In a Flash: Invasive Photos And Celebrity Humiliation

Imagine you’re a young actress.

As a child, you worked hard to refine your craft. You took classes. Spent your summers doing workshops. Had your parents drive you to tryout after tryout, most of which resulted in rejection. Wrestled with self-doubt and questions about whether you should give up on your dream.

Then, in an instant, you get your break. You’re cast in a major role and, seemingly overnight, your face is splashed onto magazine covers around the world.

You go out with a few friends one night. You drive to a club. As you shift to step out of your car, the flashes from a paparazzo’s bulb capture a revealing shot from beneath your skirt. The sleazy photographer sells the photo to an outlet that toils in celebrity humiliation, and that “crotch shot” is quickly viewed by millions of curiosity seekers and voyeurs worldwide.

All of your hard work, at least in that moment, is reduced to a photo taken without your consent.

That unfortunate scenario is familiar to many young women in the public eye—singers, socialites, and actresses, among others. I won’t name them here, but there’s a good chance you can recall some of them.

That’s why I was so impressed when I learned that at least one media training firm had anticipated that threat and provided their clients with specific tips for how to exit a car.

Madelaine Petsch, the 23-year-old star of the CW television show Riverdale, explained during an interview with a YouTube personality named Shane Dawson how her media trainer taught her and her co-stars how to avoid the consequences of an unscrupulous paparazzo:

“We had to do media training, which was like intensive. This is so weird – we had to learn how to get out of the car without flashing. There’s a very specific way, where you like cover yourself with the door of the car and you get out with the opposite leg so that your leg isn’t like open, essentially.”

While writing this post, I remembered that Anne Hathaway endured this exact ordeal while promoting her film Les Miserables in 2012. When I went to look up an interview she had given about it at the time, I was surprised—dismayed—to find how much that one moment is still dogging her today.

When I typed “Anne Hat” into YouTube’s search engine, these were the resulting auto fill suggestions:

Anne Hathaway YouTube Search

That suggests that all of these years later, searches about that euphemistically named “wardrobe malfunction” (shouldn’t we call it an “unethical photographer incident” instead?) still ranks at the top. It suggests that these incidents have a long shelf life, and that reputation managers of all sorts should have this conversation with clients who are new to fame.

The broader point is that media trainers must think outside of “formal interviews.” It would have been easy for this media trainer to have helped this client learn how to deliver a stronger message during pre-scheduled interviews and left it at that. But we should all be thinking more broadly, to the types of encounters that could occur outside the norm—a TMZ ambush at an airport, an invasive fan recording iPhone video at the grocery store, etc.

I’ll end this post on a positive note—the interview Ms. Hathaway gave about the incident shortly after it occurred to none other than…wait for it…disgraced former Today Show anchor Matt Lauer.

Both of them revealed their true selves in this brief clip: Lauer, by asking the question in a cringe-worthy manner that makes perfect sense in hindsight, and Hathaway, who used the opportunity to make her point—but then transition effortlessly and gracefully back to the film she was there to promote.

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