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Dax Shepard Headshot

Why Our Children Should Be Off Limits to the Paparazzi

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A few days ago my wife and I wrote tweets urging folks to boycott publications that buy photos of celebrities' children without the consent of their parents (paparazzi generated pics). We got a myriad of responses, ranging from heartfelt solidarity to vitriolic rage. The overwhelming majority was very supportive, and for that we are thankful. There were a few common threads that ran through the hateful responses, and I hope to address those here. First, however, I'd like to explain what led us to tweet in the first place.

A few months ago we were invited to a gathering at the home of Jennifer Garner. The bulk of the attendees were actors and musicians. I was excited. We had finally been invited to a celebrity orgy. I had heard about these as a 15-year-old boy from Michigan, and now, 23 years later, I was at one. Jennifer addressed the crowd, but instead of discussing boundaries, safe words and hygiene, she walked us through California Senate Bill 606, which made it illegal to photograph a child because of their parent's employment in a manner that "seriously alarms, annoys, torments, or terrorizes" them.

She and Halle Berry had worked tirelessly, and at their own expense, to get this bill passed. I think I speak for everyone there when I say we were all incredibly grateful for Jennifer and Halle's momentous achievement.

The meeting had some of the key lawmakers who had drafted the bill, as well as law enforcement representatives who helped explain how to best enforce the law. Implicit in the bill are some obvious first amendment issues. It does, at the end of the day, limit the rights of the "press" to "alarm, annoy, torment or terrorize" children in the pursuit of "news gathering." I am starting to use a lot of quotes. This is my snarky way of hinting that I don't believe entertainment paparazzi are actually "press" any more than a peeping tom using a "shoe-cam" at the local mall is "press." Nor do I think photographing children being held by a famous parent can be considered "news gathering" by any definition. All that aside, I deeply value the freedom of the press and think it is an indispensable facet of a healthy democracy that should be protected fervently.

I left that night feeling like the implementation of this new law was going to be difficult. I hoped in my bones it would hold up in court, where it will eventually land and play out. I also left with the nagging feeling that this new law mirrored the "war on drugs" in one key way: it only really addressed the supply side of the equation, and not the demand. We Americans have proven time and time again that if we want something, through hell or high water, we will get it. So as long as people pay good money to buy magazines featuring famous people's children, there will be men popping out of bushes and lurking around playgrounds to get those pics. Those are just the facts.

The consumer is the only one who can put an end to this. They are the only ones with real power.

This issue wasn't even on our radar ten months ago. We didn't have a baby yet, and like many couples without children, we thought of kids as gremlins who willfully dropped their food items on the floor to distract their parents from having adult conversations with us. Then we had our daughter, and every corny cliché became instantly relevant and true. It was immediate. A love like we'd never known. My heart ached when I looked at her, the way it did in eighth grade when I would listen to The Cure whilst writing letters to my girlfriend. My wife and I have both had wonderful lives filled with lots of highlights, and this dwarfed them all.

On day two of our hospital stay, within an hour of filling out her birth certificate, we got an email from our publicist saying a popular tabloid was going to run an announcement with the baby's sex, full name, time of birth and weight. That was a bummer. We hadn't yet shared that info with our extended family. We thought, rightly or wrongly, that it would be best at that point to announce it ourselves on Twitter to deny the tabloid the chance at an "exclusive." I don't know that it mattered one way or another, but I do know it was a sobering warning of more things to come. Since bringing her home ten months ago, there has been a car or two parked across the street from our house, waiting at all times for us to leave. We go to great lengths to keep her anonymous, and have been, for the most part, successful. They have photographed her at five of her eight doctor's appointments, a bunch of times leaving our favorite restaurant, and during a few set visits to mom's work. In all of those instances we were able to keep her covered with a blanket.

Last Saturday we went to our friend's house in a tiny, nondescript neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley. We were there playing for three hours. I didn't think we had been followed, but on Sunday morning my mother emailed me pictures of our daughter, clear as day, being carried and put into the car by me. This broke my heart in a way that's not entirely reasonable. I had charged myself, as her dad, with protecting her. I personally believe, and I understand a lot of people differ on this point, that protecting her includes keeping her life private until the moment she decides otherwise. I think she is entitled to that. I think every minor is entitled to that. My wife and I, ever the approval-junkies, made a decision to get into show business and become public figures, but she has not. She hasn't even decided if she prefers pureed carrots to peanut butter.

So we took to Twitter urging consumers to stop buying magazines that print unsolicited photos of minors. We recognize that the odds of this happening are exceedingly low. We are not naive.

We have hope, though. We think that people who like looking at children in magazines must actually like children. We are betting on the chance that they like them enough to protect them from constantly being shadowed by strange men (not trying to be sexist -- I'm sure there are plenty of strange women in the 'razzi game). We pray that one of the classier weeklies, like People, will enact a no-kids policy, and that they will be rewarded by the consumer for doing so. And we hope that leads to others following suit. It would be miraculous if the situation changed and celebrities' children got to be just children. And it would be even more miraculous if that change came from the will of the people and not legislation. I think this could be a good step in our ever evolving social consciousness. It could fold nicely into the same wave of change that wants to see gay people happily married, orcas freed, and pot smokers decriminalized. It would be a slightly better version of ourselves and our culture, and we are mildly optimistic.

Now, against the advice of my better half, I am going to address some of those Twitter detractors:

"You knew what you were getting into when you signed up to be famous."

First of all, god how I wish there had been an actual "sign-up" sheet. That would have saved me the eight years of no work I endured. Secondly, yes, I do know what comes with the job, which is why I'm NOT asking you to boycott magazines with my photo in them. I'm only asking on behalf of my child who did not "sign up."

"There are way more important things to boycott than your rich kid getting her picture taken."

I couldn't agree more. This is very low on the list indeed. But, it is, nevertheless, on the list. We aren't asking you to ignore a man on fire for this cause, but after you've helped extinguish him, there's no reason you can't whisper in his ear, "Hey, don't buy Us Weekly. They display photos of children being stalked."

"Celebrities call the paparazzi on their own kids and exploit them for personal exposure."

This may happen. I would have no way of knowing. It's a vile notion, and I'm happy to say none of our actor friends do this. But if you really believe this happens, isn't that all the more reason to boycott? Don't you want to take that option away from those vomitus parents?

"Why don't you just post your own pics so it will devalue the paparazzi's?"

We don't believe it works that way. A photo from us won't satiate curiosity; it will simply introduce a new character into the soap opera. We think out-of-sight, out-of-mind is the best defense.

"Boo-hoo. Cry me a river. Why don't you get a real job and stop whining."

Hmm. Well, I understand you resent what I do for a living. There is no arguing that there is very little lifting involved. However, there couldn't be a more detestable racket than Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme, and yet, I would never want to see his two year-old sons ambushed for his repugnance.

"Stop acting like you're Brad and Angelina. No one cares about you or your kid."

Another strong point. This is very true. We don't deal with anything close to what they deal with. If paps were cancer, they'd have small cell carcinoma and we'd have a suspicious looking mole that should probably come off just to be safe. Despite the different threat level, it's still best to seek treatment.

"You're a shitty actor and your movies suck."

...that's subjective?