Month: February 2008

Stalkerazzi Laws May Get Some Teeth

After the taxpayers of Los Angeles shelled out $25,000 in expenses to protect the public and a young celebrity during her recent trip to a hospital, L.A. Councilman Dennis Zine proposed a new “buffer zone” law that will effect the most rabid of paparazzi — namely those who gather in large swarms, blazing flashbulbs within inches of their target — going so far as to stand in front of vehicles, or engaging in dangerous road chases, all for the sake of a celebrity snapshot.

While California does have some paparazzi laws in place, photographers are rarely cited and when they are the charges are usually misdemeanor, rather than criminal, offenses. Zine’s proposal, at this juncture, looks like it would criminalize the ambush tactics used by paparazzi who fail to keep a reasonable distance from their target, or who engage in dangerous chases.

I believe that stronger laws are necessary and overdue. After Princess Diana’s death, the public was treated to a few moments of a tabloid-driven media that seemed to be examining its conscience. Unfortunately, those moments quickly faded. Since then, celebrities such as James Brolin and Barbra Streisand, Pierce Brosnan, and Lindsay Lohan have all had close calls with aggressive entertainment photographers, who have either run them off the road or struck their cars during a chase. It should not take another death, celebrity or passerby, for lawmakers, news outlets, and the public to recognize the danger.

It’s also a matter of respect. While the worst aggressors will lean on the 1st amendment to claim encroachment rights on another’s personal space, there is no constitutional or other legal right whatsoever to harass another person, or restrict their movements, or impede their activities — all of which the paparazzi has done, and continues to do, almost without restriction.

As I wrote last year, being a public figure of any sort should not negate someone’s right to privacy or freedom of movement. Several posters disagreed with me, basically using the argument that celebrities are different: that being ambushed is part of the career they’ve chosen.

I don’t know how that logic works. As far as I know, celebrities are not locked into a 24- hour contract with the public to entertain or be accessible. A successful career in any field, including entertainment, should not make someone a virtual hostage to the whims of the public or negate their rights as a private individual.

As for the media’s defense that excessive intrusiveness exists because the public demands it — that we “create the need” for aggressive, car-chasing, garbage stealing paparazzi — I can only say it’s an elaborate lie.

First, the public cannot want something it doesn’t even know exists. Most of us don’t know, until the media tells us, what a celebrity’s personal life is like, where they’re dining, who they’re dating, or what tattoos they have on their backside. We don’t know – and most likely would never wonder – what is in a public figure’s garbage can or how many Jack & Cokes they had at the Viper Room.

The type of microscopic scrutiny and bold intrusions into celebrity lives offered up by gossip outlets and their photographers are less a consequence of public demand than public manipulation. Sensationalism sells, but only because it is produced and promoted. If tomorrow, there were no more photographs of panty-less starlets falling on the red carpet or close-ups of celebrity cellulite, the public would be none the wiser, and no less interested in whatever other, less invasive, celebrity news came their way.

It is not the public that demands crotch shots and minute-by-minute coverage of celebrity breakdowns. It’s the media that sets that bar, seeking the most sensational story in the hopes of inflaming or piquing the worst of the public’s curiosity. And unfortunately, it’s that bottom line which informs many tabloid decisions.

Lastly, even if the public had an expressed curiosity in sensationalism — even if they were writing letters by the tens of thousands demanding upskirt shots and ambulance chases — it does not mean that the media should abandon common sense and ethics to cater to the basest tastes. That they do so daily, with or without “public demand,” necessitates the need for stronger, more enforceable laws.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

A Radical Notion: Children Come First, Period.

She had a felony arrest for child neglect last July, but the Department of Childrens Services was not monitoring Latasha Morris, or checking up on her children. In between December 2007 and January 2008, Morris was arrested four times. On February 6th, Morris, a chronic alcoholic and drug user, passed out on top of her 2 year old son, Sheldon Bartley. The toddler died.

It does not appear that Morris was without people who tried to help. Sheldon’s paternal grandparents often cared for the children, and were making plans to get Latasha into rehab, where she might receive treatment for her decade-long battle with alcoholism.

In the meanwhile, six year old Estajah and two year old Sheldon were left unchecked and in their mother’s care, with disastrous consequences.

My January 29th article on adoption garnered a lot of response, including some disturbing mail from an anti-adoption group which seems to be made up of a handful of birth mothers who resent their decisions. They rail at a society which, they say, does not do enough to financially support them. They rail at adoptive parents, claiming they are thieves. They rail at adoption agencies, claiming that they are a corrupt, money-making industry. They take a few stories from unhappy adoptees, and twist them into propaganda to buoy their anti-adoption creed.

