“Maybe, I thought, the Bling Ring kids felt they could just walk into the stars’ homes because stars no longer shined. Maybe the Bling Ring, for all its silliness, represented a turning point in America’s relationship to celebrity.”
*In which our reviewer takes a break from her usual intelligent discussion of Serious Literature to express her love of trashy reality TV shows*
Gather ’round, my blueberries, and let me tell you the tale of an ill-fated reality show called Pretty Wild (it’s currently streaming on Netflix, and if you wanted to go ahead and watch the entire show right now I would support you). The show was intended to be a bastard stepchild of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, in that it would followed the exploits of three sisters living in LA and being “wild” etc. However, on the first day of filming, the main character, Alexis Neiers, was arrested for her alleged involvement with a group of teenagers accused of burglarizing celebrities’ homes. After that, the show had to create an awkward blend of general teen partying and scenes of Alexis’s ongoing legal troubles. At some point during filming, Alexis was interviewed by Nancy Jo Sales for Vanity Fair, for an article that would eventually be titled “The Suspect Wore Louboutins.” Alexis felt that she had been wrongly portrayed by this article and, while the cameras rolled, called Sales to express her anguish. The result was one of the greatest scenes in television history, and also the reason the terrorists hate us.
The reality show lasted one season, because apparently there is a threshold for people’s enjoyment for watching narcissistic monsters disguised as human beings, and it stopped with the Kardashians, but then Sophia Coppola read Sales’s article and breezed in from France and was all, “Spoiled rich kids behaving badly set to mournful indie soundtracks? That’s kind of my thing.” So Sales met with Coppola to discuss the whole case of the teenage burglaries, which had been dubbed “The Bling Ring” (and featured three other girls – Diana Tomayo, Rachel Lee, Courtney Ames – and one boy, Nick Prugo) and then expanded her original article into a book , proving more information about the suspects and follow-up on the their legal battles. The result is The Bling Ring, which Coppola then turned into a movie.
I’m going to be honest with you guys here: one, I typed all that shit up there from memory. Two, this book is not that great, but it was like fucking crack to me. Did I mention that I’ve seen every episode of Pretty Wild three times (Netflix will be my downfall)?
So I was going to love this no matter what, and that love was only made worse by Sales’s occasional inside look at the creation of the reality show that shot Neiers to quasi-fame.
That being said, it’s not great. Sales makes many attempts to bring deeper issues into the book, like when she discusses teen suicide rates in boys versus girls, or whenever she tries to divine some deeper cultural meaning for the burglaries besides “the kids loved famous people and wanted to steal their shit” and you just find yourself thinking, “Okay, calm down, Nancy Jo. This whole book is basically a highbrow US Weekly article, and no amount of statistics you throw out can convince me otherwise. Now, give me some more dirt!” Also she throws out weird pop culture references that have no place being there, like when she says that “Until recently, the fame bubble has always seemed magical, impossible to pierce, like the protective force thrown out by Violet, the ‘super’ girl in The Incredibles.” (First of all, Sales, Violet was super, and there’s no need to qualify it with quotation marks. Second, what the hell? You could have just said that the fame bubble was like an invisible forcefield and we would have known what you meant.) And, although Sales managed to score interviews with almost all the alleged perpetrators, the one person who is conspicuously absent from the book is Rachel Lee, the alleged ringleader of the group, who ignored all of Sales’s attempts to contact her. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the one person who isn’t interviewed by the book’s author is the one cast as the villain and the mastermind – if, say, Nick Prugo had been the one who refused to talk to Sales, I’m sure he would have been described as the mastermind behind the robberies instead. It was too bad that we didn’t get Lee’s perspective on the robberies, but the other perpetrators are fully compelling on their own – especially Prugo, who claims the robberies were Lee’s idea and that he just went along the whole thing, and then turned around and told the police everything out of what he claims was guilt.
Still, the fact remains that I read this book in a day and a half, and do not regret a minute. As beach season approaches, this seems like the perfect eponymous “beach read” (who the fuck goes to a beach to read, by the way?) The point is: if you, like me, delight in trashy stories of the rich and vapid behaving badly, The Bling Ring will be your shit. Otherwise, run far away, for that way madness lies.
Verdict: three out of five stars