families, secure in their anonymity. Look at Runting’s Facebook, which Lorde also linked on Twitter — his profile photo shows him in a mask and sunglasses, and you can’t click through to see any more. There are only three public posts, two of which are links to external sites (including one that promises “boobs on live television… The beautiful Marika Fruscio, Italian columnist, tries desperately to hide her chest but it has apparently decided otherwise!”). This, clearly, is a man who values his privacy. I expect that if I stalked him with a camera, he’d probably try to beat me up.
So why is Lorde any different? Sure, she’s a public figure, which really only means that lots of people know who she is. And they know her because of her music, which is what she chooses to make public. Why is the rest of her life fair game? The red tops have always wielded the “public interest” justification for their behavior, but look: what the public is interested in doesn’t necessarily correlate to the public interest. Catching a conservative politician who preaches fire and brimstone for gay people in flagrante delicto with another man down the local park? Fine, that’s definitely in the public interest. Catching a celebrity who’s not known for homophobia doing something similar? Who cares?
Lots of people, sadly. The only reason we’re bombarded with constant celebrity culture is because of the actions of people like Simon Runting, people who cover celebrities 24/7. But the only reason people like Simon Runting exist is because the public laps up their work. Ultimately, it’s the public who are doing to celebrities something they’d never countenance someone doing to them. Bottom feeders like Simon Runting deserve to be called out, and if they’re going to make other people’s lives public, it’s only fair that the same thing happens to them.
And finally, it’s worth remembering that this is a 17-year-old girl we’re talking about here. If some creepy asshole with a camera were following any other 17-year-old around, her parents would most likely freak out and call the police — and rightly so. Why do we tolerate any different because the 17-year-old is a good singer?