Teen ‘bling’ burglars shock cinema audiences

Go directly to jail! The film ‘Bling Ring’ tackles the darker side of celebrity culture.

Celebrity worship led a group of rich teenagers in Los Angeles to burgle the houses of their favourite stars: now the true story is a film. Is this a morality tale for our fame-obsessed era?

This was no downtrodden group of hard-up kids; the teenage burglars in the new hit movie The Bling Ring were from affluent homes and lacked for nothing, but they spent nearly a year stealing over $3 million-worth of clothes and jewellery from the homes of the celebrities they idolised.

The film, based on a true story, has received almost as much shocked attention as the original news story, which unfolded in California in 2008-9. Alexis Neiers, a good-looking, well-off high school student ended up in the cell next to Lindsay Lohan after she and her friends were arrested for robbing the houses – or rather the wardrobes – of Lohan, Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, and other stars with whom they were fixated.

The Bling Ring opens in UK cinemas at the beginning of July, but it has already left audiences other parts of the globe shocked. Critics describe it as a parable for our times, when so many seem to find fame, or getting close to those who are famous, a laudable end in itself.

The Vanity Fair reporter who first wrote about these teenage burglars now says she thinks they were suffering from depression. Others say they are victims of the materialistic, superficial, fame-obsessed culture they were surrounded by in LA: to some commentators these teenage burglars are ‘the ultimate American characters.’

But Sofia Coppola’s movie has been seen as a satire on modern culture and anomie. The true story behind The Bling Ring exposes the extremes of a widespread obsession with celebrities which, at its height during the late 2000s, according to the journalist who originally told this story, ‘warped the psyches of teens’.

Fame at any cost

But, some argue, whatever celebrity obsession might have infected these and other teenagers is the clear fault of the media. The very same organisations that stoked this hysteria are now filled with righteous disgust at the fame-centric characters in the new hit movie.

Some of those most fascinated – and most critical – are complicit: the magazine which published the original article about these burglars, Vanity Fair, was also the first publication to run an interview with Paris Hilton, the object of the gang’s fascination and perhaps the ultimate example of a modern celebrity.

Can a movie that asks its audience to laugh at these exploits be an interesting morality tale about the film industry itself, and its impact on the wider world? Or, as one viewer complained, does examining emptiness and anomie leave you with a work of art that is, essentially, heartless?

You Decide

  1. ‘These weren’t actually rich kids. They were doing better than most, but in that community, they were not rich. In sixth grade, you had to have a Louis Vuitton backpack, and her family couldn’t afford it.’ Discuss this quote from theVanity Fairreporter.
  2. What’s the difference between satire and a parable or fable? Give examples.

Activities

  1. Class debate: ‘Celebrity culture warps teenagers’ minds’. For and against and then take a vote.
  2. Invent your own morality tale: does it have a strictly enforced ‘lesson’ with erring characters punished, or can the audience make up their own mind on the rights and wrongs?

Some People Say...

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.’ Henry David Thoreau”

What do you think?

Q & A

This story is ridiculous. It has nothing to do with my life.
Well, that’s a relief! But since classical times, through Dostoevsky, Albert Camus and right up to the present day, we all seem fascinated by tales of Crime and Punishment. And however extreme these examples seem, the motivation for the crime is gripping because almost everyone’s life is now touched by celebrity culture in some way.
Are you accusing me of being like these crazies?
No. As more details about the Bling Ring members emerge, it seems that several were drug users. The ringleader is described as ‘disturbed’ and, of course, they lived in the beating heart of the celebrity industry, a city sometimes called ‘La La land’ because so many of its denizens seem to have a dodgy grasp of reality.

Word Watch

Sofia Coppola
Daughter of another famous director, Francis Ford Coppola, Sofia Coppola is best known for the dreamlike Lost in Translation. She is said to be good at taking a non-judgemental look at characters in odd or extreme situations.
Anomie
A French word coined in the late 1800s meaning alienation, a sense of disconnection from society and from the moral values and social expectations that, for example, prevent someone committing crime.
Modern celebrity
To research her leading role, Emma Watson, the British actress who made her name in the far more innocent Harry Potter films, says she watched episodes of the reality TV series about an entire family ‘famous for being famous’: Keeping Up With The Kardashians.
Complicit
This adjective describes a person, organisation or in this case parts of an industry (the media) participating in or being associated with bringing about something bad.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.