It’s difficult to read their tales, because no matter how matter how vague their actual stories are, or how many gaps of logic are apparent in those stories, the facts of these women’s lives — and their regrets — are drenched in pain.

One wrote to me and said that my plea to young mothers to consider adoption would not be heard by those who would do harm to their own children, but only by those whose love was so encompassing that they would give their children up before subjecting them to any harm at all.

She’s very likely right. The majority of birth mothers that I have spoken to are women who love deeply, and whose thoughts were centered on what was best for their child. They chose adoption not because it was easier for them, but because it was gut-wrenching to consider raising the child they loved in anything less than good circumstances. To me, the love and care they expressed through adoption is heroic. Often, they placed themselves in the line of fire from others who questioned their decision – they struggled with their internal emotions and the perceptions of the outside world for nine months – and in the end, chose to put their children first.

There really should be another Mother’s Day just for them. One in which the whole of society acknowledges the unconditional, selfless, agape love of women who placed their faith and hopes in adoption in order to give their child the best possible parents, circumstances, and opportunities.

Not heroic was the note I received from a mother who is outraged that her children were “stolen” by the foster care system due to abuse perpetrated by the mother’s boyfriend. “Not my fault” was the tone of the letter, and “they had no right” was the message. Her children, her choices. She didn’t believe society should have any say in how her children were raised, but she did believe that none of this would have happened if society had supported her. If school was free, maybe she’d have gone, and gotten a better job so she wouldn’t have to live with others. If there was free daycare, maybe she wouldn’t have had the boyfriend babysit.

I don’t know what she expected from me, but she was writing to the wrong person.

I know a few things about pain. I know what it is like to be a child born at the wrong time, to parents who had their own personal problems. My body still carries the memories of their problems – their narcissism, impatience, and rage. At 45 years old, I still flinch when someone moves their hand too quickly or too closely to me. I startle easily, and always have to have my back to a wall in a crowd so that people cannot surprise me from behind. In personal relationships, I have a reflexive tendency to just slip away whenever a confrontation is impending. I go away easily. Arguments frighten me – I always fear they’ll end in disaster.

I know, too, the feeling of standing outside of life’s gate, with no clear way in, and no invitation. To be the girl who feels no sense of place in the innocent, carefree world of others. To be the one with the dark house, the bad teeth, and the worn hand-me-downs, who can only pretend a sense of normal, while dreaming, always dreaming, of being somebody-somewhere else.

And I know passion. I know that at some point memories became a protective instinct, dreams became missions, and that my perspective from outside the gate had a value, if only for those who had not yet seen beyond the iron slats of their own similar experiences.

No one wants to think they’ll be a bad parent. My parents, I know, like so many others, leaned on the bromide of “we did our best” as both excuse and salve. The truth is they did not. The truth is that they both had affairs, and decided to bring a child into the world that was the result of their lack of control, and their lack of love or respect for each other. Instead of being born with a blank slate, I was born into turmoil, shame, and bitter feelings. My coloring was a sign of guilt, and my character was questioned even as an infant. I was too quiet, not like her other daughters, but when I cried it was all wrong, it grated on her nerves. I read too early. I was too athletic. I was too dreamy, too willful, too different, and too much.

As an adult, I once asked my mother why she did not give me up. In a rare moment of honesty, she told me she tried to abort me several times, but it didn’t work. She thought about giving me up then, but it was too complicated. She was married, and people would ask questions.

Embarrassing questions, it seems, were harder for my mother than raising an unwanted child for sixteen years. Instead of temporary feelings of guilt, my mother chose – not just for her, but for me as well – years of despair and hurt.

I survived. Too many children do not even have that opportunity. Many others will go through life feeling disconnected, lost, or alienated. Some will wrongly mistake rage for strength, and seek to become stronger than those who hurt them. Some will even end up with emotional and mental damages that are beyond repair.

The point I made in Dangerous Choices is, I think, clear to those who would hear its message. Children must come first, period. Children are not chattel, and they should not be considered the property of unfortunate birth parents who cannot, will not, or should not care for them. Childhood is a short-lived experience, a limited window of opportunity, and children should not have to suspend their needs, waiting on parents whose histories have already shown a propensity for neglect, abuse, and danger.

The foster care system needs a radical overhaul, and a new mission statement: Children Come First. Period.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter