The Yahoo! commercial set to Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights” shows a young office drone escaping his dull gray world via a purple door bearing the company’s logo. The Yahoo! entertainment news portal thereby releases him into the magical realm of modern fame, a world of limousines, red carpets, music video shoots, Jacuzzis, and, of course, the flashing lights of the paparazzi. Actual celebrity photographers have probably grown accustomed to their subjects’ middle fingers as well as the smiles and waves of the would-be famous. On August 31st, the anniversary of Princess Diana’s fatal car accident, the paparazzi also encountered the restraining hand of the state. The California State Assembly passed a measure that imposes a heavy fine and up to a year in jail for violating existing traffic laws “with the intent to capture any type of visual image, sound recording, or other physical impression of another person for a commercial purpose” (Assembly Bill No. 2479). In reporting news of the bill’s passage, blogs vigorously circulated a 2008 video of Kate Moss being mobbed by photographers at LAX. The sight of a 5’7” woman shielding her children from a massive pack of paparazzi might make even the Yahoo! ad’s would-be star yearn for the solace of his cubicle.
Three days after the bill’s passage, Lady Gaga released a video called “The Left Eye” through SHOWstudio.com, a “fashion and art internet broadcasting channel” created by the British photographer Nick Knight. Shot from her point of view, the short video offers a rare sense of what it means to be the subject of the blinding blur of flashes, to have one’s “physical impression” be so desired and so profitable. Amid the clamor of paparazzi calling her name, one hears the frenzied cry of a fan, quickly followed by the hush of a plush hotel lobby. Just a year ago, at the start of her performance of “Paparazzi” during the MTV Video Music Awards, Gaga sang, “Amidst all of these flashing lights I pray the fame won’t take my life.” This prayer apparently went unanswered, given that her performance concluded with a bloody simulated hanging. For this year’s VMAs, to be broadcast on Sunday night, Gaga has earned the most nominations ever received in a single year and is now “the number one pop star in the world,” as Kanye described her in a recent tweet. The middle fingers that she offered to the paparazzi at a Mets game this past June made clear that Gaga shared other celebrities’ annoyance at the camera lenses and shutter clicks that are in step with their every public movement. But if pop commentators’ predictions of Gaga sweeping Sunday’s VMAs prove accurate, those flashing lights will only multiply and grow brighter.