The Bling Ring - Trailer
In the fame-obsessed world of Los Angeles, a group of teenagers take us on a thrilling and disturbing crime-spree in the Hollywood hills.PT1M48S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2nb8r 620 349 May 29, 2013
Sofia Coppola, whose new film is a true story about a gang of Hollywood teenagers who rob celebrities, thinks the Facebook generation has lost touch with reality.
Sometimes the kids can look like they're living in another world. While the day whirls around them, they're lost in their mobile phones - photographing, tweeting, texting, emailing. Living life doesn't seem be enough; they have to record and share it, too. It raises the questions, "how widespread is this phenomenon" and "should we be worried about it?" The film director Sofia Coppola says it's gone too far and we're at risk of breeding a generation of brats who imagine they are movie stars. The "Me Me Me Generation" is ready for its close-up.
The Bling Ring gang robbed Paris Hilton five times and stole nearly $US2 million in jewels before she noticed anything.
After the premiere of her latest movie, The Bling Ring, Coppola said that she conducted research by hanging out with teenagers in Los Angeles. Her conclusion was that young people live in a "scary" world of constant self-surveillance. "Everyone was texting, taking pictures, and I tried to put as much of that in the film as possible. It was almost sci-fi, this idea that living does not count unless you are documenting it."
Naughty but narcissistic: Emma Watson as a celebrity-obsessed thief in The Bling Ring.
Given the subject matter of The Bling Ring, it's understandable why Coppola was so disturbed. It's based on a true story about a gang of Hollywood adolescents in the Noughties who allegedly stole millions of dollars from stars. They did it by tracing the celebrities' movements on stalker websites and then burgling their houses when they were out. The Bling Ring gang robbed socialite Paris Hilton five times and stole nearly $US2 million in jewels before she noticed anything was amiss. They snorted coke off her furniture and one of the boys pranced about in her high heels as a kind of "victory dance".
Paris Hilton is herself the product of youthful reality TV culture. The heiress of a hotel fortune, she made her name as a model, party girl and star of a notorious celebrity sex tape - a career that climaxed in a role in the Fox reality show The Simple Life. Paris was made famous by the very introspective, social media obsessed culture that horrified Sofia Coppola and, arguably, motivated those Hollywood burglars. The Bling Ring gang did not steal for money but as a bizarre act of homage to the celebrities that they adored. They wanted to wear their clothes and take their drugs: to go shopping in the wardrobes of the rich and famous. They were turning their lives into an episode of The Simple Life. One of the Bling Ring, Alexis Neiers, had filmed a pilot for a reality TV show when she was arrested for breaking into Orlando Bloom's house. After serving one month of a six-month sentence, she is back at large and planning to write a memoir. It won't surprise you that she also records her life on a blog and tweets. And so the finger of blame points to social media.
It's interesting to note that teens don't tweet nearly so much as they use Facebook and text. Statistics show that adolescent tweeters are twice as likely to be female as male, which confirms the suspicion that most tweeting teens are simply online followers of Justin Bieber (he has 37.9 million). Studies of American teens show that 93 per cent of them enjoy access to the internet and roughly two-thirds go online once a day. Over 70 per cent are on a social network and 41 per cent of Facebook users say that they check their account obsessively. What are they looking at? Over 80 per cent are leaving comments on photos or updating their banal statuses (they're not debating macroeconomics or planning a bank heist, they're "liking" photos of cats). In all, the evidence suggests that teens are big users of the internet but not really into "content creation" - they don't have a large amount of original things to say or share. That's not surprising: they haven't even started living yet.
Police mugshots of the original 'Bling Ring'
Is all of this unhealthy? For some, yes. In 2010, Dr Scott Frank, a physician and public health expert in Ohio, caused a stir when he released a study that showed excessive texting can lead to ill health. A teen that texts more than 120 times a day is more likely to drink, smoke or have sex - the kind of things the Bling Ring gang used to enjoy. Texting so much might suggest that the individual has become sucked into a social network that is unhealthily obsessive and compulsive. This can warp the personality. According to a University of Winnipeg study, people who text more than 100 times a day are 30 per cent less likely to say that being ethical was important to them than people who text less than 50 times a day. The conclusion: absorption in social media can turn youngsters into careless zombies. No wonder that the US National Institutes of Health found that people in their twenties are nearly three times more likely to exhibit narcissistic personality disorder than Americans over 65.
But there's a risk that in the rush to condemn our teens as an army of the living dead, we miss much that is good about social media interaction. For a start, they are only doing what the technology that their seniors invented allows them to do. And long before mobile phones, people had just as equal a passion for recording their lives - just not the materials with which to do it. That age-old need to record events is shown in Pliny's account of the eruption of Vesuvius or Pepys's notes on the Great Fire of London.
In the mid-20th century, mass telephone ownership expanded our power to discuss what was going on with each other and cheap cameras turned millions of people into journalists. My generation remembers, with a shudder, being forced to watch hundreds of slides of family holiday projected onto a big screen in the living room, like a home cinema. "This is Uncle Alf standing next to the Eiffel Tower. Here he is standing in front of the Eiffel Tower. And this is him standing behind the Eiffel Tower ..." There is little difference between this and the sharing of photos of Justin on Facebook.
Modern social media allows the sharing of events and, arguably, that has enhanced them. Rather than just experiencing the Eiffel Tour - led by the nose by a guide - Twitter encourages us to think about how we feel about it and then formulate a pithy comment. Then, thanks to the internet, thousands of people across the world can share that experience and add their own perspective. Rather than turning teens into zombies, it's possible that it's expanding their opportunity and ability to analyse situations critically - to own an experience and, perhaps, actually experience it more deeply than they might otherwise have done. Facebook lets them curate photos of the trip; text lets them articulate how exciting it is.
Social media empowers us as individuals. For the lonely and awkward - and millions of teens fall into both categories - it's an opportunity to reach out and connect without actually having to meet in person. We read much about internet forums being a predators' playground but not nearly enough about how they've helped children build confidence and make friends. Of course, there will be resentment among adults that they're doing it on the bank of mum and dad (the phone bill for anyone texting over 120 times a day must be horrendous) but we mustn't dismiss the ability of social media to make being a teenager a little less painful.
Of course, it's unhealthy to think of a generation becoming lost in recording the adventure of their own lives and incapable of simply living it. When children are sitting in cinemas watching Coppola's Bling Ring and texting the plot to their friends, we rightly worry that some of the poetry of life has been lost. But this is the price we pay for technological change, and as technology expands individual freedom so it will increase vanity and self-absorption. Those teens texting and giggling in the back row of the cinema are the future, whether we feel "smiley face" about that or not.
The Bling Ring is showing at the Sydney Film Festival on 13 and 15 June.