The Bling Ring opens like a dream, or a nightmare, depending on your point of view. A pair of teenagers, a boy and a girl – having spent the day doing the modern-day, middle-class American things you would imagine; updating their Facebook pages, browsing the internet, getting high – find themselves looking out the window of Paris Hilton’s bedroom window at their own homes in the distance, before ‘going shopping’ in her home, in such an outlandish and obvious way that she has no idea she has even been robbed.
The Bling Ring, a book by journalist Nancy Jo Sales, started life as a Vanity Fair article ‘The Suspects Wore Loubitans’ and has now grown even more to encompass a movie adapation of the same name directed by Sofia Coppola. Celebrity comes full circle. Or eats itself. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.
Between 2008 and 2009, a group of five teenagers, one boy and four girls, living on the outskirts of Los Angeles robbed the houses of celebrities whose style they admired, taking care not to be caught due to their judicious research on the internet. Surprisingly, the celebrities help facilitate the robberies by leaving a key under the doormat (Paris Hilton), rarely turned on their alarm systems (Audrina Partridge) and failing to use a safe for their valuable Rolex collections (Orlando Bloom). Many didn’t notice they had even been robbed, because they had so much stuff. All in all, the teenagers managed to take over $3m-worth of celebrity paraphernalia before the police finally caught up with them.
Not that money was really the point of it all at the beginning. Granted, their first robbery of Paris Hilton’s house served up almost $2000 in crumpled $100 bills found at the bottom of her many designer handbags, but this was seen as an added bonus, compared to the stash of clothes, underwear and makeup that was stolen. This gang of wannabe models, reality TV show performers and actors wanted fame and if that was proving ellusive, then the costume would have to do. Over two years, they robbed the homes of Paris Hilton (five times), Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom, Rachel Bilson and Audrina Partridge – all celebrities around their own age, whose style they admired and whose lifestyles were just that little bit out of reach. They started out stealing trophy items, perfume and clothing that they would then wear to Hollywood nightclubs, but greed and complacency soon took over until they were stripping Orlando Bloom’s house of computers, art and rugs to the value of $500,000. Some items they fenced with the help of a couple of more hardened criminals, but the fact that 10 collectible Rolex watches were sold on for a mere $5000 speaks volumes as to why they were committing these crimes.
So why were they committing them? While Nancy Jo Sales book ostensibly follows the timeline of the largest robbery ring in Hollywood history, it also goes way beyond that, raising interesting questions about celebrity culture, consumerism and the delusions created by social media. Sales is careful to locate the fame-obsessed burglars within the context of the time and place they lived. Their proximity to these stars through geographical location and also in the knowledge they had of them through Twitter, TMZ and other celebrity news sites gave them a sense of entitlement to this lifestyle that they could almost touch. Maybe they didn’t think of those they robbed as victims, because their lifestyles were so excessive and in-your-face. Maybe they wanted to get close to what they saw as their true status, where a sense of entitlement stands in for any sense of moral standards, or any need for hard work or talent.
Where the book comes into its’ own is Sales’ description of what happens after the arrests are made. These being young wannabe stars, the arrests and the exposure are exploited as an opportunity rather than a set-back. And let’s face it, why would they fear a short stint in jail given that Lohan, Hilton and Nicole Richie were all past residents. One member of the Ring, Alexis Neiers had already signed up to her own reality show Pretty Wild when she was arrested (one critic said it was ‘like Keeping Up with the Kardashians without the intellect or the moral centre’) but even her numerous interviews and television spots couldn’t save it from cancellation. All members of the Bling Ring have maintained their public profiles mostly through blogs. Alexis Neiers was jailed in a cell next to Lindsay Lohan which was once occupied by none other than her nemesis and poster-girl Paris Hilton and she undoubtedly enjoys the attention the crimes have brought her.
Sales was the first journalist who brought Paris Hilton to national attention and love her or loathe her for that, she is the perfect person to explore the Bling Ring within the wider context of our society – the fame culture, the sexualisation of children, the narcissism of social media – without giving the crimes an overrated significance. In Cold Blood this ain’t, but in terms of capturing a generation whose moral centre is corrupted by shopping, money and fame, it is a fascinating read and may well be a defining book.
Read on: Kindle for Android
Number Read: 5
Number Remaining: 741