Kate Middleton is constantly followed by paps, even when sunbathing on holiday. Tanya Gold argues it’s time to boycott this misogynistic propaganda.
When the Duchess of Cambridge was photographed topless by a paparazzo, she may, by protesting, have changed something. There she was, this primmest of women, with her husband, in a private place. A pap came, took the shots and they were beamed around the world. The publishers say this photography is joyous, life-affirming, beautiful. It is not. It is exploitative, and profitable. I am not a monarchist, but it was repellent. I hope there will be a backlash to this breaking down of women to their constituent parts, for them to be mocked, ogled, abused or ignored.
The word “paparazzo” is from a film. In La Dolce Vita (1960) the director Federico Fellini had a character called Paparazzo, who was a photographer. “Paparazzo… suggests to me a buzzing insect, hovering, darting, stinging,” Fellini said. Since then the behaviour of this pack of paparazzi has, incrementally, got worse, as the media dumbs down into a giant gossip column and the internet hosts hundreds of competing celebrity websites, who all want the clicks and profits and will go further to get an “interesting” shot. It is a competition, played entirely for cash. Stylist, I must add, has never used an unofficial pap shot, or revelled in celebrity gossip, because it refuses to show women in a negative light. It actually likes women.
Royalty is a natural target. Princess Diana’s miseries at the hands of photographers are famous; in fact, almost anything a stranger (that is most of us) knows about her is from photography, some agreed on, most stolen. She was mobbed in the early days of her courtship, and followed from her flat to work and back. Diana, I think, had many flaws, but this is not important. Most of us cannot imagine what it is like to have no privacy. She was photographed in a gym, working out, with a hidden camera, and the Daily Mirror published the photographs. When she died, what happened before seemed almost innocent. On that night, she was chased through Paris. It is true that the driver of the car was drunk and that she had not been wearing a seatbelt. But who really believes the pack of photographers had nothing to do with it? When the car crashed, the paps, on motorbikes and in cars, stopped. They approached the smoking car, took pictures, then put them up for sale. It was an act of almost unimaginable barbarity. It was a death scene.
Sophie Rhys-Jones, now the Countess of Wessex, was papped and shamed. She was photographed topless, in the back seat of a car with Chris Tarrant, before her marriage to Prince Edward. The Sun, no friend to women unless they are semi-naked, published the shot. The Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, was also, like the Duchess of Cambridge, photographed topless on holiday, having her toes sucked by a Texan businessman called John Bryan.
Celebrities are also a target, particularly if they are vulnerable. Who can forget the photographs of Amy Winehouse, wandering through London barefoot, or crying, or drugged? Or Britney Spears, who used to walk around LA in a daze, surrounded by paps treating her alleged drug addiction as a picture story to be revealed to the world in lucrative stages? No kindly person would have photographed them. This is why Diana’s death, when it happened, felt so inevitable; we had seen the build-up in photographs. Her story had become impersonal, almost a film. It was simply the last shot.
It is easy to say, “But they are celebrities. Don’t they want the attention? Why should they choose when and how they get it?” Pah. There is a difference between a photograph agreed and a photograph stolen, and that goes for everyone. The famous are not a different breed; the paps may go for them, but what if they came for you? Or your children, or your elderly parents? How would you feel? It happens constantly. You may have issues with royal privilege, or celebrity wealth, and yearn for a more equal world. The paps will not give that to you; they are all malice and fury.
An interesting YouTube video shows the Twilight actor Robert Pattinson being followed around Los Angeles by the pack. He begs to be left alone. “You’ve got a million pictures,” he says, “I can’t drive with someone following me around.” They don’t. They keep shooting. The paps’ behaviour is deliberately aggressive, because they want an “interesting” reaction. They want the celebrity to get angry or upset, or better still, violent. (Or better still, dead.) Sienna Miller, who was hounded for years, told The Leveson Inquiry into media practice that photographers would spit at her; eventually she took out an injunction to stop them following her, as did Lily Allen, after a photographer smashed into the back of her car and then started shooting. This is why many celebs are seen as rude, or graceless, and why Hugh Grant threw a tin of beans at one. They have been wound up by paps.
