Your Smart-Person Beach Read Arrived Early: "The Bling Ring"


Nancy Jo Sales published “The Suspects Wore Louboutins” in Vanity Fair in March of 2010. Sofia Coppola announced optioning the article by December of 2011; Emma Watson was cast by February of 2012; the resulting movie, The Bling Ring, opens in a month.

But first! Tomorrow comes The Bling Ring—the book. Nancy Jo Sales started afresh. She already had, after all, endless hours of interviews with the crowd of young people in Southern California who burgled celebrity homes. In case you missed the original story, or have buried its fuzzy outline under later tabloid scandals, the case concerns five kiddos (and two friends who did reselling) who best liked to steal outfits, shoes, photos, watches and anything else that felt personal. And they did it quite a bit: they hit Brian Austin Green’s house just a week after Lindsay Lohan’s house, back in August of 2009. Poor Brian Austin Green!

And it turns out this book is basically The Journalist and the Murderer for the TMZ age. It’s really pretty devastating. “Corporations are now people and people are now products, known as ‘brands,'” Sales writes, in a history of what is either the degradation or the democratization of celebrity. (“Either/or doesn’t seem right, but you know.) Both the path to getting fame and the resulting benefits (money, mostly) became obvious to us all. This is true—and happened so quickly—to the point where, Sales notes, theft victim Paris Hilton began to look as if she had an “Old Hollywood glamour to her.” (Before noting that Hilton’s popularity’s rise and fall mirrored George W. Bush’s. This is a book, after all, that mentions Bobby Kennedy, Donald Trump, Michael Milken, Richard Nixon, Salomon Brothers and Glenn Greenwald all on the same page.)

The rise of porn stars, of celebrity models, tabloid culture: there actually isn’t much difference between Lindsay Lohan and any of these deluded, backstabbing, fame-hungry little kiddos. And then… it’s so easy to enjoy them.

“I was surprised,” Sales writes, “as I started talking to people about this story, by how many seemed to find what the Bling Ring did amusing or even kind of marvelous. ‘Good for them,’ said a young woman I talked to in a hair salon. ‘Tell them to bring me a Gucci bag.’ ‘They have enough’—meaning the celebrities, said a New York taxi driver…. they won’t miss it.’ It made me wonder if there were some kind of growing resentment toward the rich (a precursor to Occupy Wall Street sentiment?). Or was this just a sign of the kind of kick people get out of teenagers doing outrageous things?”

Nancy Jo Sales: The Bling Ring
Amazon
Indiebound
Barnes & Noble

But while the children are amazing—going on and on in California style about the meanings of karma, and the shooting of Alexis Neiers’ reality show “Pretty Wild” is, well, pretty horrific—what are particularly amazing are the lawyers.

Yes. You don’t really need a DSM to diagnose this, do you? Really, really sick. Disturbing! Anyway, right, the lawyers! These are people who were supposed to assist these kids with legal affairs. Instead, their role was to construct and propagate story lines.

There was Alexis Neiers’ lawyer, Jeffrey Rubenstein:

“These kids went on shopping sprees,” he said. “It’s like they went shopping online. They’d look at a picture on some website of a celebrity holding a Marc Jacobs bag, and they’d say, instead of going to a Marc Jacobs’ store and getting a bag like that, I want that bag that Lindsay is carrying—I want Lindsay’s Marc Jacobs bag.

And then there was Nick Prugo’s lawyer Sean Erenstoft.

My early conversations with Sean Erenstoft, Nick’s former lawyer, all took place when he was in his car. Once when we were talking, he told me he was in ‘in [his] Porsche” and so, if I lost him, he would call me back.

“I’m in a unique position,” Erenstoft said as he Porsched along. “I’ve got inside information about what’s going on.”

In the next few weeks, Erenstoft would share some of this information with the “Sunday Styles” section of the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, People The Daily Beast, and TMZ, to name a few of the places he was quoted. I started to wonder whether it was Erenstoft who was the source of the “inside information” about the Bling Ring that was flowing to TMZ, but there were so many other possible candidates—some of the other lawyers, who didn’t seem averse to publicity; cops; and the Bling Ring defendants themselves, who seemed to feel no hesitation about trashing each other.

In our initial conversations, Erenstoft sounded like a sharp guy who knew how to help a reporter out while still protecting his client’s interests…. But every now and then the lawyer would say something that would make you want to squint. “Even I have been around Paris Hilton when she’s snorted coke,” he said. “If you’re a night owl in L.A., you’re gonna run into any one of these people. We all feel like we know Paris.”

With his lawyer’s instruction, Nick Prugo confessed to crimes that the police didn’t know about. Later, his other lawyers would claim the confession was coerced—and would go so far as to say that the police “betrayed” Nick by charging him… with crimes… that he confessed to. Poor lawyers, too!

I’ll save you the terrific punchline on that storyline. Actually, there are two punchlines. What more do you want? The Bling Ring comes out tonight at midnight, and it’s absolutely terrific. We look forward to watching Alexis Neiers rant about it.