Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Bling Ring—“Reality” Comes to the Movies

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said that the rich are different from you and me (assuming you and I are not of the moneyed class). Hemingway is reported to have replied “yes, they have more money than we do.” The five teenagers who run around Los Angeles stealing money, drugs and clothes from the houses of rich celebrities in the movie THE BLING RING aren’t rich, or celebrities. Or very bright, for that matter, as they brag to their friends about what they have done and get caught on security cameras, which makes it about as easy to catch them for the police as it apparently is to score ecstasy or coke at a party in the Hollywood Hills—any party in the Hollywood Hills.

Mark, the lone male member of the gang, tells a reporter from Vanity Fair (I thought she was his shrink at first) that he did it because he never felt he was handsome enough, and the pretty girl who ran things manipulated him. He rails against the way we have an obsession with celebrity even as he relates he has 800 friends on Facebook.

Nicki, played brilliantly by Emma Watson, tells the camera that we are indeed a shallow culture, obsessed with appearances, with shiny surfaces, and then mentions the website people can access to read about how she is dedicating her life to changing the world (perhaps by giving seminars on how to be treated as a person of substance by demonstrating an absolute lack of substance).

What sickened me was that the ghetto kids in the rap music these ciphers listened to, the role models for these moral and intellectual Neanderthals stealing handbags and-high heeled shoes, these ghetto youths would have gotten hard time for selling a little weed, while the Feeble-Minded Five broke and entered and stole hundreds of thousands of dollars and got ridiculously light sentences. It was almost like they were executives at Enron, for Christ’s sake. I agree with Hemingway—they are no different from you and me, or at least not different from any other criminal or morally retarded person—they are just self-absorbed to the point where they don’t see any reason to discharge any responsibility towards their fellow human beings.

One of the interesting things about the movie is that it is based on real life. Real, as in reality, as in Reality TV. The movie, I think, is satirizing the cult of the celebrity and our obsession with what celebrities may be really like. Ignoring the fact for just a moment that pointing cameras at people to find out what they are like is about as useful as opening the refrigerator door to see if the light is on, I couldn’t help but think that to the kind of people that who watch Reality TV without any sense of irony, the subtleties of satire are lost. They are about as sophisticated as those people who observe Professional Wrestling with not a jaundiced eye, who take their flying suplexes with nary a grain of salt.

The “real life” numbskulls that perpetrated the crimes and served purely nominal jail time for them surely lacked such discernment themselves, or were so cynical they didn’t care. I imagine them getting out of their Club Fed jails and eagerly watching THE BLING RING, glad that people were watching a movie about them, not knowing people like me were thinking they were the silliest bunch of nitwits ever (even including Tom Cruise, Tammy Faye Baker and George W Bush), or not caring, because any attention is good attention, and might get you a contract to sell your story to some other nitwit, who will write about you for still more nitwits to read about.

I’m sure you see the irony in all this—even as I rail against our national propensity to pay more attention to manufactured news, to the fatuous and frivolous, the ersatz important and the erstwhile significant, to whether or not Bruce Jenner is going to become a woman, to whether Jenifer Aniston will ever get knocked up, and who will do the knocking, even as I ridicule the ridiculous, I am being lured into the insidious trap these cynical entertainment types set for us—even as we rail against , we are paying attention to.

It seems that being a celebrity will make you rich, and being rich makes you a celebrity, which raises the questions “just what is a celebrity, and which comes first, the wealth or the celebrity?” A celebrity is an attention whore, who gets paid attention to for the wrong reasons, for no reason at all, and perhaps, in the greatest irony, because we are dumbfounded by just how desperate they are for that attention. For these goofies and goonies, leering at us from the covers of supermarket tabloids even as we leer back, any publicity is good publicity, regardless of what all those whining stars say about the need for privacy and the horrors of being pursued by Paparazzi.

So we watch Jersey Shore, congenital morons tap dancing their way across our TV screens, the background music reminiscent of whatever they played as the Titanic went down, instead of paying attention to global warming and how the very rich we lionize are raping us yet again (we didn’t learn from the Great Depression, The S & L Scandal, the Sub-Prime Mortgage Debacle, etc.)

We say shame on you to Bill Cosby? Why do we say anything to him at all? And why do we let him say anything to us? We go to a rapist who isn’t a doctor but who plays one on TV for advice on raising kids and race relations, and then forget about what the real issues were in the first place when his off screen behavior rivals that of Fatty Arbuckle. Shame on Bill? Shame on you and me.

These kids want to be street, to be victims of the man, to be ghetto (which would entail poverty and violence on a scale they couldn’t even imagine) and to be ridiculously wealthy. Well, to be “street” I would imagine you would have to do some real crime and risk some real consequences, which they hardly do, at least according to the sentences they got.

THE BLING RING, which derides consumer culture while cataloguing all the high end brands the kids steal, is about crime, but not crime in the sense I think of. These kids weren’t committing crime in the sense that they seriously hurt anyone—they were merely dopes who stole silly and expensive shit from other dopes, a kind of transfer or wealth from the absurdly privileged to the comfortably middle and upper middle class. And while they couldn’t do much damage to their “victims,” who I am sure had insurance as well as owning a few insurance companies, they really weren’t risking any damage to themselves. When you are walking black and poor down the street in Ferguson, Mo., then you are walking a tightrope without a net. In Beverly Hills, you’re not even really on a tightrope. It’s all just make believe. Like on TV.

© 2015 Mike Welch


  1. This is brilliant, Mike. Sometimes I want to shout at the top of my lungs: THERE IS MORE TO LIFE THAN LUXURY GOODS. You make the point so much better here. Kudos!!

  2. Now I will have to see this movie! It's been on my meant-to-add-to-the-Netflix-list list for quite a while. Can I say just a brief word for Fatty Arbuckle? I was under the impression that he was almost certainly not guilty of Virginia Rappe's death. A drunk, probably, even before he lost his career. A carouser, certainly, but probably not a rapist responsible for a death. Have I missed something lately revealed?

  3. Fatty's bad reputation lingers on. He was an ok guy with a lot of bad publicity. I, too, must stick up for Fatty. And How about Wallace Reid? I read a new hatchet piece on him just the other day. Malicious journalism. Don't even get me started on the number the Trenton Times is doing on our mayor. (Now to go watch The Bling Ring. You say it's on Netflix?)

    1. Kate: I meant I'd try to order the Blu-ray from Netflix. I'm a dinosaur who still gets her movies in the mail.

  4. Love it when someone writes ersatz and erstwhile... and your apt phrase " attention whore" !!! tjs

  5. I stand corrected on Fatty. I somewhere along the line just docilely accepted the party line about him and what happened.


    1. I was so excited to get a chance to talk about a movie star of the past! If you get me and Kate talking about silent films or those of the 1940s, can we talk your ear off!