Sunday, May 19

Attackers are not heroes

Celebrity sightings are one of the unique facets of campus life at UCLA. Whether it’s playing basketball with Adam Sandler at the Wooden Center or taking a class with a disguised Shakira, most students have their own celebrity run-in story.

But the same interest that makes these stories memorable is often exploited by celebrity news outlets, who rely on the paparazzi for their images.

In July of 2008, two surfers were charged with assaulting a paparazzi photographer. The case was set to go to trial in April until one defendant’s mother drove over a cliff on the first day of proceedings, leading the judge to declare a mistrial; the new trial will now begin in June.

What makes their case unique is that despite video evidence of the incident, both men have entered a plea of not guilty, and many of Malibu’s citizens seem to think that the surfers were heroically standing up to an ever-invasive paparazzi.

Hopefully, in the next two months, people will realize glorifying this sort of vigilante justice only encourages more violence.

The men, Skylar Peak and Philip Hildebrand, who decided to assault a photographer, are not to be pitied. The photographers weren’t disturbing them; they were getting shots of Matthew McConaughey as he was surfing. McConaughey himself has been conspicuously silent on the issue, so it’s hard to argue that these surfers were defending McConaughey, a helpless victim of pushy paparazzi.

This is not a defense of the paparazzi; it is an established fact that these photographers can be rude and invasive.

The Internet video of the incident shows surfers yelling obscenities with open beer cans in hand, then cuts to Peak and Hildebrand kicking the photographer while his camera lies in the water. It clearly has been edited.

However, if the unedited video reveals a photographer punching Peak and Hildebrand in the face, then questions of self-defense may further complicate the issue. But an online video of the incident clearly shows Peak and Hildebrand repeatedly attacking photographer Rachid Aitmbareck as he lies on the ground.

That said, there are ways to lawfully protest against the paparazzi if one disagrees with their methods.

First, don’t buy the cheap magazines whose covers their work graces each week at the grocery store.

Furthermore, the city can and has passed ordinances limiting where the paparazzi can be on the beach. Citizens such as Peak and Hildebrand can always contact law enforcement officials if they feel that paparazzi are disturbing their beach-going experience. Violent surfers should not be glorified as vigilante heroes.

Despite the popular sentiment against the paparazzi, it’s hard to find a logical way to defend Hildebrand and Peak’s actions. A big part of the reason the photographers were on the beach in the first place is that McConaughey is a guy who looks like he can take care of himself. He didn’t need a group of twenty-something-year-old surfers to take on the paparazzi for him, and his silence on the incident suggests that even he doesn’t think their actions were honorable or courageous.

This incident has also been framed as a representation of the larger victimization of Malibu residents by the paparazzi, and it’s almost laughable.

It’s not as if Malibu was a quiet little town that has been suddenly taken over by out-of-control Hollywood stars and the press hounds that follow them. Movie stars have been living in Malibu Colony since before the invention of the talkie: silent film stars such as Clara Bow and Gloria Swanson were residents as early as the 1930s.

And the paparazzi isn’t some new phenomenon either.

In 1961, Time magazine published an article entitled “Paparazzi on the Prowl” that described Italian photographers chasing Katharine Hepburn on Vespas. People magazine has been paying for pictures to accompany their grocery-line gossip since 1974.

Current Malibu residents have had plenty of time to either adjust to having celebrities and paparazzi in town or to move out if they can’t handle the attention that comes with them.

Violent outbursts such as this don’t occur among sober, non-violent people over a relationship that two parties have managed to negotiate peacefully for decades.

However, Peak and Hildebrand’s lawyers told the Los Angeles Times that the men still get verbal encouragement while walking around town; clearly there is some festering discontent with the paparazzi.

Matthew McConaughey absolutely has a right to privacy. And had it been McConaughey involved in the altercation, the argument could be made that this was a victim of the paparazzi taking a stand against his tormentors.

But if the people of Malibu are truly discontent with the paparazzi, Hildebrand and Peak aren’t the heroes they’re looking for. Hopefully, the jury will keep that in mind when they hear the case in June.

E-mail Bell at [email protected] Send general comments to [email protected]

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