Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Bling Ring: How a Gang of Fame-Obsessed Teens Ripped Off Hollywood and Shocked the World by Nancy Jo Sales

The first thing you should know about me is that I really like trashy books. It is one of my biggest weaknesses - celebrity memoirs, bodice rippers, chick-lit, even a self-help book written by a cast-member of The Jersey Shore. The more reviled the genre, the more I want to get my grubby little mitts on it. This is why, when I heard about THE BLING RING book, my ears pricked up: rich kids stealing stuff from even richer kids as recorded by a woman who writes articles with titles like 13 Reasons Why is being devoured by teenagers. We must understand why and Single mothers aren't all disasters. But you wouldn't know that from TV. Plus, it was being made into a movie directed by Sofia Coppola and starring Emma Watson, and if I ever wanted to watch that movie, I knew I was going to have to read the book first, because that's how these things work.

Now I have finished the book and I am torn, because on the one hand, this was unintentionally hilarious. This book is an extended remix of her Vanity Fair article, The Suspects Wore Louboutins, and at times reads like a college student desperately trying to pad the page count of their end-of-year thesis. Interspersed with the admittedly juicy details of the thefts and break-ins is speculation aplenty on a wide range of topics, all with the same vaguely prissy, vaguely judgmental tone: is the attention seeking social media sphere to blame for making kids into selfish narcissists? is it rebellion? the desire to be rich and famous without actually working a day? There was a paragraph when she discusses the necessity of revolting against the status quo, because many of the people in our country's earliest wars were teenagers, but on the other hand, sometimes teenagers, like James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, just seem to want to break their parents' hearts...without a cause! (These are actual examples from the book.) And yet, despite this argument that rebellion and self-absorption are perhaps age-old, she can't help but pose that irritating argument echoed by so many Baby Boomers: Why are millennials so much worse than any generation she came before? In the 60s, it was about peace and love, and in the 70s, it was about shaking up the status quo - but in the 80s and 90s, she argues, there was a shift towards - gasp - the pursuit of money and fame! This pearl-clutching really bogs down the narrative, and made me roll my eyes about as much as I rolled my eyes when I saw that article in Time: Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation. Using a single example of a high-profile theft to condemn an entire generation of people seems just a mite unfair, in my opinion, and trite, as well: it's high time we stop beating the "blame the millennials" dead horse. Please, I beg you. As a millennial.

Regarding the case itself, it's odd. Obviously. Stuff like this does not happen every day, because if it did, it would not be news. I guess I was surprised by the minimum security some of the celebrities allegedly had at the time (I imagine they've upped their game since then). I was also surprised - and saddened - by the number of people who seemed to think stealing from famous people wasn't that bad because they had so much stuff already. The most depressing part of this book was when Orlando Bloom was giving testimony and admitted that when he first noticed stuff missing, he initially thought it was his housekeeper; she ended up quitting her job as a result. But all of the celebrities' testimonies hit hard, because I feel like often, people forget celebrities are people with feelings, too. People treat celebrities like they're stock shares, as if they think that watching them on TV or reading about them in a magazine entitles them to a "piece." When Lindsay Lohan said she felt so uncomfortable after the robbery that she was never able to go back to her house ever again, my chest got a little tight.

The kids' stories also kind of made me sad, but for different reasons. I feel like you don't do things like this - thrill-seeking-type things - unless you have other things going on in your life. I don't think this means that they should have been let off, but all of their interviews and the incredibly surreal and disconnected way they described their crimes (such as referring to B&Es as "going shopping") was just...upsetting and weird, as was Alexis's relationship with her mom, Andrea, and the constant shouted back-and-forths, as portrayed in their interviews with Sales. It was like these kids didn't "get" the severity of what was going on (or maybe they just didn't want to). To me, this just feels like a crime of opportunity fueled by varying personal reasons and not the swan song of a generation.

Also, please tell me I am not the only one who thinks it's ironic that a crime committed by people who wanted to be famous against actual famous people spawned not one, but two movies (the Sofia Coppola one, and the Lifetime one) starring famous people. It's a little too meta for me. Kind of like a pop culture ouroboros.

3 out of 5 stars

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