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Celebrity and Its Discontents

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Today, Griffin is chill; he’s mostly out here showing off his new boat to two of his young charges, Danny Young and Mustafa Khalili, 28-year-old Brits whose nationality is clear despite their American uniform of khaki shorts, baseball caps, and slim Pumas in primary colors. Khalili returned from the beaches of Waikiki yesterday on the trail of Justin Timberlake and Cameron Diaz, two big stars who may hate the paparazzi even more than Britney, but he came back empty-handed, no cove giving up secrets, no hotel valet with a price on information, and later Griffin is going to give him hell. First, though, they’re going to check out Brad Pitt’s house.

The sea gets rougher as the boat turns upwind, houses streaming by faster now, the one with the dark wood (Stephen Dorff’s) and the apricot one with green trimming (Leo’s mom’s) and finally the one Jennifer Aniston leases for upwards of $25,000 a month, which has all the blinds closed—no photo today of the bikini-clad America’s Sweetheart reading a script on a chaise longue, that ubiquitous tabloid shot that tends to be followed by a caption about how she’s recovering from a Shiatsu massage (Aniston, all tabloid readers know, gets massages daily). Griffin knows Aniston—his man in Chicago got her walking on Lake Michigan yesterday with her hairstylist, Chris McMillan. “He’s trying to get Brad and Jen back together, but it’s not going to work,” declares Griffin, who has a lot of strong opinions on such topics. “When it came to Angelina, Jen couldn’t forgive that; perhaps if they’d had children, he would’ve been more discreet. It was Angelina’s choice to out the relationship, though, with the photographs from Kenya.” He bangs his hand on the thin tan wheel. “Brad flew to Mombasa on a private plane! The information came from her camp!”

A few whitecaps swirl around a buoy commandeered by happy seals. “That looks fun,” says Young. “Until a shark comes along, and then—” He brings his hands together in a loud clap.

The boat pulls near Brad’s. Built into a cliff, the house has a long series of windows shaped like an eye, staring right at us. Griffin stares back and raises his binoculars. “Come on, Brad,” he implores. “Give it up.”

At the most basic level, it’s people like Griffin, with an army of furtive men with digital cameras, who are driving celebrities crazy. They are the snakes in the celebrity garden, lurking and leering, spoiling paradise. Or maybe they’re more like Jagerettes, handing out shots and getting everyone drunk on the celebrity-industrial complex, a shape-shifting behemoth that compensates for fewer ticket sales by producing more personality-driven lip glosses. The tabloid business is growing as the entertainment business is shrinking; perhaps eventually the former will overtake the latter, and stars will still be playing themselves.

The relationship between stars and paparazzi has certainly turned into bounty hunting, but it’s not entirely clear that physical safety is the only reason stars have lobbied for the LAPD to begin an investigation into the paparazzi, given symbolic heft by the recent car accident between Lindsay Lohan and a “pap” on a trendy Nolita-esque corner of West Hollywood. Celebrities don’t want to ignore the paparazzi anymore—the stories they fuel have gotten so big they’re ending up on the CNN ticker. So life takes place behind half-drawn blinds. They should have known better when they moved in, or perhaps they’ve only just started to mind that Malibu, with a Nobu in the quaint mini-mall, has in the past few years become Star Country, and thus a leading spot for paparazzi, stalkers, starfuckers, fans, and all manner of untoward elements who seek to suck the energy right out of the star and leave no excess warmth of heart for him to bestow on the charity of his choosing.

And Griffin is taking more than their pictures. Gossip, particularly of the unsourced British variety, is the leader in celebrity irritants, as discerned in a study of celebrity stressors by Charles Figley, a professor at Florida State University. The gossip keeps pouring in as we simultaneously honor and revile our celebrities in a more intimate manner than ever before; today is only another day in the inexorable progress of a full Britification of our celebrity press. What’s important now is less the dissonance between actor and onscreen roles and more the difference between the image the celebrity is selling and the way he “really” is. Most of the paparazzi you come across in L.A. are Brits, relentless greyhounds of war with an attitude. “Americans can’t do this job—they don’t want to make $2,000 a day legally,” sneers Griffin.


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