“When diana’s car crashed, the paparazzi approached the smoking car and took pictures, for sale. It was a death scene”
Many of them are amateurs and they are almost all freelance, so they only get paid if they get an “interesting” picture, and there are many of them – sometimes 40 or 50 on one celebrity. This is why they do not go home after taking “a million pictures”; they might miss the shot that will buy them a house. (The shot of Britney Spears having her head shaved apparently sold for £250,000.) I saw them with Michael Jackson in London 10 years ago. A wall of maybe 50 photographers all lunged at him at once, screaming “Michael!” He ran away. I also saw them chasing Tara Palmer-Tomkinson down a street in London. She jumped into a car, and one tried to stick his camera up her skirt. This is called the ‘upskirt shot’. It is particular to women, and should be classed as assault. It’s usually taken as a woman gets in or out of a car. The goal is to get a photograph of the woman’s knickers or vagina, without her consent, and to sell it, so it will be seen by as many people as possible. The internet is full of these images and the women pictured have to live with that.
It is wrong to see these photographs simply as an attack on the royal or famous, which has nothing to do with the ordinary person. It is part of a wider phenomenon, which is expanding along with the internet and the cameraphone – a nasty modern objectification of women. There are always new ways to do it. Page 3 has been going in The Sun, Britain’s bestselling newspaper, for years – a friendly invitation to see all women as willing and available at all times. Thankfully, there is now a growing campaign to ban it, as Lucy Mangan explains on page 35.
The Sun has form in misogyny, alongside all those friendly boobs. When Jill Saward was raped in her home in Ealing in 1986, aged 21, they put her photograph on the front page, because she was a virgin and the daughter of a vicar. Newspapers like to cry “press freedom!” in these cases, and say that it is all in the public interest. Nonsense. Press freedom should expose exploitation, not create it.
There is also a whole pile of “raunch” magazines that either photograph women naked or semi-naked with their consent, or else steal shots – usually of women looking rough, with spots or flabby knees or no make-up – and print them next to a story telling the world how ugly they are. These practices are leaking into the mainstream media and they are all connected; women as sex objects, or body parts, or junk.
I used to work for a men’s title, a so-called “classy” magazine, except it liked to publish photos of women bending over. I am not anti-eroticism or lust, which is what women who protest against sexual objectification are usually accused of – we hate men, we hate sex, we hate life. But I am anti-degradation. Since when was looking at a photograph a sexual or a loving act? Sexual acts should be consensual and in person. These images impersonalise women. What were those photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge, except an attempt to make one more unwilling woman a porn “star”? Almost all paps are men – you need tough elbows in the pack – and their favourite targets are women, because they are easier to chase and, if “hot”, easier to sell as product.
It is so common that any protest seems pointless; all I do is turn over offending magazines when I pass them, so I don’t have to look at the boobs or stolen shots of women in bikinis next to paragraphs talking about how fat they are. We seem to be swimming in a culture full of naked bits of women, either perfect or grotesque; everyone is fair game.
I would mind less if women were empowered in other ways. Except the battles women fought in the Sixties for equal pay and reproductive rights are being fought again. There is all-out assault on abortion provision in America and the pay gap – the difference between what men and women are paid for doing the same job – is nearly 15% in the UK. The Tory-led coalition government’s cuts are hitting women harder, because women are carers and so are more dependent on welfare. Female unemployment is rising much faster than male unemployment and, across the world, female poverty far outweighs male poverty.
This is, of course, a class issue as well as a gender issue, but you will always find women at the bottom. Women are less represented in government, in boardrooms, in the judiciary and in the more influential parts of the media. Are these things connected to the photographs? Of course they are. If you see a woman as a collection of parts, it is far easier to deny her equality in pay, autonomy over her own body, seniority in the workplace, even benefits for her disabled child.
Time to Change
It is a system of degradation and many are culpable. We may despise the paparazzi, but it will do us no good unless we stop buying the magazines and newspapers, and stop visiting the internet sites that buy these pictures. There was a brief outcry against paparazzi shots after Princess Diana died and many newspapers swore they wouldn’t use them again. This promise was quickly forgotten, because, I think, we are beguiled into seeing these images not as living women but as fictional characters.
But I wonder if, with these shots of the Duchess of Cambridge ricocheting around the world, there is an opportunity for progress again. All these outlets rely on advertising; protest to the advertiser, and they may withdraw their business from the outlet. Such campaigns are easy to organise in the internet age, on Facebook or Twitter or simply by sending an email – a click of the mouse, if you will. You can protest about the photographs, the pay gap, or anything you please if you, like me, have had enough. The objectification of women is designed to make us passive. And we shouldn’t be.
Picture credit: Rex Features
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