The constant presence of paparazzi is a daily reality for L.A. celebrities -- trying to take their kids to school, or pop down to the grocery store.
On Tuesday, an emotional Jennifer Garner pleaded with California lawmakers to make it stop.
“I love my kids,” she said at the California State Capitol. “They’re beautiful and sweet and innocent. And I don’t want a gang of shouting, arguing, law-breaking photographers, who camp out everywhere we are, every day, to continue traumatizing my kids.”
Garner and actress Halle Berry testified before the Assembly Judiciary Committee in support of a stronger anti-paparazzi bill that would modify the definition of harassment and, they believe, better protect their children. The bill before California legislators would make paparazzi liable to fines, jail time and hefty civil suits if they hassle the children of celebrities while snapping their pictures. The measure passed unanimously out of the Judiciary Committee and has been sent for review before the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
There is little doubt that paparazzi stalking can get out of hand. It seems a new breed of no-holds-barred photographers have hit the streets. But they and the magazines which publish the photos say the children of celebrities are fair game.
“No one told them they had to have children,” said Ian Drew, entertainment director at Us Weekly magazine. “No one told them they had to live in Los Angeles. No one told them they had to live in New York. No one told them they had to go to the popular playgrounds or schools. These are choices that they made.”
“They have to take responsibility for what they do,” said paparazzo Henry Flores. “You cannot be in a paparazzi hot zone and expect not to get photographed. It’s ridiculous. It’s kind of like going into the crocodile’s den and expecting not to get eaten.”
Berry offered her reasoning for why 5-year-old daughter Nahla should be not be harassed.
“We are moms here who are just trying to protect our children,” she testified at the hearing. “It’s not about me. Take my picture. I get it. But these little innocent children, they didn’t ask to be celebrities.”
During testimony, Garner described how every day at least 15 cars of photographers are waiting outside the home she shares with husband and actor Ben Affleck and their three children. She described it as the children having a “bounty on their heads.”
Ben Affleck recently opened up about the impact of this during a “Nightline” interview.
“They're not famous,” Affleck said. “They're not celebrities. It doesn't warrant scrutiny. It's not appropriate. I know it's not healthy for my kids. So I really object to the objectification, the commercialization of the images of children.”
The paparazzi make maybe a few hundred bucks a snap. It’s solid gas money, not strike-it-rich money. And celebrity magazines publish them nearly every week. The recent over-excitement over little Prince George in jolly old London proves, if not explains, the global obsession with celebrity offspring.
“Hate me for all you like,” said paparazzo Ricardo Mendoza. “I'm the photographer. It's the general public. The general public craves it. They want to see it.”
And does the general public know or care what surrounds a celebrity kid pap snap? Apparently it’s not pretty. Garner described “large, aggressive men” causing a mob scene and “jockeying for position and crowding the kids.”
“People who are around that, when they see 20 photographers taking the photograph of a 4-year-old, are horrified,” said Affleck. “You know, it's just that you don't see the sort of sausage being made.”
So what’s the solution? Garner and Berry hope the law would help tone down the paparazzi aggression.
“They have the right to the take the photograph, as much as I hate it that my children are objectified that way,” said Berry. “This bill still allows them to do that. What we’re asking is for them to take these pictures with some dignity.”
And what about the guys who take the photos? What’s their solution to this?
“They don’t have to live there,” said Drew. “They can afford to live just about anywhere and still have their careers so it’s a bit of playing the victim. They can pull the plug at any time, they can move away.”
Sounds harsh. But perhaps that’s reality. The paparazzi will never lay down their weapons and totally stop snapping celeb kids on the street. After all, it is a First Amendment right.