Another Cost of Celebrity Obsession

Sarah Jessica Parker, the star of Sex and the City: The Movie, told ABC News that her son hides his face behind his hands when he takes his class pictures.  He's not particularly shy, it is the price of being the child of a celebrity and dodging the feeding frenzy that is the paparazzi.

Parker, along with actress Salma Hayek, sat down with reporter Deborah Roberts to discuss the outrage and fear they feel for their children because they are hounded by photographers out to make a buck off their images. 

The story, which previewed on the May 30 broadcast of Good Morning America, enlightened viewers about the sheer lack of privacy celebrities must endure.  It also shed light on the darker side of our culture's incessant appetite for Mcnews, especially news wrapped in the gauzy allure of the famous.

Diane Sawyer posed an intriguing question that should resonate with anyone who scours celebrity magazines like People or Web sites like

SAWYER: Everyone wants to protect their children. But imagine, also having to protect them from predatory photographers, cameras hiding in the trees. What is it to raise a child with everyone watching every move you make? Well, 20/20's Deborah Roberts sat down with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Salma Hayek and Sarah Jessica Parker.

ROBERTS: This has become something of a booming industry with magazines and now Web sites following every move of a celebrity's child, with fierce and some would say aggressive paparazzi often hounding them. Well you might argue that it's just the price of fame but a few celebrities tell us that their children are not part of the bargain.

Roberts' story was chock full of cover footage: Angelina Jolie out with her children and a male voice off-camera saying, “give her room.”  Hayek holding up her hand to block the shot of a photographer.  Parker exiting her Manhattan home, taking her son to school in a stroller.


PARKER: Photographers moved into apartments next door to us. We really found ourselves kind of living like a spy movie.

Roberts also played footage of an editorial meeting of Us Weekly, a magazine that buys pictures of celebrities. The video revealed a near-staggering fact: On any given night the magazine may receive between 10,000 and 15,000 photos.  These are unsolicited pictures taken in the hopes they will be published and for which, if published, the photographer will be paid handsomely.

A casual perusal of any supermarket checkout lane reveals myriad publications that feed on the cultural obsession with celebrities and their lives.  The Internet adds another medium with a voracious appetite for images of celebrities. Every publication and Web site fishes from the same paparazzi pool.  Certainly the famous understand that sacrificed privacy is an unavoidable cost of their fame.  But should their families, especially children, also be hounded? While consumers of celebrity “news” fawn over the latest candid snapshots of their favorite stars, do they ever stop to think about the hidden costs associated with their voyeurism?

ROBERTS:  In fact Hayek is one of the few celebrities willing to speak out against the bruising tactics of some paparazzi. It was an incident last February with her daughter that ignited her outrage.

HAYEK: First I see them attacking the baby with the camera and the flashes, now she starts screaming, the baby. Then they push the nanny. They she was going to the floor.

ROBERTS: So, it became that physical?

HAYEK: Oh, yes.

ROBERTS: This effort to get a picture

HAYEK: It was so disturbing. I don't know if they wanted to get the picture. Or they want to push the baby and get me crazy. I'm not sure. It was almost -- it was really deliberate. They just pushed. It's a baby!


ROBERTS: Over the years this kind of attention can take a toll on children as Parker has seen with her son.

PARKER:  It makes him not particularly inclined to take family photos, because he has a relationship with the camera that's antagonistic. He hides, his class pictures for two years have been this (puts her head down and hides behind her hands). And I think it's a shame for him.

Roberts raised the issue of laws in other countries that protect the children of celebrities from “this kind of exposure.”  According to Roberts, celebrities in the United States
“are wondering why not laws here.”  Then she answered the question by observing that “none of the celebrities are really that willing, other than the few we talked to, to take a stand on this.”

And there's the rub.  While consumers feed on the product of the paparazzi, it is the celebrities themselves who need the photographers to keep their images in circulation, to keep their “buzz” alive and well.  So while some celebrities, like Parker and Hayek, might be angry about the impact the paparazzi have on their kids, it will take a veritable sea change on both sides of the equation – consumer and celebrity – to cut the heavy price of fame.

Roberts said France already has paparazzi laws and England's lawmakers are writing legislation as well.  These efforts were spurred by the tragic 1997 death of Princess Diana, killed in a car crash while being chased by paparazzi.  And while such laws may afford a buffer of space around celebrities and their families, they don't fundamentally change the heart of the problem:  a cultural obsession with the rich and famous and a media that feeds voyeurism with cameras at the ready.  

The 20/20 version of Roberts' story will air at 10 p.m. ET on May 30.

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.