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Lithium Deux Moi, Amanda Bynes, and the ethics of paparazzi

Oct. 27, 2021
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Curled in bed, watching a viral YouTube documentary about the life of Amanda Bynes, I was horrified. Horrified by the entertainment industry’s unreachable standards, by the money-grabbing attitude of her protectors and, most significant, by the paparazzi's treatment of a mentally unstable young girl. As Bynes was spiraling—losing weight, getting in car wrecks, and popping in and out of rehab—the paparazzi gawked, stalked, and critiqued. They violated her privacy and failed to show sympathy as they exploited her pain for profit.

Conversations about the treatment of celebrities like Bynes have begun to surface with increasing frequency. In the last year, the Free Britney movement has drawn attention to the media’s pattern of cruelty toward Britney Spears and called for the undoing of her conservatorship; former Disney star Alyson Stoner’s article "The Toddler to Trainwreck Industrial Complex" elaborated on the damages the entertainment industry inflicts on young people; Demi Lovato used her documentary series Dancing with the Devil to discuss fame’s consequences on body image and mental well-being. 

With a mental-health awareness that is new to the recent decade, audiences have responded to these stories with empathy. Spears’ and Lovato’s Instagram comments are flooded with notes, many of them applauding their strength. This sympathy toward previously scrutinized celebrities suggests we are able to step back and recalibrate our perspectives on paparazzi culture. The popularity of Deux Moi suggests otherwise.

Boasting over 900,000 followers, Deux Moi is an Instagram account that uses anonymous user submissions to stay on the cutting edge of celebrity gossip. The account is private, giving rise to an aura of exclusivity, and posts submissions on its story, creating a fast-paced, newsfeed-style experience. Notably, because anyone with a smartphone can submit celebrity sightings and stories, the account offers more timely and personal gossip than any of the mainstream tabloids. 

Discreet and numerous, the followers of Deux Moi have an update on Timothee Chalamet’s whereabouts every other day of the week. They have stories of what it’s like to cater Jennifer Anstion’s birthday party (“Such a sweetheart!”) and drive Jerry Seinfeld’s limo (“So rude and demanding“). They even have a collection of nicknames for celebrities based on the stories that surface about them—i.e. John “Safe Sex” Mayer.

At first glance, the account appears to be a more ethical alternative to traditional tabloids. Its fans and followers collect their stories through day-to-day interactions, not through stalking or pushiness. Moreover, the account’s reports, consisting primarily of screenshots from the people who have directly interacted with the famed, are generally unbiased. While it is still ultimately a gossip account, Deux Moi’s motives appear to be lighthearted and its methods are relatively non-intrusive. 

However, the subtlety of the Deux Moi paparazzi has a dark side. With hotel staff, hairdressers, and everyone in between on the lookout for celebrities, poised to report their interactions, the famous cannot let their guard down for so much as a second. Under the watch of a ubiquitous paparazzi, celebrities live in a surveillance state. It is, to say the least, an immense invasion of privacy. 

With Deux Moi and its louder tabloid counterparts commodifying celebrities’ privacy, it appears that the only truly ethical paparazzi is no paparazzi at all. However, is it fair to discredit the gossip industry for being, well, gossipy? An industry that exploits people’s daily lives for profit is not going to be the most morally upright, but does that mean we should reject it all together? I don’t think so.

In the case of Bynes, the tabloids were not sharing news—they were bullying an unstable young girl. This is quite different from telling the world that Shawn Mendes was walking around barefoot at a farmer’s market (with a picture accompaniment). Unbiased reports of public celebrity encounters fall into a completely different category than inappropriate criticisms or stalking; instead of writing off all celebrity gossip as bad, it feels best to judge the journalism alongside the celebrity it features.

Subject aside, journalism that promotes biases, slants the truth, and does not cite sources is bad; it does not do its job effectively and is dangerous to its reader. Tabloids are no different. As exemplified by Deux Moi’s rise, gossip is best when it is unbiased and credible. 

Gossip culture is not on its way out the door; however, since the height of Bynes' popularity it has undoubtedly matured. Sensationalized lies—possibly due to four years of living under the Trump administration—are now met with harsher critique. Old antagonisms pertaining to celebrities' physical appearances are no longer allowed to slide by unchecked, and more people are grasping that picking on young girls is both sexist and humorless. While this ethical progress cannot undo the trauma inflicted on Bynes, it can help ensure that a new generation of young stars doesn’t have to endure a similar fate—which is a welcomed step forward.